SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority confirmed the pension for its longtime general manager after the state's public records ombudsman helped end a monthslong standoff between the agency and the media.
John Inglish receives $200,000 a year for life.
Government watchdogs called the figure outrageous, while UTA defends it as fair for a career spent building the agency.
"That's a lot of money," said David Irvine, a lawyer with Utahns for Ethical Government. "I would really question whether patrons of the system or taxpayers who fund it are well-served by that practice."
Irvine was a Republican member of the Utah Legislature when it formed UTA in the mid 1970s.
"I don't believe it was ever an expectation or intention of the state Legislature that the agency would become a mechanism by which a small handful of individuals could enrich themselves at taxpayer expense," he said.
UTA had refused to divulge Inglish's pension since he retired in April, citing state privacy laws. The agency pointed to its website section describing its employee pension plan.
Under that plan, Inglish, whose salary and benefits peaked at $350,000 a year in 2009, is due 2 percent of his average pay the past five years multiplied by his 35 years of service. That came out to about $205,000 per year. UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter would not confirm that number at the time.
The Deseret News and KSL then filed a request for details about the retirement package under the Government Records Access and Management, which UTA denied. The newspaper and the television station appealed to the State Records Committee.
The committee was due to hear the case last week, but state records ombudsman Rosemary Cundiff held a mediation meeting between lawyers for UTA and the media outlets. UTA confirmed the $200,000 pension in the meeting.
Carpenter said UTA continues to maintain retirement benefits are private information but released the number "in the spirit of trying to come together in agreement to disclose that he is receiving the capped amount."
Inglish is actually eligible for more under the agency's formula, but the IRS caps annual pensions at $200,000, he said.
Carpenter allowed that UTA offers a "fairly generous retirement package," but the agency believes Inglish earned the pension he receives.
"What you see built today and what's going to be opening in the next few months truly is his legacy," he said. "We feel like he's made an important contribution both to UTA and the economy of Utah."
UTA is preparing to open a FrontRunner line between Provo and Salt Lake City and an airport TRAX line.
Longtime government watchdog Claire Geddes said it's discouraging to see public funds used for a golden parachute, especially when UTA has raised fares, cut bus routes, laid off workers and struggled to finance new lines.
"Why is that we're paying a man in Salt Lake City, Utah, that has one of the smaller transit agencies, that kind of money?" she said. "This money will go on forever, and no one should be able to get rich and pad their pocket while we have people and bus lines being cut."
Geddes said UTA, which is considered a quasi-government agency, should become a department of the state.
"When you're using government funds, you should have government oversight. That should be a no-brainer," she said.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company