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Scott G Winterton, KSL, File

Lawmakers expected to delay UTA name change

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Posted - May 15th, 2018 @ 10:20pm



SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers are expected to announce Wednesday that the controversial name change approved last session for the Utah Transit Authority will be delayed.

A news conference with the sponsors of the legislation, which also overhauled the agency's governance structure, is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Capitol during Wednesday's interim meetings.

"Clearly there's not the will to go forward with the name change based on the current information that we have and the current board," the House sponsor of SB136, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said.

Schultz declined to discuss what options will be presented at the news conference.

UTA Board Chairman Greg Bell said he has heard that lawmakers "would like to study the name change in the (Legislature's transportation) task force in the coming year."

During the 2018 Legislature, UTA lobbied against changing the agency's name to the Transit District of Utah, warning it would cost at least $50 million to do everything from repainting buses to hiring new staff.

Schultz and the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, have been critical of that estimate, especially since the bill spells out that the name change should be made over time, as resources allow.

UTA trustees, set to be replaced along with the agency's top bosses by Nov. 1 with a new, three-member management team appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert, were set to consider hiring a re-branding expert to help with the name change.

The decision to put together a bid proposal came after Bell told members of the UTA executive committee there was pressure to get going on the name change rather than wait for the new management team to take over.

"We're getting mixed messages. We need to hear yes or no," Bell said. "We'll do what we're required to do. We have not resisted this. Our only hope was that we could maybe slow down."

Schultz said the legislation "doesn't require UTA to make changes immediately. It gives time for that to happen. We had anticipated something totally different than what UTA is talking about doing."

He said there was "no way the Legislature would ever consider spending or authorize spending $50 million to change the name for UTA. We're not perfect and we certainly make mistakes, but none that big."

Also expected to be discussed at the news conference Wednesday is the severance package received by former UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson, who recently was fired without cause by the board so that he would get nine months salary and benefits.

A letter from the Utah Attorney General's office received by UTA Tuesday but not yet made public reportedly deals with issues surrounding whether the meeting where that decision was made complied with the state's Open Meetings Act.

Benson is anticipated to receive well over $200,000 in severance pay.

Legislative audits have criticized UTA over executive compensation, as well as other issues. Last year, UTA signed a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the ongoing federal investigation into transit development deals.

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