Lawmakers pull the plug on UTA name change

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers confirmed Wednesday they’re pulling the plug on changing the name of the Utah Transit Authority, just hours after Gov. Gary Herbert said he was willing to call a special session if necessary to stop it.

“It’s clear that the public doesn’t feel that the name change is needed and appropriate,” Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the House sponsor of the sweeping transportation legislation that re-named UTA the Transit District of Utah.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said he would run legislation repealing the new name during the 2019 Legislature and asked that UTA not to go forward with plans to bring in a re-branding consultant.

“The name change is a distraction. It’s getting in the way of the core mission of the bill,” Harper said at a news conference called to announce the decision. “We’re taking that off the table. UTA stays as it is.”

UTA spokesman Carl Arky said the transit agency will comply with whatever lawmakers want.

“All we can do is go by what they tell us, which is what we’ve been trying to do anyway,” Arky said, adding he feels UTA has been working with lawmakers “in good faith. … They’ve told us to cease, so we will cease.”

He declined to comment on the impact of keeping the UTA name.

“We were ready to follow the letter of the law,” Arky said. “It’s really not an issue of whether we think it is good or it is bad. We are really not at liberty to have that kind of opinion as an organization.”

Both Schultz and Harper said they do not believe a special session is needed because the legislation spelled out that the change could be made over time, as resources allow.

No money was appropriated by the Legislature for re-naming UTA, even though the transit agency warned lawmakers the price tag added up to at least $50 million, including expensive paint jobs on buses and additional personnel.

That estimate, Schultz said, was intended to be a distraction to other actions by UTA, including the recent firing of former President and CEO Jerry Benson without cause so he could leave with a sizable severance package.

Schultz highlighted that deal, which will allow Benson to collect nine months of salary and benefits, and pointed out the Utah Attorney General’s Office has taken issue with whether the action was taken in compliance with the state’s open meetings act.

He said he wants UTA to take another look at the severance package.

UTA Interim Executive Director Steve Meyer said in a statement that while a letter from the attorney general’s office “does not conclude that there was an actual violation, UTA takes this matter very seriously.”

Meyer said the issue surrounding the severance vote is being reviewed internally and UTA is conferring with the attorney general’s office “to determine if additional action is required by the board.”

The friction between lawmakers and UTA may be eased later this year, after a new, three-member management team created by the legislation takes over from the current UTA board …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Business News


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