Mountain Accord picks new facilitator
October 9, 2015
Wasatch Front Regional Council will replace Utah Transit Authority as the facilitator of Phase 2 of the Mountain Accord. Wednesday, the Summit County Council voted 3-1 to approve the change.
Council members spent less than five minutes discussing the issue before casting a vote to approve Wasatch Front Regional Council’s addition to the interlocal agreement. Council member Roger Armstrong cast the dissenting vote. Council member Chris Robinson, who sits on the Mountain Accord executive board, was absent from the meeting.
The metropolitan planning organization, one of four in Utah, has a long-range focus on transportation planning in urban areas.
As the Mountain Accord transitions into Phase 2, the executive board had to establish an entity that would serve as a vehicle to administer a contract for a program director. UTA had been previously named to fill that role.
According to Andy Beerman, a Park City council member who also sits on the executive board of the Mountain Accord, UTA was not viewed as the best entity to move forward. Officials were concerned that with UTA’s participation at that level, the Mountain Accord would become too transportation-centric.
"Going into the next phase, we decided we needed to have an entity that could receive funding, is somewhat neutral and had the ability to do RFPs (requests for proposals) and could hire contractual labor," Beerman said. "Mountain Accord’s ultimate goal is to form its own entity to do all those and that’s what we are working toward. I would call this a stop-gap measure."
The Wasatch Front Regional Council was one of the few entities with the capabilities to perform those functions and was deemed as neutral, Beerman said. In response to the concerns raised by County Council members about the continued focus on transportation, Beerman said "it’s a valid concern except they are only acting as a stop gap until we can house the entity."
"We have been using imperfect conduits, but I’m fairly confident, through regional collaboration and checks and balances, it will not be hijacked," Beerman said. "There isn’t a perfect holding company, but it is more appropriate to house Mountain Accord with them today until we can form our own.
"Yes, they are transportation heavy, but that is not their only focus," Beerman said. "I actually feel like we are moving away from someone that is controversial and I think this is a logical and positive move that will be well-received by the public."
Ned Hacker, director of operations for Wasatch Front Regional Council, said the organization is as "transparent as any."
"I would like to think that we would absolutely be able to not jump to any conclusions, but rather be a partner and listen and let the study lead us to the solutions that we think everyone in the region is looking for, which is part of the reason we were asked to be the procurement agency," Hacker said. "I think there are enough interested parties in the Wasatch Mountains that with all those people at the table we will come up with some agreeable to ways to move forward as far as how we treat the Wasatch Mountain in how the coming years and decades."
Not every council member is supportive of the change. Armstrong said it is his view that one transportation entity has been replaced with another. He said , as he understood it, the focus has been shifted to the environment and recreation, with transportation supporting it.
"But if this is about the environment then why is a transportation entity facilitating this?" Armstrong posed. "It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know that there is anything nefarious about it, but it doesn’t satisfy the goal."
Armstrong has been critical of the Mountain Accord process for several months. In July, Armstrong and Ure voted against the county signing the interlocal agreement and pledging funds for an additional three years.
"We just have to see where it is going to go. What I’m looking for more than anything is absolute transparency," Armstrong said. "If there are interests in the mix that are less than transparent those are things that I’m looking out for, though I’m not sure this rises to that level."
All of the local governments involved in the Mountain Accord will have to sign the amended charter agreement naming Wasatch Front Regional Council as the facilitator to finalize the switch.