Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director John Njord has come under heavy criticism lately over the department’s dealings with an employee who was fired and then was ordered to be re-hired. The matter has been the subject of numerous news stories and editorials blasting Njord and UDOT. The Utah Democratic Party has jumped into the fray, making political hay and attempting to damage Gov. Gary Herbert, who is Njord’s boss.
This issue has many perspectives and nuances, and I don’t know the details well enough to outline exactly what I believe happened. But I do know that two sides exist in this matter. I also know, from personal experience, having worked with him and observed him, that John Njord is a person of high integrity, is fair-minded, and cares deeply about his employees.
I’m not suggesting that mistakes weren’t made. Some things could have been handled better. But my experience with Njord is that he is a dedicated, highly-competent public servant who has done an exemplary job running one of state government’s biggest and most important operations.
This issue had been tied to the bidding process and project award in the rebuild of I-15 through most of Utah County. That controversy was thoroughly investigated and was the subject of numerous stories, editorials, campaign rhetoric and attack ads during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Voters resoundingly rejected the criticism of Herbert and UDOT, as Herbert won the election by a wide margin.
Interestingly, the Utah County I-15 project under scrutiny has been the largest and most successful highway construction project in Utah’s history. Under the direction of Njord, UDOT has brought the project in on schedule and far under budget, saving hundreds of millions of dollars below what the project was initially expected to cost. The savings allowed the state to expand the project several miles south with still enough savings left over to pay for other needed projects and also reduce the state’s debt. Talk about a successful project!
Clearly, Njord’s and UDOT’s innovative project management processes worked better than anyone expected, and the right engineering and construction team was selected. Njord and UDOT deserve praise for overseeing the best construction project in the nation.
Meanwhile, Njord and UDOT are overseeing more than 200 additional construction projects across the state, the most ever, using state-of-the-art management, construction and commuter outreach/education practices.
UDOT is certainly in good hands. Utah is lucky to have Njord and his team in place.
Also, I’m glad we have a governor who doesn’t run for cover every time he, or a member of his team, receives criticism by partisan opponents. Loyalty and professionalism still mean something to Gov. Herbert, and that’s good. It’s easy for a political leader to be stampeded by political pressure. A great political leader does what’s right, not what’s politically expedient. That’s how Gov. Herbert has conducted his administration.
This issue will be thoroughly aired and a proper resolution will occur. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate two fine public servants – Gov. Gary Herbert and UDOT Director John Njord.