What’s in a Name? | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What’s in a Name?

Lawmakers tell UTA to hold off on any name changes, especially for $50 million.

Posted By on May 16, 2018, 4:06 PM

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click to enlarge Sen. Wayne Harper, left, and Rep. Mike Schultz call on UTA's board to halt its renaming process from the Utah Transit Authority to the Transit District of Utah on Wednesday at the Capitol. - RAY HOWZE
  • Ray Howze
  • Sen. Wayne Harper, left, and Rep. Mike Schultz call on UTA's board to halt its renaming process from the Utah Transit Authority to the Transit District of Utah on Wednesday at the Capitol.

The Utah Transit Authority won’t be getting its $50-million rebranding anytime soon.

At least that’s what Utah lawmakers asked for Wednesday. During a 30-minute news conference at the Capitol, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, and Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, who sponsored Senate Bill 136 earlier this year that overhauls the transit authority’s governing structure, among other things, called for UTA to halt its name change.

“A very small part of this bill included the name change for Utah Transit Authority,” Harper said. “By what you see in the news, this may be what you think is the subtotal of what you think happened in that bill—but that is just because it has been taken out of context and coupled with inaccurate information.”

The lawmakers said too much attention has been paid to renaming UTA the Transit District of Utah and instead highlighted other aspects of the bill accomplishes, such as moving from a 16-member part-time governing board to a three-member full-time board appointed by the governor.

The inaccurate information, Schultz described, included what he said was a misleading multimillion-dollar price tag from UTA itself that was sent to state’s fiscal office.

“I think it’s clear this was put out there by UTA as a way to create controversy around the name change, to mislead the public,” he said. “That goes right to the heart of the issues we’re trying to fix with the bill.”

The two lawmakers called on UTA’s trustees to cease any future efforts at rebranding. If they do not agree to do so, he said, a bill would be brought up in the 2019 General Session to repeal the name-change section of the bill. The announcement comes the same day Gov. Gary Herbert told the Deseret News he was willing to call a special session to stop the rebranding if necessary.

When Herbert signed the bill in March, he told reporters it wouldn’t be smart to spend that much public money on a name change and said the bill’s improvements in transparency and accountability would better re-establish trust in the organization.

Schultz said he’s been unhappy with how UTA has received the message from the latest legislation in order to “regain the public’s trust.”

He was also concerned with how the current board, which will be phased out in November, fired UTA’s president and CEO Jerry Benson earlier this month. The state Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the board Wednesday encouraging it to retake the vote to fire Benson over concerns of compliance with open meetings law.

“The public at-large has been distrustful of UTA based on past actions and the public should have the same concerns regarding the astonishing $50-million UTA estimate,” Schultz said. “This number is clearly laughable—never would the Legislature consider spending anywhere near $50 million or ask UTA to spend such a sum in this way.”

The original idea for the name change, he said, was meant to boost the public’s awareness that changes were made to the organization’s internal structure.

“We didn’t feel like without having that name change associated with these types of governance changes that the public would understand the full structural change behind the organization, and so it was our hope the public would see that, recognize that and understand it,” Schultz said. “After seeing dozens and hundreds of emails, to be honest, it’s clear the public doesn’t feel that the name change is needed and appropriate.”

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