Posts Tagged Aaron Tilton

The Utah Legislature Desperately Seeking Ethics

Why would ethics be a problem among Utah politicians? By far, the majority of those in the legislature, and government leadership positions espouse personal commitment to their religious beliefs. This would seem to imply a devotion to moral and ethical conduct. Indeed, they often seem overeager to legislate morality for Utah’s citizens. But this year, it appears our legislators have turned introspective and are now showing concern about their own morality.

SL Trib tells us that up to 14 different ethics-related bills are currently being prepared for introduction in the upcoming January session.

On the heels of a campaign season rocked by allegations of bribery and influence-peddling, Utah lawmakers are crafting a bevy of bills to address campaign-finance reform, lobbyist gifts and the Legislature’s rarely used ethics investigations.

We only have to go back as far as October to be reminded of the ethics investigation into Republican Representative Greg Hughes’ alleged bribery of a fellow legislator. With procedural biases that favored the legislator, the ethics committee was unable to do more than find Hughes guilty of conduct unbecoming a legislator and an admonishment for him to apologize for his wrongdoing.

As to the ethics charges themselves, the committee gave Hughes a pass, not because it found him innocent, but because, in the Committee’s view, the legislature’s current ethics standards were too vague to be applied.

And just this week State Senator Howard Stephenson is being accused of using his senate position to threaten and intimidate employees of the Utah Office of Education for “shabby treatment of ProCert Labs, an Orem-based company whose services Stephenson had been advocating for years.”

In a series of heated e-mails and phone calls, Stephenson, who heads the committee that sets the public education budget, threatened to withhold support from the Utah Office of Education, suggested it be downsized and have work outsourced and that the malcontents mistreating ProCert could be fired. [snip]

[State Superintendent Patti] Harrington said Stephenson is the “singular example” of a legislator who has weighed in with the education office and, as the senator who controls the education budget, his wishes are hard to ignore.

Also this week, the state Lieutenant Governor’s office is looking into the possible misuse of the State seal on a letter of endorsement by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff for DigitalBridge of Orem, just days before receiving a campaign contribution of $10,000 from the company. This just adds to the AG’s previous admitted misuse of official stationery for political purposes, as well as personally beneficial relationships with Ameriquest, payday lenders, and others.

And then there is state representative Aaron Tilton whose company Transition Power Development LLC, wants to build a 1,500-megawatt nuclear power plant, and representative Michael Noel, executive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, who wants to provide the water needed for the project. These two men are vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of the legislature’s Public Utilities and Technology Committee. Yet both claim no conflict of interest.

Certainly the laws are not designed to keep our public servants honest. We sort of leave it up to them to walk that line. And they know exactly where the line is, and they’ll walk right up and kiss it without stepping over. Seemingly moral and ethical individuals don’t always ‘choose the right’.

Let’s see if the next legislative session produces meaningful ethics laws or simply more fluff.

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Let’s play Spot the Conflict of Interest

We’ll make this like a little game of Connect the Dots, Utah Legislature version.

The SL Trib reports:

Critics hope that, without water plans for Utah’s first nuclear power plant will evaporate.

To that end, they recently filed formal protests with the State Engineer’s Office aimed at stopping the Kane County Water Conservancy District from preserving its right to 29,600 acre-feet of water already under lease by the reactor’s developers.

Utah law puts the public’s needs first, giving communities extra flexibility to ensure any future needs of their residents. [snip]

Aaron Tilton, chief executive officer of Transition Power Development LLC, the company behind the 1,500-megawatt nuclear station, is paying the water district $100,000 a year to lease the water right. His company also has promised $500,000 a year after five years, and $1 million a year once the plant comes online (emphasis mine).

“We haven’t even paid much attention to it,” Tilton said, noting that he hasn’t seen the protests.

Mike Noel, the water district’s administrator, isn’t worried either. [snip]

“Their agenda is to stop any construction and growth in Utah,” Noel said. “It’s not an environmental agenda. It’s a no-growth agenda.”

Let’s take a closer look and connect the dots (some of the following excerpted from my own blog post of October 2007 with attribution to the Deseret News):

  • Aaron Tilton is chief executive officer of Transition Power Development LLC.
  • Mike Noel is the exeuctive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District.
  • Noel is chairman of the Legislature’s Public Utilities and Technology Committee, and Tilton is vice chairman.
  • Both men are members of the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee, which is co-chaired by Noel. The interim committee heard extensive testimony for and against nuclear power in its July and September [2007] meetings.
  • A bill to assist utilities in building nuclear power plants was discussed extensively by the Public Utilities Interim Committee on July 18 and Sept. 19 [2007] (emphasis mine).
  • Concerning the bill that was discussed July 18 and Sept. 19, Tilton said that he has no conflicts of interest. “I really don’t have a conflict of interest, because I’m not a regulated utility,” he said, and the bill dealt with those utilities.”
  • On his Declaration of Conflict of Interest form, Noel noted that he was associated with several groups: Michael E. Noel Environmental Consulting, Flood Canyon Ranch and Kane County Water Conservancy District. But he said it was not a conflict to co-chair the committee that is considering legislation involving a nuclear power plant. “The district is a public entity, like a city, a community, leasing water to them,” meaning the nuclear power plant, he said. ‘We’re a public utility. I work for the water district as a paid employee.'”

So if you own/run a business or if you control a public works operation, and you also have legislative power recommending approval or regulation of those things, would that be a conflict of interest? Just asking.

And remember, this post is not about the merits of nuclear power in Utah, it is about conflict of interest. Interestingly enough, the Salt Lake Tribune recently had an article entitled, New Utah House Speaker Clark says ethics reform top priority. As we saw with recent ethics investigations in the Utah legislature, our ethics laws are so puny, it doesn’t matter how blatant the misbehavior of our elected officials, no actual rules are ever broken.

UPDATE: I corrected the date and link to my original post on this topic.

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