SALT LAKE CITY — North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor urged his fellow members of the Utah Transit Authority board in an email Wednesday to "seize the opportunity" to toughen up their oversight in the wake of an ongoing federal investigation.
Taylor, who joined the board in February, told the trustees they should have discussed the probe made public last week at their meeting Wednesday "to show the public we are taking this seriously," but said his request to do so was turned down.
"In my opinion today was a missed opportunity," Taylor said in the email obtained through a records request to the North Ogden mayor's office. He said he was disappointed in what he called the "defensiveness and deflection" by UTA leaders.
He said in the email he was not allowed to talk at the meeting about what he called a need for stronger checks and balances by the board that, had they been in place, "the abuses at UTA would never have been able to occur."
There was no mention at Wednesday's board meeting of the investigation announced by U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber or the nonprosecution agreement signed by UTA officials that placed the agency under up to three years of federal monitoring.
"We think the effect is to put all this stuff that happened in the past behind us," UTA Board Chairman Robert McKinley told the Deseret News. "What's there to discuss? Yeah, there's a federal monitor coming in, but that's not to run the organization."
McKinley said UTA's agreement to cooperate with the federal investigation in exchange for no criminal action being taken by the government was the "subject of closed session meetings of the board over several months."
The chairman said board members approved executing the agreement before it was announced, by publicly adopting a motion in March that he recalled referred only to a document discussed in a closed session.
UTA leaders held a news conference after the agreement was made public, saying the deal was a "stamp of approval" on the agency's reforms following a critical 2014 legislative audit that prompted the investigation.
A former UTA board member, Terry Diehl, was charged last week for allegedly misrepresenting in bankruptcy court more than $1 million he made on a UTA FrontRunner real estate development in Draper.
The board, McKinley said, "is fully behind the execution of that agreement and fully behind the position we're taking when we had that news conference. Mayor Taylor is unfortunately pretty new to the board and doesn't have a lot of background."
After a closed session discussion at Wednesday's board meeting, Taylor abstained from voting to authorize condemning unspecified properties in the path of the new Provo-Orem transit system, saying he wasn't comfortable with the proposal.
He told trustees he would be sending them his ideas about improving the process.
"I think having someone who has different opinions is about the most valuable thing that can happen on a board like this, so I would ask you to please take a look at those," Taylor said.
There was no response from the board at the meeting.
Afterward, Taylor initially said a UTA policy he labeled "ridiculous" prohibited him from talking to the media.
"I think it creates group think. I think it creates a false sense of unanimity and artificial unanimity that doesn’t exist," he said.
McKinley said the policy, in place since 2004, designates the chairman to speak on behalf of the board but does not stop members from answering media questions as long as they are "speaking as an individual."
Taylor, who previously had been advised by UTA to direct media inquiries about board policy to the chairman, then told reporters the condemnation vote was an example of what is wrong with the way the agency is governed.
"I think condemnation should be a very public process. Most of what was in the closed meeting, in my opinion, could have and should have been said in the public meeting," he said, citing his experience as a mayor.
"If my city goes to condemn a property, you better believe it's going to be very public, so our residents understand why we're using that extremely powerful tool," Taylor said, pledging to vote against future proposals handled the same way.
McKinley said he spoke with Taylor before the meeting and advised him to raise his concerns with the chairmen of the board committees "rather than just springing things at a board meeting when nobody has had time to think about it."