SALT LAKE CITY — A letter written by the Utah Department of Transportation Agency appears to be seeking to silence a woman at the center of a scandal surrounding Utah County’s massive I-15 CORE Project and a $13 million payout.
An administrative law judge ruled Denice Graham was wrongfully terminated by UDOT in 2010. She has since been rehired but wants her back pay — UDOT agreed, but only as long as she would sign a letter asking the Utah Democratic State Party to stop publicizing her story.
Graham has been back on the job for two weeks. A judge told UDOT to rehire her and the transportation agency also agreed to give her more than $67,000 in back pay but only in exchange for her signature on the letter.
“They wanted me to sign a letter asking, initially it was asking the Democratic Party to retract any information that they had sent out from their website,” said Graham. “I absolutely said there’s no way I would sign a letter like that. I was totally disgusted.”
Democratic candidate for Utah Governor, Peter Cooke, brought up the $13 million settlement during convention this weekend. The pay out went to a company which lost a bid to the I-15 Core Project. UDOT blamed Graham for leaking information about who won the contract, claiming she broke a confidentiality agreement.
“I think the governor needs to just make that straight and clear on what happened on that $13 million issue,” said Cooke.
UDOT says the decision to include the letter as a stipulation for back pay came from the agency’s executive director, John Njord, not the Governor.
“Our executive director felt like it had become political; she had clearly become interested in making it political,” said Nile Easton, UDOT’s spokesperson.
Governor Gary Herbert’s spokesperson released a statement saying in part, “upon notification of UDOT’s request of Ms. Graham to draft a letter to Democratic leaders, the Governor’s Office promptly directed UDOT to rescind the request.”
Njord’s spokesperson says the letter was in response to what he felt like were attacks on UDOT and himself from Democrats and that he reacted emotionally. The letter has since been pulled at the request of the Governor’s Office.
There’s an online petition organized by Alliance for a Better Utah asking the governor and UDOT to give Graham her back pay and pay her attorney fees. That petition is found at betterutah.org/