Ex-Unified fire chief won’t be charged, but now he’s facing calls to resign from inland port board

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here

SALT LAKE CITY — The group Alliance for a Better Utah on Tuesday called on Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen to step down from his post on the Utah Inland Port Authority board.

The call comes after the release of an investigative report from the Utah Attorney General’s office detailing prosecutors’ investigation into Jensen’s time as Unified Fire Authority’s chief, as well as other former fire officials.

Prosecutors said the investigation revealed “troubling” behavior — including using taxpayer money for “exorbitant bonuses, reimbursement for personal vacations attached to official travel, purchase of electronic equipment for personal use, and the hiring of close family members” — but resulted in no charges because prosecutors believed criminal convictions would be unlikely.

In the 196-page report, prosecutors’ interviews with dozens of witnesses also detailed not only questions of misuse of public funds, but also claims Jensen and his former deputy, Gaylord Scott, created a “culture of fear” by being “vindictive” and “intimidating,” one employee said in an interview with prosecutors.

“(Jensen) basically had the track record of betraying public trust and making amoral decisions for his own personal gain,” Katie Matheson, spokeswoman for the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, said Tuesday. “Most worrying is the culture of fiscal irresponsibility and nepotism that seemed to thrive while (Jensen) was at UFA.”

Matheson said such behavior is “antithetical to the culture Utahns want from any kind of body that’s going to be making huge decisions” and therefore is “certainly not the kind of culture that Utahns would want on the inland port authority.”

The Utah Inland Port Authority — created by the 2018 Utah Legislature amid a firestorm of controversy between state and city officials — is tasked with creating and overseeing a global trade hub in about 16,000 acres in Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant, the city’s last swath of undeveloped land.

The board has the power to control what amount of tax dollars generated from development in the area is used to incentivize projects.

“Almost every step thus far (of the port authority) has felt corrupt or underhanded in some way, and now the presence of Jensen on the board is yet a furtherance of that,” Matheson said. “To be frank, how hard is it to have a board that doesn’t have a history of corruption or conflicts of interest?”

Yet neither Jensen, nor the man who appointed him to the port authority board, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, say they’ll listen to Alliance for a Better Utah’s call.

“I’m going to continue to serve Salt Lake County on the inland port board,” Jensen told the Deseret News on Tuesday, declining to elaborate.

Under the state law creating the inland port authority, McAdams was given an appointee on the 11-member board, for which he selected Jensen.

In response to a request for comment Tuesday, McAdams indicated in a prepared statement he’s sticking by Jensen, noting the councilman was elected by voters in his district and is currently serving his fourth term on the County Council.

“He understands issues important to Magna, which is a community that will be directly affected by the Inland Port,” McAdams said. “Because of his years serving on the County Council, he also understands regional issues. His unique position to understand these issues was the reason I proposed his name to Gov. Herbert to represent the west side of Salt Lake County on the board.”

Asked if anything in the attorney general’s investigative report impacted the mayor’s decision to appoint Jensen to the board, McAdams’ spokeswoman, Michelle Schmitt, replied: “The mayor believes that as the elected representative in the area, Councilman Jensen is appropriate to serve on the board.”

Matheson said Alliance for a Better Utah “would love to see him ultimately step down from the County Council” as well, “but at this time the most important thing is the inland port authority board” because it’s a “huge project” that’s moving forward now.

Matheson said that although prosecutors declined to file charges because the threshold for a conviction would be high, “that doesn’t mean that what (Jensen and other Unified Fire Authority officials) did wasn’t wrong.”

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