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Salt Lake County councilman failed to disclose role as UTA lobbyist

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27 2012 10:27 p.m. MST

Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi speaks during a news conference to show support for Peter Cooke's campaign for governor in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime elected official has worked as a lobbyist for the Utah Transit Authority without disclosing his relationship when issues regarding the agency came before him for votes.

Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi lists himself on the state's website as a lobbyist for R&R Partners, which for years has done work for UTA. The state requires lobbyists to register every two years and disclose their clients.

Horiuchi said he lobbied for UTA a decade ago and was involved in pushing for sales tax increases for transit projects.

"And I was at the time out of office, by the way," he said in an interview last year. "In fact, I think the only time I ever got money from UTA was before I became an elected official."

But Horiuchi, who has served on the County Council since 2002, said last week he worked on UTA's behalf as recently as the past two years, but said he wouldn't call what he has done lobbying. He said it was mostly calling a mayor or city council member in another city about UTA project, calls he said he makes on other issues as well.

For example, Horiuchi said he met with elected officials in West Valley City and West Jordan to help get TRAX lines built to those cities. He said he wasn't paid for most of what he did for UTA.

"I've helped them a lot, and I'm proud of it," he said, "and I wouldn't do any different."

Salt Lake County requires elected officials to file annual disclosure reports, a signed and notarized statement listing their private business interests. Horiuchi did not have a report on file for at least the past decade.

Elected officials "rarely" file those forms, Horiuchi said. If they have, he said, he hasn't seen them. He said he declares conflicts of interest in council meetings prior to voting. But he said he couldn't remember any "big" votes regarding UTA.

Transit authority-related business has come before the council several times in the past two years, including the reappointment of a UTA board member, real estate easements, bus routes and development plans in West Jordan and Draper.

Horiuchi voted with the agency nine times during that period and sometimes spoke on its behalf. But there was no record in meeting minutes of him disclosing a conflict of interest regarding his work for R&R Partners or the firm's work for UTA.

At a 2007 council meeting, Horiuchi did note a conflict of interest before voting in favor of an interlocal agreement with UTA for a rail project involving a sales tax bond. According to the meeting minutes, he declared he had "done some work for UTA."

And at a council meeting last Friday, after the Deseret News and KSL questioned him about his disclosures, he declared that he had done work for UTA before voting to involve county tax dollars in a Draper commercial project along a FrontRunner stop.

Asked last year what role Horiuchi plays for UTA, transit agency spokesman Gerry Carpenter said, "He has a lot of connections. He's able to talk to a lot of people who trust him. It allows us to share information in a way that we wouldn't be able to."

Carpenter, though, clarified the relationship when questioned about it again last week:

"R&R Partners has multiple clients. Mr. Horiuchi serves certain clients, while Mike Zuhl and other R&R staff work for UTA," he wrote in an email, adding that Horiuchi has not worked on a UTA issue "since the Olympics."

But Horiuchi said last week he has done work for UTA in the past two years.

"I would say I probably have made contact for them or helped them in some way. I'm not paid a salary every year or even a retainer," he said. "It's basically piece work."

In 2006, Horiuchi, Zuhl and a third lobbyist formed their own firm called R&R Government Affairs, which worked on contract for R&R Partners. R&R Government Affairs' clients included UTA.

"I'm not sure he really lobbied," Zuhl said. "He had an association with R&R, but he could have contributed in many other ways than lobbying. He hasn't lobbied since he's been in public office, maybe with a few exceptions.

"He had a relationship with R&R for a number of years, going back to 2000 or 2001. He provided assistance with some of our clients. He was never an employee of R&R," Zuhl said. "We just had a relationship with him, and he just helped us with a few of our clients, including UTA at one time."

Some political observers say Horiuchi should have disclosed those relationships from the beginning.

"If a county officer is lobbying for someone, that's a source of income that ought to be disclosed in a financial statement that the officer's required to file," said David Irvine, a former state legislator who serves as an attorney for Utahns for Ethical Government.

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said it should be clear to the public whom elected officeholders represent.

"The big question is always, 'Which hat are you wearing? Are you wearing you legislator hat? Your public official hat? Your lobbyist hat? What interest are you doing right now?'"

Contributing: John Daley, KSL

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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