It was a brief news story—just seven sentences. On Sept. 15, The Associated Press reported that the executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation apologized to state lawmakers for not letting them know he agreed to a $13 million settlement with a losing bidder for a $1.1 billion construction project.
John Njord told a legislative committee he should have informed lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert about the settlement he agreed to after a losing consortium complained about the winning bidder received favoritism. What he failed to do after the admission was announce his resignation.
He also said it is not unusual for a contractor protest a bid and it is something that UDOT deals with regularly. But according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, of nine companies filing bid protests with UDOT since 2005, this was the only time such a payment was made. So that seems to make a $13 million payout to a losing bidder highly unusual.
The situation has caused problems for Herbert, because it turns out the company that won the bid donated $87,500 to his campaign. Of course he claims he knew nothing about the payment or about any impropriety in awarding the bid.
I’m a simple guy, but secretly awarding a $13 million payoff makes it seem like someone was trying to cover up a big mistake.
Whether or not the governor knew anything about this situation might never be known. But if he wants to avoid the appearance of impropriety, he might want to think about dismissing the person responsible for the unauthorized expenditure of $13 million in taxpayer funds. Not doing so could send the wrong message ahead of Herbert’s first attempt at being elected governor.
Even if no procedures were violated in making the $13 million payment, doing so without informing anyone in the legislature or the governor demonstrates either a lack of good judgment or an outright attempt at deceit.