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WEST JORDAN — Jeff Haaga hasn't attended any West Jordan City Council meetings since his purported intoxicated encounter with police in July, and his seat again sat empty Wednesday when his colleagues passed a new ordinance to tighten behavior standards for elected officials.
Haaga has not responded to public demands he resign or media requests for comment since an incident July 19 when witnesses say he was drunk, backed into a parked car at a bar and drove away. Later that night, he told police he was "protected" because he's a city councilman, according to police body camera footage.
On Wednesday, the West Jordan City Council voted 6-0 to pass an ordinance that includes new standards for ethical conduct of elected officials and adds "remedies for malconduct."
Under the new law, city leaders can refer a matter to a district judge, who could use the new guidelines as a tool to weigh removal from office.
"I think it's a new day for West Jordan," Mayor Kim Rolfe said. "I'm happy everyone worked together to get this approved tonight.
The mayor said the ordinance wasn't targeted at Haaga, however. Rolfe said he's been working on drafting the ordinance for more than a year, acknowledging that many West Jordan headlines over the past several years have reported infighting, lawsuits and accusations of hostility and harassment.
"We've been in the news plenty, so I think this will resolve many of those issues, now that there's actually a vehicle that spells out exactly what can and can't be done," Rolfe said.
Councilman Zach Jacob said he's "glad" the ordinance passed, noting that Haaga's conduct has highlighted a need to change city law, especially considering public outrage over calls for Haaga's resignation have gone unanswered.
"It's beyond time to have some sort of accountability beyond just an election every four years," he said.
Standards of conduct are widely defined in the ordinance, including provisions that prohibit elected officials from engaging in dishonest crimes, moral turpitude, disorderly conduct or claiming they are "above the law." Acts specifically outlined include domestic violence, driving under the influence, failure to cooperate with law enforcement, or leaving the scene of the accident.
Haaga was charged July 23 with failure to remain at the scene of the accident, a class C misdemeanor. He was not arrested for DUI, although the officer is heard on the body camera footage telling Haaga he probably should be.
Haaga pleaded not guilty to his charge — punishable by up to 90 days in jail — last month. A hearing has not yet been scheduled for his case.
Haaga, whose term ends in 2018, cannot be removed from office for the citation alone because, under state law, elected officials can't be stripped of their positions unless they're found by a judge to have committed malfeasance or certain specified crimes, which don't include a charge for leaving the scene of an accident.
However, Councilman Chad Nichols said "malfeasance" is not clearly defined in state code — only as "unlawful conduct" — so under West Jordan's new ordinance, a judge will be able to consider a more specific list of behaviors that West Jordan officials have determined to be unlawful.
"What we're doing is putting into municipal code: 'If you do this, you are breaking the law,'" Nichols said, noting that a judge could use the new set of rules to consider removing Haaga from office.
"In my opinion, this is much bigger than council member Haaga," Nichols added. "It's not for him. It could address him in this case, but it addresses all of us and all of our behaviors."
An earlier draft of the ordinance included a provision to allow West Jordan to create its own ethics commission, but the council may weigh that possibility at a later date, Nichols said.
Rolfe received an email from Haaga on Aug. 12, in which Haaga said he'll be absent from City Council meetings because he "started a new job and will be training for the next six weeks," according to the email obtained by Deseret News.
Failure to attend City Council meetings is listed as a violation of ethical duties within the ordinance. Under the new law, elected officials are required to attend at least 21 out of 24 of the council's regularly scheduled meetings each year.
If an official misses any four meetings or three or more consecutive meetings, $750 of pay will be withheld per missed meeting. Each council member is typically paid $1,500 a month because the council usually meets twice a month.
Haaga has not responded to phone calls and emails from the Deseret News and KSL over the past several weeks. His phone was recently disconnected, and additional attempts to reach him at his West Jordan home Wednesday were unsuccessful.
A "for sale" real estate sign has been posted on Haaga's front lawn.