Unified fire chief announces 'mutual separation' with agency amid audits

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SOUTH SALT LAKE — Unified Fire Authority Chief Michael Jensen announced Friday that his tenure with the agency is ending.

Jensen and UFA "are working through a mutual separation," he said.

The announcement came after Jensen met with the UFA board for about two hours Friday afternoon. He declined to elaborate on whether the ending of his tenure as chief is connected to an independent audit the UFA board called for Tuesday designed to "focus primarily on top management of the organization."

The Utah State Auditor's Office also announced last week that it was reviewing allegations of "improper compensation" to Jensen and other UFA employees.

The review will also look into the use of purchasing cards and fuel cards on an agency-wide basis since 2012 based on some contentions of "other potential misuse of public funds," state auditors said.

Jensen, who also serves on the Salt Lake County Council, said little Friday about either audit but expressed his gratitude for the time he spent serving with the Unified Fire Authority.

"UFA has been a big part of my life for the last 20 years," he said. "I've loved being a firefighter. I've loved being a paramedic."

Christopher Pengra, UFA board vice chairman, said he didn't know how soon a permanent replacement for Jensen would be named. He also declined to say whether Jensen is currently fulfilling any duties with UFA.

The board is expected to further discuss its separation from Jensen in a meeting Tuesday, Pengra said.

Jensen and fellow senior officials at UFA have ignited controversy among firefighters and board members for receiving rapidly expanding monetary incentives that apparently went unnoticed by at least some Unified board members.

The state audit indicated it is investigating the compensation of Jensen, former Deputy Chief Gaylord Scott, former Chief Financial Officer Shirley Perkins and legal counsel Karl Hendrickson.

Between them, those officials received more than $400,000 in bonuses in the past five years, including $34,000 each in 2015. Including that bonus, Jensen received $100,000 in benefits and $160,000 in his role of fire chief in 2015. He also received $51,300 for serving on the County Council.

Scott resigned abruptly in July, citing health reasons.

When asked about the bonuses Friday, Jensen said the monetary incentives "were reviewed, approved and signed" by the board.


"It was compensation for work that was performed for the district," he said.

Jensen was referring to the Unified Fire Service Area, a taxing district separate from UFA. Riverton, Taylorsville, Herriman and Eagle Mountain make up the service area and pay for fire services differently from other cities that UFA serves.

Jensen said earlier this month that his compensation increased based on completing work needed in those cities, specifically related to arranging funding for new fire stations. The incentive required work above and beyond officials' typical duties at UFA, he said.

Jensen also said this month that he wouldn't accept any more money from the Unified Fire Service Area.

However, he was tight-lipped Friday about any potential connection between his parting of ways with UFA and the controversy over the incentives he was receiving. Jensen spoke in vague terms about recently working with the board to improve issues within the agency.

"We've cleaned up (some) policies over the last year … (and) tightened those things up," he said.

Pengra, who also serves as mayor of Eagle Mountain, distanced Friday's announcement from the specific issue of Jensen's monetary incentives, though he was noncommittal when asked if it came as a result of the recently launched audits into UFA.

"Incentive packages were a separate issue that was resolved months ago," he said.

Recently, Pengra said, there "have been policy changes that allow for (more) transparency" at UFA. He insisted that the parting of ways with Jensen is because he and the board have been "working together to find the best path forward for UFA."

When asked if a parting of ways was a softer way to say that Jensen is resigning, Pengra said there's a legal distinction between a mutual agreement and a resignation. He insisted that no formal action "has been taken by the board" against Jensen.

Jensen said he will miss being chief, a position he has filled at UFA since 2009. Under his stewardship, he added, the agency has made strides in its emergency response protocols.

"For me, it's going to be a new chapter," Jensen said. "I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish."


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Ben Lockhart


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