Governor Herbert’s pick for the new chief at the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is longtime Deputy Director Carlos Braceras. He’s got a long road ahead of him cleaning up the tarnished image of corruption he’s inheriting from his predecessor, John Njord.
UDOT has had its fair share of scandal over the past few years, and incoming Executive Director Carlos Braceras, who has served as the agency’s Deputy Director for the past 12 years, is facing an intimidating task of regaining the public’s trust.
In 2010, UDOT came under heavy fire for its bidding processes for independent contractors. While taking bids for the I-15 Core Project, a billion dollar contract, the project was dubiously awarded to a company that hadn’t been the top bidder. To make things worse, it eventually came out that the winner of the contract was a major donor to Governor Gary Herbert’s reelection campaign, and that a $13 Million payment had been made to a losing bidder, apparently as hush-money.
John Njord, the Executive Director of UDOT at the time, faced a huge public backlash over the bidding scandal, and pressure came down hard to investigate and find out what had happened. Shortly thereafter, Njord announced that the person at fault was Denice Graham, a mid-level manager, who was promptly fired.
Unfortunately, it came out 2 years later that Graham had nothing to do with the bidding process – and in fact her job never even put her in a position where she could have influenced the bids at all. An administrative judge ruled she had been wrongly terminated, but Njord and UDOT would only let her return to work if she agreed to sign a letter (written by Assistant Attorney General David Pena) agreeing to stop talking publicly about how she had been fired. Graham and Njord went several rounds in the media, until eventually Njord and UDOT agreed to reinstate her and give her backpay for the 2 years she had been out of work.
In the last year of Njord’s reign over the state agency things were relatively quiet, and some good news did come out as some TRAX projects were completed ahead of time and under budget.
But there’s a long way to go before UDOT gains back the public trust, and Governor Herbert likely made a good decision choosing someone whose name was never connected with the scandals.
We wish Mr. Braceras the best of luck, and hope that he is able to succeed.