Destabilizing speculation

Utah Inland Port Authority seeking new executive director

Jack Hedge will instead become chairman and work as “Mr. Outside” as the embattled Port Authority seeks a new executive director to be “Mr. Inside.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jack Hedge, executive director of the Inner Port, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. He will change roles and become chairman of the Port Authority.

The Utah Inland Port Authority is about to post a “request for help” ad for a new executive director.

Jack Hedge held this role for three tumultuous years. Under his leadership, the Port Authority faced persistent protests from Salt Lake City residents and environmental groups. He was bombarded with calls for more transparency. He fought a lawsuit with Salt Lake City over his tax revenue, a case that is currently before the Utah Supreme Court. It has struggled to get off the ground one of its biggest projects — a $53 million transshipment facility — which also doesn’t appear to have the buy-in from key partner Union Pacific. This potentially derailed a federal grant to an area railroad to improve traffic flow in the Poplar Grove neighborhood. And he issued a $2 million untendered contract.

Hedge appeared to hint at some of the controversy during a Port Authority board meeting Thursday, held at the Utah Capitol, as he discussed a reshuffle of the team of direction.

“As always, with this organization,” he said, “…there is always a lot of speculation and misinformation that continues to circulate.”

However, Hedge does not leave the management of the port authority. Instead, he will take on a new role as president, focusing primarily on domestic and international partnerships. The board plans to post a job advertisement for an incoming executive director on Monday, according to a press release on Friday.

Hedge described his new position as “Mr. Outside” and the “brand” of the Port Authority. The new chief executive, meanwhile, would be “Mr. On the inside.”

“Someone who can help navigate politics and has the local connections, the local connections, to really help us take it to the next level“, Hedge said: “… a Mr. Inside who can better help navigate the hallways of this building, the relationships within this building, and within the city and within the various stakeholder groups and community groups.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chelsie Kemper at a rally against Utah’s Inner Port at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. The port will have a new executive director.

It is unclear how the new leadership role will affect the port authority’s budget. Hedge received $329,720 in salaries and benefits last year.

The port boss added that his staff were ‘too spread out’ and said the sooner the board could hire a new chief executive the better.

“It’s a good time to take advantage of where we are right now and try to get things done,” Hedge said, “because otherwise it’s destabilizing, and it undermines morale and it undermines vision. and mission of the port authority.”

The Utah Legislature restructured the Port Authority board last winter, reducing it to fewer members with more business experience. And it doesn’t appear the new board is entirely satisfied with the Port Authority’s performance to date.

At their first meeting last month, council members called for a legislative audit of the Port Authority and a review of all its contracts. While they praised Hedge for his “humility” on Thursday and his efforts to bolster Port Authority staff, they didn’t completely tone down their comments.

“Any new organization along the way will make mistakes,” said Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, board member. “Yes, this organization has done it, but that’s what makes us better. … We can now learn from them and keep moving forward.

Board members also highlighted their efforts to better interact with community members and ratepayers, including allowing virtual participation and posting meeting materials in advance.

“We’ve talked a lot about this as a board, how important it is for us to be transparent and accountable to the public,” said board chairman Miles Hansen. “…It’s absolutely essential. And we take the public feedback we’ve received very seriously.

When it came time for public comment on Thursday, however, council members allowed only three people to speak, limited to two minutes each. They then voted in camera.