The Utah County Commission is suing Gov. Gary Herbert for refusing to appoint any of its nominees to a new board taking control of the Utah Transit Authority, with the goal of restoring trust in the scandal-tainted agency.
The new UTA Board, scheduled to be sworn in Monday, by law is supposed to have three members. Herbert has appointed only two, who were nominated by Salt Lake County and Davis County (in consultation with Weber and Box Elder counties).
Herbert refused to appoint either of the two nominees for the final slot sent by Utah County in consultation with Tooele County. The pair have been publicly criticized as unqualified political allies of Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee.
Herbert asked Utah County to send him additional names more to his liking — a request he also earlier made to Salt Lake County, which complied. The Utah County Commission refused, insisting state law requires Herbert to appoint one of its nominees.
Utah County’s lawsuit, filed directly with the state Supreme Court, also asks the court to rule that the new UTA Board is not legally formed until it has all three members mandated by law — which might throw into question any actions taken by just the two new appointees.
“Utah County followed the law as written that was also signed by the governor” by sending its two nominees, Lee said Saturday. “Then the governor didn’t follow his part of that.”
Lee added, “Now we [Utah County] are looking at being unrepresented, but still taxed. It’s unacceptable to us that we’re going to have a board that is potentially making budget decisions and so forth without a representative from Utah and Tooele counties.”
Lee also said, “If we just keep sending names until the governor likes one, I don’t know why we went through the process. He should just pick them. The law should have been written differently.”
The Legislature this year decided to replace UTA’s old part-time, 16-member board with one that has three full-time members, seen as better able to control the agency that has been criticized for big executive salaries and bonuses, extensive international travel and sweetheart deals with developers.
Paul Edwards, spokesman for Herbert, said Saturday that the governor’s office is reviewing the lawsuit. He said its policy is not to comment on pending litigation — so it has no new comment.
But in the past, Herbert’s office has said he “is confident that he is acting within his constitutional and statutory authority” and is under no obligation to appoint someone with whom he is uncomfortable. Also under the new law, the governor may fire new UTA Board members any time for any reason.
The two nominees sent by Utah County are Pleasant Grove City Council member Ben Stanley, who is also an attorney, and former Cedar Hills Council member Rob Crawley, owner of a consulting firm.
The pair have attracted opposition, including from former Cedar Hills Mayor Gary Gygi, who told reporters the pair are little more than political allies of Lee and questioning whether they had the required skills for the job.
Lee defended them Saturday.
“The two nominees are highly qualified. I will stack them up against any of the current board members … based on what they represent, what they can do and who they are. I think they are highly qualified individuals on any measurements,” he said.
One of those nominees — Stanley — has been conducting what he calls a “consensus building tour” visiting officials in cities in Utah and Tooele counties to help push his possible appointment. He also has been attending UTA and legislative transportation committee meetings.
The governor’s approved two appointees to the new board are Carlton Christensen, who has been directing the Salt Lake County Department of Regional Transportation, and Bountiful City Council member Beth Holbrook.
The Utah County Commission filed its lawsuit directly with the Utah Supreme Court, instead of district court, arguing that only it can provide a speedy enough resolution to ensure that UTA’s budget and other actions by the new board include representation from Utah County.
The UTA Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on UTA’s 2019 budget on Nov. 14 and give final approval to it in December.