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SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert has called for an audit of the Utah Department of Transportation in the wake of a series of stunning revelations about the controversial bid process for the huge I-15 rebuild in Utah County.
Governor asks for UDOT audit
In a letter written Wednesday to UDOT Executive Director John Njord, Herbert said: "... a cloud of uncertainty has been raised concerning some UDOT practices. Public trust, as well as my confidence in your department, must be restored." [CLICK HERE to read the governor's letter to John Njord]
In order to restore that trust, the governor called for an independent audit of UDOT by the Utah State Auditor. He also asked the state auditor to share the results with him and the Utah Legislature. [CLICK HERE to read the governor's audit request]
In addition, the governor has ordered that, until that audit is complete, UDOT must bring any bid protest settlement over $100,000 to him for review and approval.
UDOT responded to the governor's request for an audit by issuing a statement Wednesday evening. It reads, in part: "We welcome the governor's input and leadership concerning how contracts are procured and future protests settled. ... UDOT also welcomes the independent audit and will work closely with the auditors to provide the governor's office with all information they are seeking." [CLICK HERE to read the entire statement from UDOT]
Chain of events crossing into campaign for governor
Late Wednesday, Herbert's Democratic opponent in the upcoming gubernatorial election called the move a "campaign diversion" and accused the governor of making UDOT a "scapegoat."
Corroon says the attorney general should investigate the governor.
"It's pretty clear now that the governor's office has been used for campaign activities," Corroon said. "That's not lawful under state law."
A spokesman for the attorney general's office responded to Corroon's call for a probe by saying they can't do it: "The lieutenant governor is in charge of investigating campaign complaints," he said.
Herbert's spokesman responded by e-mailing, "Corroon's comments are not worthy of a response."
Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, says the twists and turns of the story are putting the governor and his leadership under the microscope.
"It's a wake-up call," he said. "When a string starts getting pulled on this type of political sweater, it's always nerve wracking on where it stops."
In the meantime, all of this is sure to come up in a series of debates between Gary Herbert and Peter Corroon over the next couple of weeks, beginning with one Thursday.
The I-15 bid is at the center of a controversy over the influence of campaign contributions to the governor on the award of state contracts. Herbert accepted $87,500 from members of the winning bid team, including $50,000 from Wadsworth.
Wadsworth had two private meetings with the governor and was one of four $50,000-level sponsors of Herbert's first Governor's Gala fundraiser in 2009.
The governor's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, referred questions about the situation to UDOT.
"John Njord has been briefing the governor regularly on many issues. He has been assured, and reassured, that this particular situation has nothing to do with the I-15 CORE bid process," Welling said. "Beyond that, it is an agency personnel issue that you will need to discuss with UDOT."
Contractor admits to 'personal relationship' with UDOT employee
The governor's announcement comes on the same day that a highway builder at the center of the controversy admitted to a "personal relationship" with a female UDOT employee.
Contractor Guy Wadsworth released a statement Wednesday afternoon acknowledging a "personal relationship" with a female UDOT employee.
In the statement Wadsworth said the relationship "did not show professional judgment. For the past 15 months I have been separated from my wife and we are doing our best to work through our personal issues."
He said, "Despite my lapse of personal judgment, I can say emphatically that this relationship had absolutely no bearing on any bid decisions at any time" and that the employee was not involved in the bid process.
Wadsworth's statement did not name the UDOT employee involved.
UDOT responds to employee's relationship with contractor
Earlier in the day, the Utah Department of Transportation confirmed a female employee was demoted for having an "improper relationship" with a contractor that was discovered during an investigation into information leaked about the controversial I-15 contract.
But UDOT spokesman Nile Easton said neither the December 2009 award of the record $1.7 billion I-15 contract nor the $13 million settlement quietly negotiated later with a losing bidder were affected.
"Absolutely not," Easton said.
He declined to name the employee or the contractor involved, saying attorneys were still determining what information would be made public.
"We found evidence that somebody had leaked improper information, actually wrong information, about which contractor had won the I-15 CORE project one week prior to actually making that decision," Easton said.
"In the course of looking into where that leak had come from, (we) discovered there was an improper relationship occurring with a contractor," he said. "Based on that information we took what we felt was appropriate action."
The employee was reclassified into a new position at a loss of pay, Easton said. "This person at no point was involved in the I-15 CORE project," including the bid process.
Although the source of the leak was not identified, Easton said, it was not the employee involved.
He said Gov. Herbert was briefed about the situation last week by Njord.