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Mixed reviews given to new-look UTA following initial federal monitor’s report

UTA board members are getting feedback from the Dept. of Justice following major changes in operations. Photo courtesy of Alta.com

A first report on progress made after the Utah Transit Authority announced sweeping changes in the way it handles such issues as funding, property acquisitions and distribution of executive bonuses was released this week.  The report was issued on behalf of the Department of Justice, under contract with UTA to assure compliance with a non-prosecutorial agreement issued in 2017, following an investigation of what was called “problematic activities” involving the transit agency.

The newly revamped UTA board was briefed on this week’s initial report by two representatives of the Department of Justice Wednesday morning during a meeting.   Although the report on Phase One of the investigation is showing overall improvement since 2016’s reforms, there were a few concerns.

“We believe progress has been made, through the reforms and through other reforms put in place since then,” says Reece Morgan at Wednesday’s board meeting, representing the Department of Justice.  However, he cites some concerns including dramatic turnover in UTA personnel since major transit agency reforms were presented in 2016.  He says nearly complete changes at the top level involved some members who were among the original key reformers.  There have been four different board chairmen in a little more than three years, as cited by Morgan.

Another concern announced by Morgan was the implementation of a local advisory council.  Morgan told board members it was his impression that individuals he talked to during the Phase One investigation were not clear as to what the specific job entailed involving key roles in transit-oriented development, capital projects and station area plans.

He says the audit function of the transit agency was far more robust than before the 2016 reforms, but the lack of an adequate risk management strategy was a concern.  He says the monitors recommended beefing up risk management as a way to move forward.

Some transit authority issues currently under investigation involve inadequate controls over federal funds, improper handling and disclosure of property acquisitions and dispositions, and missteps related to ethical standards and executive bonuses.

On Wednesday morning, UTA’s board members approved a resolution placing proper oversight of pension committee matters in the hands of the Board of Trustees.