SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Transit Authority trustees quickly approved a $600,000 contract Wednesday with a San Francisco law firm to provide three years of federal monitoring required under a nonprosecution agreement.
The contract, with the law firm of Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass, was passed by the board without debate as part of a package of consent items approved earlier in the day by the board's Finance and Audit Committee.
Federal monitoring was mandated under the terms of UTA's deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office, announced in April 2017, to avoid prosecution in exchange for cooperating with an ongoing investigation into transit dealings.
"We've been ready, willing and able," UTA board Chairman Greg Bell told reporters. But it apparently took time for both the federal authorities and the transit agency to agree on a monitor.
UTA Interim Executive Director Steve Meyer said the U.S. Attorney's Office rejected a firm selected by the transit agency through a procurement process, so "we then had some better discussions, and understand their scope."
The San Franciso-based firm was selected as a result of a second bid, Meyer said.
The contract is set to take effect Aug. 29 of this year and continue through the same date in 2021. Meyer said UTA has to pay the entire cost, expected to be $600,000. He said whether the monitoring lasts the full three years is up for discussion.
"Should we get some credit for the time since the agreement was signed? We don't know. That'll be a point of discussion," Meyer said. He said their role is "to watch" what UTA does.
Background materials provided to the committee describe the contract as needed to "verify continued compliance" and recommend additional reforms in areas of concern identified in the agreement.
Those "core issues" are described as inadequate controls over federal funds; improper property acquisition and disposal, including inadequate oversight of transit-oriented development projects; not complying with ethical standards; and improper approval of executive bonuses.
UTA has been the subject of several critical legislative audits, and the 2018 Legislature passed a sweeping overhaul of the transit agency that includes replacing the board with a three-member management team before Nov. 1.
Bell said he was "hopeful" the federal monitoring could be avoided. "We've changed so much," Bell told reporters, although he said there was "no formal effort" to renegotiate that part of the deal.
The monitoring should not be full time, Bell said.
"They're not going to be resident here. They're going to check as they want to check and audit as they want to audit. But it's not a full-time, we're in your house, watching what you do," he said.
Pressed on the details of the monitoring arrangement, Bell said, "You're acting like we have a choice, right? We didn't pick them, the attorneys. It's not our idea. It's just done."