In a closed-door session last week, the Utah County Commission had an excellent chance to demonstrate their commitment to open government. They failed.
So, why was the decision they were about to make so sensitive that they had to do it in secret? It certainly wasn’t about tax levies or land use ordinances. They have no objection to making those deliberations public.
Instead, they were passing judgment on something that will impact every citizen of Utah County for years to come — the nomination of two candidates from Utah County to vie for a seat on the powerful new Utah Transit Authority Board.
In its 2018 session, the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 136, which made sweeping changes to the governance of the Utah Transit Authority. Perhaps its most important change was to replace the current board of 12 members with three fulltime commissioners. Out of 10 candidates, the Commission voted 2-1 to send the names of Robert Crawley and Benjamin Stanley to Governor Herbert, who has until Nov. 1 to appoint one of them to the new board. The other two seats will be filled by nominees from Salt Lake County and a joint selection from Davis and Weber Counties.
Crawley and Stanley may well be the most qualified nominees from Utah County, but there is no way for the public to know.
There were 10 applicants; the others being Brian Wall, Burt Garfield, Isaac Astill, Jeff Acerson, Kent Millington, Leo Lines, Muriel Xochimitl and Steven Black. Any one of them might be fine UTA commissioners, too. why is the public excluded from such a discussion? Why, for instance, did Commissioner Ivie feel it necessary to oppose them? These are legitimate questions to which the public will never get an answer.
The Commission is not always so secretive. Indeed, they should be applauded for having meetings posted on YouTube and making agendas available on the county website. Transparency is an essential element of good government, and in most instances, the Utah County Commission keeps the public apprised of what it is doing.
This case, however, requires an additional commitment the commission doesn’t seem willing to make.
The UTA is in a unique position. It makes multi-million-dollar decisions about how our tax money is spent, but their public-private partnership has allowed them to circumvent public oversight in the past. Massive salaries, accusations of corruption and a lack of accountability have all gone a long way toward tarnishing UTA’s reputation, to the extent that they still haven’t dug their way out.
That would suggest the Commission recommendations, with regard to UTA board members, should have greater scrutiny than normal commission business. Yet the opposite is true here. Why were the doors shut during the deliberations? Why was there no opportunity for public comments?
Currently, there is a group opposing Salt Lake County’s nomination of Draper Mayor Troy Walker as a candidate for the UTA Board. Would it surprise anyone to see a group emerge to oppose the appointment of either Crawley or Stanley? Without the protection that comes from a process that includes the public, the County Commission has opened itself to accusations of acting in bad faith. Many are asking Gov. Herbert to exercise more transparency in the process of appointing these new UTA board members. It’s time the Utah County Commission followed suit.