Pat Shea: Ward basketball is no model for running Salt Lake Inland Port

This orientation to merit as opposed to politics is extremely important.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune l-r Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and House Speaker Greg Hughes held a news conference Tuesday, June 5, 2018 to detail a Òcompromise frameworkÓ for the new inland port authority. In March, Lawmakers approved SB234, to create an international port on thousands of acres in the northwest portion of Salt Lake City.ÊIn addition to building the shipping port on about a quarter of city land, the bill also made the portÕs board the final appeal panel for disputes over land use decisions, and it allows the port to take over all tax-and-spend power in that area.

Ward basketball is the most vicious game in Utah. Mark Harlan, the new athletic director at the University of Utah, needs to understand this as he begins his term as the athletic director.

This observation and advice came to mind when I read of Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes’ self-anointment to the recently formed Salt Lake Inland Port (SLIP) board.

So, you may ask, how are ward basketball, Greg Hughes and SLIP related? They each have an overwhelming self-centric orientation which frequently prohibits meaningful cooperation.

In Phoenix there are The Thunderbirds, a group of people who, regardless of their politics, religion, ethnicity or other dividing lines, unite around activities to support Phoenix economic well-being. Could one imagine such cooperation in our state?

Some may recall the financial fiasco featuring significant self-dealing involving the location of the UTA transit stops which had the cohort of Terry Diehl and Greg Hughes a major focus. You look at the other appointments the board of directors for SLIP and what you find, in my judgment, is political payoffs rather than merit-based appointments. This orientation to merit as opposed to politics is extremely important when you think of who will oversee and manage the last largest developable, open land in Salt Lake County.

When I served on the Salt Lake International Airport Board I was required to avoid any business relationship with any of the vendors who did business with or at the airport. At a minimum, this type of ethical boundary line needs to be drawn clearly around SLIP for its board members and the executives they will be hiring.

I had the privilege of working with two extraordinary business leaders Joe Rosenblatt and Richard Steiner during my tenure on the airport board. Both men brought decades of experience in sophisticated business dealings, which were aptly applied the business of the airport. Louis Miller, the then airport director (and subsequently the airport director of Tampa and Atlanta airports, the latter being one of the world’s largest airports) was a strict fiscal conservative.

Through Louis’ leadership and the direction of Rosenblatt and Steiner, when the third runway construction was bonded for more than $150 million, it was agreed that when the bonds were paid at the beginning of the 21st-century, money which had been used to pay the bonds would be put into a reserve account for future airport development. Because of this financial sophistication and insight, the current airport construction had a nearly $400 million reserve account so no new taxes were required for the construction. SLIP needs this type of fiscal conservatism and foresight.

I raise the management of the airport board to highlight how airport board selection was not a “Utah ward system.” Instead the mayor of Salt Lake City, as has been the tradition, appointed board members on their merits and not on their personal, business and political connections. In stark contrast, the recently announced board members of SLIP all fit nicely into prearranged wards.

Why wouldn’t it be better to ask Louis Miller, with his experience in Tampa and Atlanta to serve on SLIP? If such an appointment were made we could be assured that the management of the SLIP would be founded on strict conservative financial and fiscal principles. There would be a transparency which would reassure not just the citizens of Utah but, of equal importance, the residents of Salt Lake City that this economic opportunity was being presented on a level playing field open to all.

One last thought. I hope the readers appreciate the extreme irony of the Utah Legislature repeatedly yelling at the federal government for its taking over Utah lands to create the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument or the proposed Bear Ears National Monument while, almost in the same breath, turning around and doing the same type of alleged land confiscation to Salt Lake City. I guess consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. Well, we always have ward basketball.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Former BLM director Pat Shea talks to the audience during town hall meeting about who should control Utah's public lands at the Main Library in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

Patrick A. Shea is an attorney in private practice and a research professor of biology at the University of Utah.