Transit Board Reacts To Swiss Trip; Leader Unapologetic
The Utah Transit Authority’s governing board has passed new ethics rules and three of its members have resigned after an undisclosed trip to Switzerland two months ago. But the legislative leader who organized the controversial trip is unapologetic.
UTA trustees discussed the 5-day visit to Switzerland during a closed-door session that lasted more than two hours Wednesday. Afterward, the regional transit agency announced three board members had resigned. One of them was Vice Chairman Chris Bleak, who blamed a potential work conflict rather than the trip as his reason for leaving the board. Spokesman Remi Barron says UTA is taking steps to improve public trust in his agency.
“We are still addressing some issues so they know they can depend on UTA,” he says, “and that involves a stricter ethics policy that was passed yesterday and a stricter travel policy.”
UTA’s been criticized for questionable spending over the years. And distrust factored into the recent defeat of Proposition 1, the transportation-funding package that failed in seven of 17 counties.
But Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes has no regrets. A onetime UTA board chairman, he’s confident the Swiss trip that included five lawmakers will benefit the state.
“It was a very important trip,” he says, “and will produce very good results for the state of Utah.
Hughes says fact-finding trips are invaluable for solving Utah problems like transporting skiers to and from the Cottonwood Canyon resorts. UTA and other agencies are restricting trips like these, and Hughes says his new approach might be a smart alternative.
“It wasn’t a UTA trip,” he says, “and they didn’t pay for it and they didn’t plan it, so them not being intimately aware or even aware at all of what was going on was kind of the purpose in moving these trips and these important efforts away from UTA.”
But the trip to Switzerland did lead to a few other complications. UTA officials had to halt bidding on a rail project temporarily. And, at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, delicate negotiations were underway with a Swiss company that was eying possible Utah projects.