UTA compensation sees sharp increase following 'secret' survey

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SALT LAKE CITY -- High pay for top executives at the Utah Transit Authority has grabbed recent headlines. KSL News has discovered the salaries are based, at least in part, on a survey UTA conducted to make sure the pay scale was competitive. The problem is UTA won't make that salary survey public.

For some reason, in the mid-2000s, running the railroad became much more rewarding, according to UTA records obtained by KSL.

UTA General Manager and CEO John Inglish says he's comfortable with where the salaries of UTA executives stand
UTA General Manager and CEO John Inglish says he's comfortable with where the salaries of UTA executives stand

For example, in 2005, then Assistant General Manager Mike Allegra was making $177,000. By 2009, his compensation soared 32 percent to $260,000. UTA says his duties changed, though UTA records show his title did not.

General Counsel Bruce Jones saw his total pay balloon 32 percent in one year to $250,000.

"Bruce is fairly new. He came in at a lower salary," says Larry Ellertson, chair of UTA's board of trustees. "We know that at the time we brought him in with the understanding that he would get a bump in his salary, and so you're seeing that reflected in that."

UTA's top man, General Manager and CEO John Inglish, was paid $330,000 in 2005. For the next five years, he was paid a similar sum, until 2009 when it jumped to nearly $350,000.

UTA tells us the pay increases were based on a salary survey that showed the pay levels were reasonable, given all of the duties of UTA executives.

"I am comfortable with it, yes," Inglish said in a recent interview with KSL News. "I think the public is entitled to best management and leadership that can be provided."

We don't know exactly what that salary survey shows because UTA has declined to make it public, calling it "proprietary" and a "trade secret" as defined by Utah law.

But we do know this: The employee responsible for generating the report saw her pay rise at a double-digit clip, 19 percent, to nearly $117,000.

"That particular position, however, is not one the board deals with directly," Ellertson says.

He added that the position is filled by the general manager.

Longtime government watchdog Claire Geddes calls UTA's executive compensation a "gravy train," particularly during a recession when routes are being cut.

Total Bonus/Transportation Pay (2005-2009)

Name,titlePerformance bonusTransportation allowanceTotal
John Inglish, General Manager & CEO$174,785$59,905$233,690
Mike Allegra, Asst. General Manager$125,633$37,013$162,646
Bruce T. Jones, General Counsel (May 2006-09)$73,575$33,462$107,037
Nancy Malecker, Senior Human Resources Officer$45,725$0$45,725

"We're seeing people get absolutely wealthy off of this public money, and I think that outrages people more than anything," Geddes says.

But UTA's board chair says UTA operates like a private business and competes with private business for top employees.

"In this area, the common person on the street would look at it and say, ‘Yeah, they're high.' But if you look at the pay of many people in this community, you'd find out there are many people who are paid in excess of where these salaries are," Ellertson says.

Watchdog Chuck Eddy, who has fought for open government records for years, says UTA should publish the salary survey so the public can decide for itself.

"Really, it's the taxpayers' money here," Eddy says. "It's the people's money, and they have a right to know that."

The secret salary survey supposedly compares UTA's compensation with other businesses and transit agencies.

We did the same, checking, for example, with Denver's transit agency RTD. Its top three officials all make less than UTA's top brass did in 2009, even though Denver has more employees and riders, and twice the budget.

RTD gives no bonuses or transportation allowances. RTD is currently undergoing a reorganization and plans to hire new senior staff whose salaries have yet to be determined.

Over the past five years, UTA's board awarded its top three performance bonuses and transportation allowances, to the tune of half a million dollars.

"I'm very troubled by this information. It doesn't surprise me, but it does disappoint me," says Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City.

On Tuesday, Fisher says she'll formally request the state to order a new audit of UTA.

Legislative audit meeting
Tuesday, May 18, 3 p.m.
250 State Capitol Bldg.
On the agenda:
- UTA response to Audit Subcommittee's request
  • UTA Board conflicts of interest audit request

"This is very disturbing," she says. "It shows fiscal irresponsibility."

It wouldn't be the first audit of UTA. Two years ago, a legislative audit challenged UTA executive pay saying, "A review of UTA's compensation practices found that executive salaries and bonuses are high compared to those of other transit agencies. We recommend that the board establish policies which bring executive compensation in line with those of other transit agencies."

The 2008 performance audit also questioned the effectiveness of UTA's Board of Trustees saying, "A lack of compliance with a board member's term limit requirement and the board's poor use of its internal auditors have raised concern about the board's independence and oversight."

However, no action was taken.

As for the secret salary survey, UTA denied our appeal Monday to obtain it under public records law -- a move we plan to appeal again.

Meanwhile, compensation for UTA's top officials exceed that of the top three officials at the Utah Department of Transportation. According to UDOT, the gross pay for the agency's executive director, John Njord, is $146,823.

Njord has a state car assigned to him. In 2007, he received a bonus (UDOT calls it an incentive award) of $2,693.

The state pays UDOT's No. 2, Carlos Braceras, $149,246 annually. The next two senior employees make $137,563. All of those figures do not include other benefits like health benefits and 401(k) contributions.

UDOT employs just over 1,600 employees and has annual budget of roughly $3 billion. After recent layoffs, UTA now employs nearly 2,000 workers and has an annual budget of $180 million.

Last month, UTA announced it was chopping all bonuses for 250 employees in 2010, including executives and managers.

One community advocate thinks it's time to replace current members of UTA's Board of Trustees. Barbara Toomer of the Disabled Rights Action Committee is urging citizens to call their mayors to ask them to appoint new board members. UTA board chair Larry Ellertson said he believes the board has provided thorough oversight.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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