The man largely responsible for bringing light rail to the Salt Lake Valley probably won't be around to ride it, at least not as the Utah Transit Authority's general manager.

John Pingree, who thus far has weathered a storm of criticism, appears to be in the final weeks of his 20-year reign as UTA's top executive.Eight of the 15 members of UTA's Board of Directors submitted a request Wednesday for a special meeting May 12 to consider firing Pingree.

Some who signed the request characterized Pingree's termination as a done deal. The only question, they said, is whether Pingree will protest his firing, meaning the board might have to terminate him "with cause" and Pingree would lose an estimated $400,000 in benefits.

"I think John has been there too long and hopefully a fresh start will be good for UTA," said board member Dan Berman, a leader of the move to oust him.

The change would come at a critical time for UTA, which operates bus service along the Wasatch Front and recently launched construction of a $312 million light-rail commuter train line, recently named TRAX, in Salt Lake County. The agency may soon pursue creation of commuter rail service between Payson and Brigham City and will face decisions on the future expansion of light rail.

Directors who called for the special meeting, however, are not concerned about the timing of Pingree's probable ouster.

"Light rail is going to carry on regardless of who is the general manager," said Bonnie Fernandez, one of the eight to request the meeting. "We've got a complete team over that project, and it just is irrelevant as far as the general manager is concerned.

"We're trying to stress to everybody that the projects we have going on at UTA are not directly tied to John Pingree. They each have their own project team and are being successful."

Pingree, who makes $151,710 a year, remained stoical throughout Wednesday's meeting and offered little comment about his possible termination.

"Right now, I don't really have any reaction," he told the Deseret News Wednesday night. "I really don't know what's going to happen.

"I don't think the board has turned on me. . . . I serve at the pleasure of the board and what the majority of the board does, I accept."

Pingree is among three finalists for a similar job as head of the transit system in Orlando, Fla. Pingree said he doesn't know what impact the May 12 meeting and its outcome could have on his ability to get that job.

The agenda for the special meeting also calls for a board vote on firing UTA attorney Bill Oswald, who is viewed by most board members as a staunch Pingree ally.

It also calls for a board vote on the creation of a search committee to find a new director and for the appointment of an acting general manager.

A likely candidate to serve as the interim chief is John Inglish, now second in command.

An attempt to fire Pingree last fall resulted in a 7-7 vote, but the Legislature recently added a 15th member to the board to avoid such deadlocks.

That slot was filled by Salt Lake County, which appointed Jeff Hawker. Hawker, one of the eight to request the special meeting, was officially seated on the board along with former Gov. Calvin Rampton at the start of Wednesday's meeting.

Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson said Pingree has not done a good job of communicating with community leaders, especially elected officials.

"It's more (Pingree's) personality than anything. I think that's the core of it," Overson said of complaints about Pingree. "A person in that job with what he's being paid ought to be extremely community-oriented.

"I know in Weber County they're just livid. He didn't even darken their doorway until there was some indication they wanted" Pingree fired.

Overson said he has not asked any UTA director, including Hawker, to seek Pingree's ouster.

Berman said he would not object if Pingree retains the benefits spelled out in his contract, including a hefty life-insurance annuity.

"I'm prepared to terminate John without cause," Berman said. "Under the statutes, John controls that issue. If John asks for the reasons of his termination, (firing with cause) might be hard to avoid."

Pingree should be well aware by now of why some board members and governmental leaders, including legislators, want him out.

Some have alleged Pingree tried to manipulate the Legislature into changing the appointment process for UTA board members during the 1996 session.

Others have cited personal arrogance and Pingree's apparent single-minded focus on light rail.

Board member Richard Kuchinsky signed the request but admitted he was experiencing "some personal turmoil in regard to it."

"It's kind of hard to get down to a final decision, but it's the best thing for the agency, it's the best thing for the future of UTA and it's the best thing for relations with city mayors," Kuchinsky said. "Most city mayors want this. The Salt Lake County Commission is certainly united on it. Most Salt Lake County state legislators seem to be united on it.

"He's a nice guy, a likable guy and he's done a lot of good. But it's time."

Signing the special meeting request were Berman, Fernandez, Hawker, Kuchinsky, Bob Davis, Bob Black, Karen Mayne and Sam Taylor. All but Hawker and Davis, both of whom are new to the board, voted to fire Pingree last fall.