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COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS -- A state audit was ordered Tuesday into the Utah Transit Authority, to investigate possible conflicts of interest among UTA board members. One possible conflict involves a FrontRunner stop in Draper; and now residents of the community of Cottonwood Heights want the state auditor to add another item to his list.
There's a fight going on in Cottonwood Heights about a controversial rezone of a major development project. Two of the central players are also central players in the UTA saga, and residents wonder if there's a connection.
It's an upscale development at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, called Tavaci. Developer Terry Diehl wants a rezone from large single-family homes to a large, high-density, high-end resort.
Residents expressed outrage about the project last year, a feeling many, like Roger Kehr, say has only grown.
"More than troubled—angered, feel betrayed by the city," Kehr said.
Of particular dismay are the roles of Bruce Jones and developer Terry Diehl. Diehl is a member of the UTA board; Jones is the UTA lawyer, who was also a Cottonwood Heights City Council member.
Government records acquired by the conservation group Save Our Canyons show Jones, through a series of e-mails, lobbied on behalf of Diehl.
The issues coordinator Jen Kecor said, "I felt there was a conflict of interest there, definitely."
Many of those e-mails are from Jones' UTA account. In the first, coming months before the public had any idea a rezone was in the works, Jones tells the city's planning director he suggested to Terry Diehl that Diehl contact the planning director about the high-density rezone.
Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, said, "You never actually know whether Bruce Jones is acting as a councilman, or as a board member of UTA, or a friend of Terry Diehl."
Given that Diehl has decision-making power over Jones' compensation, including a nearly $80,000 pay hike in one year, some want the state auditor to take a look.
"If you have an attorney and a council person acting in what I think is a conflict of interest, and the city still to this day backing a bailout of Terry Diehl. It's extremely troubling," Kehr said.
A spokesman for UTA responded to our questions about Jones' role with the Cottonwood Heights development via e-mail. "The Tavaci development is in no way related to UTA. I cannot comment on matters that are not related to the agency," wrote Gerry Carpenter. "Terry Diehl's role in setting executive/general counsel compensation is no different than that of any of the other 19 trustees on the UTA board. Bruce's compensation as a UTA employee has absolutely no connection to his previous service on the Cottonwood Height's City Council."
When asked last week about the large jump in Jones' compensation, UTA Board Chair Larry Ellertson said, "Bruce is fairly new. He came in at a lower salary. We knew 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."
Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore was out of town and unavailable to comment Wednesday. In April, he told KSL, "I realize there was some concern early on about how this was handled. That there was a perception that perhaps there was some backroom dealings. I hope now the understanding is that that was not the case. We've opened the process up probably more than any other process in our history."
Some residents said Wednesday if the city approves the Tavaci rezone, they'll consider attempting to put the issue on the ballot as a referendum.
On another note, we also looked into questions about potential conflicts involving another UTA board member, state Rep. Greg Hughes. Hughes does own property next to a TRAX stop in Salt Lake City, but records show he acquired it long before he joined the UTA board