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News Blog

UTA's Diehl and Jones: an auditted couple?

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2010-12-15 -

I found it a bit humorous that KSL yesterday referred to Utah Transit Authority's general counsel Bruce Jones only as "UTA's attorney" without naming him in a breaking news story about a conflict of interest with UTA trustee and developer Terry Diehl. Jones and Diehl, as they say, are buds.

The omission of Jones's name (pictured at left) is not to disparage KSL/Deseret News' John Daly, who's quite familiar with the Diehl/Jones dynamic. Also, after a Twitter taunt from me, the KSL story was updated to include Jones's name. But the original breaking-news version omitted it. I'll demonstrate why it was wise to update the story as Jones himself may be in the possible next audit of Diehl. Yes, next audit (go to the bottom to read the audit released yesterday).

As I reported earlier this year, when Diehl was having trouble selling mega-mansions on his Tavaci project atop a foothill in Cottonwood Heights, he sought "bailout" first from Jones. As e-mails obtained from an open-records request showed, Diehl's people both originally wrote, influenced and edited a proposed zoning ordinance. Residents--kept in the dark for six months as city staff quietly worked with Diehl's people on the rezone--were concerned that higher density development atop that hill would create traffic problems because Tavaci has only one access point near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, which, at times, is already a congested road. They also didn't like the view of the mountains being blocked. Behind the scenes, Jones, then a city councilman, was an aggressive advocate for Diehl's rezone, the e-mail records show.

Now, granted, Jones was a Cottonwood Heights city councilman at the time--he did not run for reelection--and Diehl lived in his district, so it makes sense that Diehl would seek help from Jones first. And Jones is well within his role as a city councilperson to advocate for a development he thinks is good for the city. But we're only getting started.

Nearly a decade before Diehl and Jones outraged Cottonwood Heights residents with their quiet/secret plans for rezoning Tavaci, Jones was involved in enabling Tavaci in the first place. Prior to Cottonwood Heights' incorporation, Salt Lake County oversaw zoning of the Tavaci project and, at that time, Jones was on the county's zoning commission that allowed anything to be built on that foothill in the first place.

And yet, it gets deeper.

As City Weekly's Stephen Dark reported in June 2009, Jones has been mistaken for the developer of Whitewater VII, the land at the center of yesterday's Utah Legislative Audit that found that Diehl, who owned that land, profited from decisions made by UTA, a conflict of interest and perhaps violation of the law. Jones's interests in this land has also been confusing. From Dark's story,

Whether Diehl was representing UTA or Whitewater VII during Draper City Council meetings remained a point of confusion for many, including Councilwoman Stephanie Davis. So much so, that during the Nov. 20, 2008, council meeting when the council voted to approve the Whitewater development, Davis asked Diehl to clarify who he was representing when he said “we.” To which he answered Whitewater. ... "It’s difficult to decide if you’re talking to the property owner, the developers or UTA,” says [Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike Styler, regarding conversations with Diehl]. “I thought [UTA attorney Bruce Jones] was representing UTA, but I wondered if he was also representing the property owners.” Jones says all he represents is UTA.

Bottom line: when Jones defends Diehl's, ahem, interesting deal in Whitewater VII or says the laws regarding conflicts of interest or hazy, it's important to note these two gentleman's long history and that Jones is not merely a UTA attorney.

The audit vaguely invites the legislative subcommittee to authorize "additional work to review the allegation concerning a UTA trustee’s real estate development near Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County." That reference is almost certainly to Tavaci. To be sure, Jones is not mentioned in yesterday's audit that found Diehl, indeed, had a conflict of interest in Whitewater VII, but if auditors investigate Tavaci like I have, I don't see how they could avoid analyzing Jones's role there.

We in the news media have shown that Jones seems to have a strong interest in Diehl's continued business success in various land deals and is willing to help out either by pulling strings as a city councilman or by singing the praises of Diehl's development from his perch as UTA's attorney. But for there to be a conflict of interest, we need to know what interest--if any--Jones has in Diehl's deals. That, to my knowledge, no one has reported.

(I called Jones and Diehl for comment; I'll update if they call back)

The legislative audit of Utah Transit Authority trustee and real estate developer Terry Diehl


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