UTA board appointee Jim Dabakis will serve as a 'watchdog,' Salt Lake City mayor says

By | The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published May 31 2017 12:54PM      Last Updated Jun 01 2017 09:02
‘Watchdog’ » Biskupski nominates the senator with all-out-in-the-open style to replace a dismissed board member.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski nominated state Sen. Jim Dabakis to the Utah Transit Authority's board of trustees, potentially adding an outspoken critic of the agency who Biskupski said will serve as a "watchdog."

Dabakis sat beside Biskupski on a City Hall couch for a social media announcement and said he would demand "that every single meeting, with unbelievably rare exceptions, be talked about."

UTA, which has about $2 billion in debt and has said it can't complete currently scheduled projects without a tax increase, has been dogged in recent years by allegations of closed-door dealmaking, a board that generally keeps dissent out of the public eye and an ongoing federal probe.

Said Dabakis: "I've been a critic, as you may know. I believe that when the mayor, when people of responsibility ask you to do stuff, especially if you've been complaining, you either shut up and do it, or you just show up."

He pointed to his mouth, saying: "I can tell you, this will work."

Salt Lake City's draft-stage transit master plan foresees upgrades to UTA routes and "additional transit infrastructure," according to a city news release.

"In the end, any upgrades to Salt Lake City's transit network [are] going to require partnership with UTA and additional investment," Biskupski said in the news release. "If we are going to get people out of their cars and onto buses and trains, we need a transit agency that has the full faith of the taxpayers of this city and state."

Keith Bartholomew, an associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, had served on the board for 13 years before Biskupski asked for and received Bartholomew's resignation in April. She first asked the board to remove him, but it refused.

Bartholomew's dismissal came as he argued that a $68.5 million extension of UTA's airport TRAX line had become more costly than expected in 2008, when UTA agreed in an interlocal agreement with Salt Lake City to foot the bill.

"The mayor told me that I have done nothing of value for Salt Lake City," Bartholomew said after his dismissal.

A Salt Lake City spokesperson said at the time that it was time for new blood and that there was no evidence that the City Council had confirmed his most recent appointments, as required.

Dabakis, whose appointment requires confirmation by the City Council, said he hasn't yet developed a stance on the airport TRAX extension.

"I'm in an information-gathering mode right now," he said.

His appointment would add to the list of Democratic legislators with ties to City Hall. Including Biskupski, a former representative, at least six current or former legislators work for the city.

Rep. Sandra Hollins was hired recently as the city's homeless services coordinator and Rep. Tim Cosgrove was recently named community liaison.

As a UTA board member, Dabakis would only be eligible for a daily stipend for board meetings, along with a personal and family all-transit pass. He said he would not accept a dime — in direct or indirect payments — from the transit agency.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper