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SALT LAKE CITY — UTA's CEO John Inglish has quietly retired after more than three decades with Utah's largest transit agency. Inglish officially called it quits in April, though there was no public fanfare.
For the past two years as CEO Inglish has not managed the day-to-day affairs of UTA. That's a job that has fallen to the General Manager. UTA has said a quiet retirement was the way he wanted it. Inglish declined KSL's request for an interview Tuesday.
In recent years, Inglish has drawn criticism over a compensation package that ranked among the highest for transit officials in the country. But, his defenders credit Inglish for carrying out a sweeping transit vision.
The rallying cry in Utah's transit world has been, "Let's try to avoid becoming LA," a city that is overrun by cars and smog. The man who helped put Utah on track to a more rail-centric path was Inglish.
John really was the kind of visionary leader that helped get us from that point to where we are today.
–Keith Bartholomew, UTA board member
"John is really the founder of UTA," said Keith Bartholomew, UTA Board Member and dean of the planning department at the University of Utah.
He said Inglish anticipated the need for a growing region to develop multiple transportation options and convinced other, often skeptical, local leaders to embrace the idea.
"John really was the kind of visionary leader that helped get us from that point to where we are today," Bartholomew said.
He started with UTA 35 years ago when it operated only 250 buses. By the end of 2012 when major rail expansion wraps up, the system will consist of 600 buses plus nearly 150 miles of light rail, commuter rail and street cars.
"Without his ability to deal with Washington, to look at funding options and opportunities and to represent public transportation to the community, we would not have the transportation options we have today," said Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini.
"It took the kind of leadership and vision, and linking bikes into transit," said Roger Borgenicht, co-chair of Utahns for Better Transportation. "All of the things that he's promoted have been inspirational, very helpful, I think, to getting the thing done."
In 2010, he drew criticism for his total compensation of well over $300,000. That puts him among the top in the nation. UTA representatives say Inglish deserved it for helping bring in more federal dollars per capita than any other transit system.
"More than any one person, he's responsible for the transit system we have along the Wasatch Front today," said UTA spokesperson Gerry Carpenter.
How much Inglish will take home in retirement is unclear. UTA denied a KSL News request under the Government Records Access and Management for details of his retirement package. It pointed to the UTA website section describing the agency's employee pension plan.
Under that plan, he would be due 2 percent of his average salary the past five years multiplied by his 35 years of service. That comes out to about $205,000 per year.
Carpenter would not confirm that number. But he said Inglish didn't receive anything beyond what the pension plan outlines.
Supporters say Inglish was worth the money taxpayer-funded UTA paid him.
During his tenure, Inglish managed the funding and construction of more than $4 billion in rail infrastructure with about 80 percent of the funds coming from federal sources. He helped push through a series of public referendums dedicating sales tax to public transit. He oversaw the nation's largest railroad corridor land acquisition — 175 miles of Union Pacific Railroad lines cutting through the Wasatch Front.
Bartholomew said Inglish articulated his ideas in a way that people would buy into them.
Not all of his big ideas worked, he said. But he "never got discouraged. He took bad news in stride."
If a door was closed, he said, Inglish found a key to open it.