SLC mayor’s second choice for UTA board gets council OK

By  | The Salt Lake Tribune

Where state Sen. Jim Dabakis was viewed as a willing watchdog with little experience to inform his bark, the Salt Lake City Council decided that Alex Cragun checks both boxes.

Cragun received the council's unanimous approval Tuesday to represent the city on the Utah Transit Authority's board of trustees — after about four years of appealing to that group to more seriously consider their customers.

Cragun traces his advocacy to a single night. Having missed the last bus home, he saw an older woman continuing to wait at his stop with a bag of groceries. She didn't realize the futility of her situation, and he called her a cab.

There must be many more like that woman, Cragun thought on his walk home. He drafted a petition to increase late-night service and later delivered thousands of signatures with a challenge to the 16-member board that he now joins: Spend seven days using only public transportation. No cars.

Three took him up on it, including current House Speaker and then-board Chairman Greg Hughes, who commutes from Draper.

Cragun has since helped found the Utah Transit Riders Union and moved from Taylorsville to Salt Lake City. He worked to garner council members' support last month after they publicly expressed doubts about Mayor Jackie Biskupski's first selection.

The council eventually rejected Dabakis with a 6-1 vote last month, leading the outspoken Democratic legislator to say that he'd played pawn in a "raging war" between council and mayor.

Biskupski, who had called for the resignation of longtime representative Keith Bartholomew amid a disagreement with UTA about funding for the relocation of an airport TRAX line, said Cragun can help win back taxpayers' trust in the troubled transit agency.

While UTA is deeply in debt and the subject of a federal probe into past dealings, Salt Lake City's long-term transportation goals rely on taxpayers being willing to invest in transit.

Cragun "is as interested in reform as I am, as Jim was, and he also is very knowledgeable about what's been going on there for the last several years, and I think that will be helpful," Biskupski said. "I want to make sure that when we go back to the ballot for transportation dollars, that we can get across the finish line in Salt Lake County, and I think he can help with that."

Councilwoman Lisa Adams said during Cragun's interview Tuesday that council members were likewise eager to restore confidence in UTA. To get from the heart of the Sugar House neighborhood to City Hall takes her an hour on transit, Adams said, and it took her 20 minutes to run that stretch during a half-marathon.

"And I'm not a fast runner," she said.

Councilman Derek Kitchen got another laugh when, after expressing support, he asked Cragun what he planned to wear on his trip to Switzerland — referencing several past Swiss trips by board members that helped create a negative public perception of UTA.

Cragun's term ends in May 2019.

Twitter: @matthew_piper