UTA gives lifetime transit pass to former boss who pocketed a controversial $282K severance package

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Jerry Benson smiles after being sworn in as the new president/CEO of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), Wednesday August 31, 2016.

The newly restructured Utah Transit Authority Board decided Wednesday to give something extra to former UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson besides the controversial $282,000-or-so severance package he earlier received.

It awarded Benson and his wife lifetime transit passes.

“We do want to recognize Jerry for his service in the organization,” said UTA Interim Executive Director Steve Meyer, who replaced Benson 15 months ago.

Meyer was at his final meeting before he retires and noted that his own service gave him greater appreciation of what Benson “went through and had to deal with. We do recognize Jerry for his 33 years of service to this organization. I think this is appropriate.” The board approved the measure without comment.

Benson’s departure last year was controversial. He said he was essentially fired when restructuring by the Legislature eliminated his post as president and CEO — where he had served about 2 years after three decades at UTA in other positions — but the law did create a new slot for an executive director.

By claiming he was fired without cause, it triggered a clause in his contract that allowed the lucrative severance package. The former UTA Board approved that package, but did so in a meeting where the item was not clearly listed on public agendas, according to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. So the old board later revoted to approve it again — amid protest by lawmakers about that action.

UTA’s compensation for Benson in 2017, his last full year, was $376,004 — including $273,981 in wages and leave plus $102,023 in benefits.