UTA proposes new ethics rules for handling public money

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Transit Authority's Executive Committee has approved new ethics rules for anyone who handles public money within the transit agency.

At a meeting of its executive committee, UTA unanimously advanced stronger conflict of interest and ethics disclosures. Where it was previously self-reported, now anyone who handles taxpayer funds will be required to make annual disclosures of their financial holdings and outside employment.

"The benefit of having an independent review is you over-disclose," said UTA's Jayme Blakesley. "Then that independent review and screen is used to identify any potential conflicts."

The disclosure forms will not be subject to Utah's public records laws. However, lawyers and auditors will scrutinize them in an independent review process, Blakesley told the committee.

This is the latest effort by UTA to respond to criticism about how it spends public money. Executives recently agreed to forgo bonuses for the next two years. UTA also vowed to build public trust after being targeted for opponents of Proposition One, the sales tax hike that would have been used to fund transit and road projects. Critics of the tax, which passed in some counties and failed in others, accused UTA of mismanaging the public money it already gets.

On Monday, UTA Executive Committee Vice-Chair Chris Bleak asked that the new ethics and conflicts forms be sent to the full board for consideration at its Nov. 18 meeting.

"The public's entitled to know and we have the responsibility of being fully transparent," said H. David Burton, UTA's board chairman, who called this "another series of attempts to make certain the public is fully informed and everything that is accomplished by UTA is fully transparent."

In response to the ethics and conflict rules, the Utah Transit Riders Union, an advocacy group of bus and train riders, called the concept a good first step.

"While UTRU has not reviewed UTA's potential ethics policy, we feel every step towards transparency is the right one, for riders and taxpayers. We look forward to reviewing the potential policy and providing commentary if needed," said Alex Cragun, the group's vice-president.