SALT LAKE CITY – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke is calling on Governor Herbert to fire the director of UDOT and explain some decisions in the case of a wrongfully terminated employee.
Denice Graham was fired in 2010 after being blamed for a leak involving UDOT’s I-15 CORE project. A judge ruled that Graham had been unfairly terminated and ordered that she return to her job at UDOT. She’d requested $67,000 in back pay and about $50,000 in attorney’s fees, plus an apology from UDOT director John Njord.
Graham has received the $67,000 back pay, but is still waiting on the $50,000 in legal fees and the apology.
“They’ll pay her salary but they won’t pay her legal fees which to me is a message if you work for the state to be quiet and don’t complain,” said Cooke.
Last week, Cooke said he backed Njord in the decision, but has since changed his position, saying that UDOT managers made a multi-million dollar mistake when they settled a lawsuit. He says that Governor Herbert has shown a lack of leadership in the case and is demanding that Herbert make it right.
“Somebody needs to give confidence that there’s somebody in charge at the Capitol, and that is my issue,” said Cooke. “I thought it was quite understood that this would be a great way to show the people that work for the state of Utah that if you have a gripe, you can be transparent.”
Cooke points to the UDOT scandal as just one in a series of management problems in Utah’s government, including the data breach at the Utah Dept. of Health, the financial scandal at the Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control and a $25 million over-calculation of funds at the Dept. of Education.
“Now we have 800 thousand people who’ve lost their identity. How much is that going to cost the state? You start adding 25 and 13 and another million. Before you know it, it’s real money and somebody has to be accountable,” Cooke said.
UDOT responded with a statement, saying, “John continues to work at the discretion of the Governor on solving the many important transportation issues facing our state. “We are maintaining a dialogue with the employee and her attorney to resolve the few points of contention that remain. We are seeking a solution that properly balances her demands and the use of public dollars.”
The Governor’s Office hasn’t responded to requests for comments.