Legislative leaders OK look at UTA conflicts

Legislative leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to have the auditor general scrutinize Utah Transit Authority's 19-member Board of Trustees for conflicts of interest involving land deals and transit-oriented developments.

The audit request came from Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, who said she had ample evidence to support the need for further investigation and oversight of the largely tax-funded agency.

"There are mountains of information to be given to the auditor general to investigate conflicts of interest at UTA," Fisher told the four-member Legislative Audit subcommittee, the top leaders of the House and Senate.

Last week, Auditor General John Schaff wrote a letter clearing the agency on previous criticisms of UTA's lack of board independence and rigorous oversight -- key findings in a 2008 legislative audit.

"I'm asking you to take the next step and deal with conflicts of interest," Fisher said.

House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, expressed keen interest in Fisher's documents and supported the auditor general's reviewing the material and making recommendations for any further action.

Schaff said his inquiry would look at the "strength of the evidence."

"We'd go back to the sources," Schaff said, "and look for material that we could document and bring back to the committee as a recommendation."

UTA General Counsel Bruce Jones said the agency would welcome such scrutiny as a chance to clear its name.

"We are audited on a constant basis. It's easy to cast aspersions," Jones said. "If we're given the opportunity to respond, we believe we can bring a conclusion to false allegations."

In the past, the agency's policy required that board members disclose any conflicts and abstain from voting on any related decisions.

However, lawmakers tightened that policy this year with SB272, which requires any member who is either a partner, developer or owner of a UTA-related transit-oriented development to resign from the board.

Current UTA conflict of interest forms, obtained by The Tribune through a government records request, indicate only one board member reporting a land-related conflict.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, signed that he owned property adjacent to the 900 South light-rail station in Salt Lake City.

Board member Terry Diehl was involved in some controversy when he disclosed in 2008 that he served as a consultant to Whitewater VII Holdings, LLC.

In that role, Diehl helped broker an agreement with Draper City for a mixed-use development of unlimited height and density near a contentious commuter-rail site that has since been halted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In late 2009, Diehl signed the development agreement with Draper, identifying himself as the manager of WW Draper LLC, the sole member of Whitewater VII.

Whitewater VII was dissolved earlier this year, according to state corporation records.

And in a UTA disclosure form signed this March, Diehl reported no conflicts of interest.

"I can't comment on Mr. Diehl's business dealings," said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter. "As far as UTA is concerned, Mr. Diehl and all board members have followed the established process."

Diehl could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.



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