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SALT LAKE CITY -- The board of trustees of the Utah Transit Authority selected a state lawmaker as its new board chair after getting an earful from the public.
"There needs to be a shakeup," said Salt Lake County Council member Joe Hatch. "There needs to be a huge shakeup in the governance, and I just think he's the kind of person who can go in and shake up."
The board voted Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, as its new chairman Wednesday.
"We want to safeguard against feathering our own nests. We want to make sure that we're not using the public resources for our personal benefit," Hughes said.
It was a near unanimous vote, with 17 board members voting "yes" and just one board member voting "no." One member was absent.
Wednesday's meeting opened with public conflict -- and citizens decrying what they see as UTA's abandonment of public trust and fiscal responsibility.
One group of citizens -- mostly from Draper and Cottonwood Heights -- gathered about 300 signatures, calling for UTA to not name a new chair who had declared any conflicts of interest.
"When I put this petition out, most everybody grabbed it and said, ‘That's a no brainer,'" said Cottonwood Heights resident Claire Geddes. "I didn't have any trouble. Most people were very aware of all the problems, and I think by taking this type of an action right now you will really severely hurt the credibility of this organization."
Hughes, the nominee for the chair, explained that he did own property near a TRAX stop in Salt Lake City, but his purchase of it preceded the stop being built and his membership on the board.
"We want to safeguard against feathering our own nests. We want to make sure that we're not using the public resources for our personal benefit," Hughes said. "I don't believe that anything this board would have done six or seven years prior to being on this board would have posed a conflict at the time that I did it."
"I've found him to be accessible and that's one of the most important things," Salt Lake County Council member Randy Horiuchi said of Hughes. "When we have a problem in the county, he's always open to listen to us despite our partisan differences, he being a big Republican, me a Democrat. I think he's ultimately been a fair guy."
Michelle Baguley now becomes the vice chair.
The agency says it has also enacted new, tougher conflict of interest policies.