UTA under investigation for violating public meetings laws

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Attorney General's Office confirmed to FOX 13 it has been investigating accusations the Utah Transit Authority violated public meetings laws.

In a  letter provided to FOX 13, assistant Utah Attorney General Bryan Nalder wrote that UTA appears to have conducted some business behind closed doors, taking action on items not discussed in an open meeting, and having vague agenda items.

"The [Civil Review Committee] is concerned that there has been a pattern in several of UTA's past meetings of failing to adequately provide reasonable specificity for several agenda items," the letter reads.

The Utah AG's office cites an April 18 meeting where UTA CEO Jerry Benson was terminated as an example, alleging that some of the discussion may have taken place in a closed door meeting and in possible violation of Utah's Open Public Meetings Act.

UTA may have also broken the law during a February meeting, but will avoid any sanction because the deadline has passed for a lawsuit, the letter said.

The Utah AG's Office urged UTA to reconvene at a future meeting to follow proper procedures regarding Benson's firing and comply with Utah's public meetings laws going forward.

UTA is in the midst of a legislative-ordered restructuring, doing away with its Board of Trustees in favor of a three-member panel. It's part of a series of reforms ordered by the Utah State Legislature.

The revelations come on the heels of an announcement made by Representative Mike Shultz, R-Hooper, and Senator Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.

“Due to this confusion and misinformation we are requesting UTA cease all efforts immediately on rebranding,” Harper said.

Lawmakers are holding off on re-branding UTA as part of SB 136. UTA estimated the rebranding would cost $50 million. They believe UTA used the name change as a distraction while the transit company broke open meeting laws and worked out a generous severance package for CEO Jerry Benson.

Lawmakers also questioned the relationship between UTA and its former general counsel who left UTA and is now working with a law firm with ties to UTA.

“This was put out there by UTA as a way to create controversy around the name change. To mislead the public,” Schultz said.

UTA spokesperson Carl Arky says they will follow lawmakers lead and hold off on the rebranding.

He says they’ve always dealt in good faith with lawmakers.

“We were asked for a figure," he said. "Our people did the best job they could under a very short time window.”

As for their response to the AG office’s letter:

“Our response to that is we`re not sure yet if there were violations that have been committed. We just received the letter yesterday,” Arky said.