SALT LAKE CITY — A day after the Deseret News published its latest report in the ongoing investigation into the troubles swirling around Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott, Mayor Ben McAdams called for Ott's resignation.
"Gary Ott has been a fantastic public servant for decades, and I'm so grateful for his service, but it is clear with what we're seeing and I'm learning, I think the time has come for him to resign," McAdams said Wednesday.
The mayor said the Deseret News' reporting "frankly" has made it increasingly clear that Ott doesn't have the ability to carry out his elected duties.
"We've been trying to get answers to questions, trying to understand what's happening and certainly wanting to be compassionate to someone who has served the public with distinction for many years," McAdams said.
"But at some point, we are responsible for tax dollars and how those tax dollars are spent. We need to make sure that the public's needs are met and the person who is guiding the helm of the recorder's office is capable of doing so," he said.
The call for Ott's resignation comes nearly 18 months after the Deseret News published its first investigative report in February 2016, detailing concerns that the longtime recorder's health could be deteriorating to the point he may no longer be capable of doing his job.
The Deseret News investigation has detailed mounting concerns from county employees and leaders as Ott's work attendance has dwindled and become more sporadic. His conversations have been incoherent and at times bizarre.
During a recent conversation with Ott, the Deseret News asked the recorder if he felt like he needed to resign.
Ott replied: "Hell no. I have no, you know, and why is 'cause the things I like doing I can keep doing it. … It's been a long, long time. I've helped people and I've done things, and I just do it."
Ever since the Deseret News published its first investigative report in Feburary 2016, concerns have persisted and Ott has remained in his $180,000-per-year position, including salary and benefits.
Questions have also arisen about whether he lives in his home in Salt Lake City or with his office aide, Karmen Sanone, in North Ogden.
Others have accused Sanone and Ott's chief deputy, Julie Dole, of covering Ott's condition so they can remain in their positions. Dole and Sanone have repeatedly denied those accusations.
Dole said Wednesday she's talked with Ott before about resigning, and she has "no issue" with McAdams' request because "he's fully within his right to have an opinion."
"Any resignation would need to come from Gary," she said, adding that her "hands are tied" because he's her boss.
Dole also noted that Ott has always been a "hands-off" boss, so his resignation wouldn't impact the recorder's office.
"Am I concerned about Gary? Yeah," she said. "But when I ask how he's doing, he says he's doing fine. He doesn't talk to me about his personal health or well-being, so there's nowhere I can go from there."
Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Jake Parkinson agreed with the Democratic mayor's call.
"Gary Ott should have resigned long ago," Parkinson said. "The situation is heartbreaking. He does not deserve to be put on display like this. He has served Salt Lake County taxpayers and the Republican Party very well, and he is well-loved by all of us. His family and friends need to make the right move, plan for his resignation, and let him retire with dignity and grace."
Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson said "if you're a public servant, you're obligated to resign if you can't fulfill your duties."
"For all intents and purposes, Julie Dole is running the office right now," Anderson said. "And she wasn't elected."
Months ago, after the audit into Ott's office, County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said Ott should either engage more in his office or resign. His resignation, she said, is long overdue.
"I have the greatest sympathy for Gary personally, but the charade by his staff needs to end," Wilson said.
Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton agreed.
"This cannot continue the way it has been," Newton said. "It's not fair to Gary, and it's not fair to taxpayers. It's no secret that Salt Lake County leaders have thought that Ott should've resigned over a year ago."
Councilman Sam Granato said he "fully supports" McAdams' call.
"My biggest concern is for Gary's health," Granato said. "For Gary's sake, and the good of the office, he should resign."
Meeting with family
McAdams said he wants to talk with Ott "or those who are close to him and love him" and discuss his resignation "in a compassionate way."
"The terms of his resignation would be (so) we can help him have a smooth transition as he deals with what seems to be health problems, and so we can protect the interests of Salt Lake County and the taxpayer," he said.
McAdams said he's also "eager" to talk with Sanone — who is apparently Ott's girlfriend or wife — or a family member who may have the ability to help Ott decide to resign, especially if he may not have the capacity to make the decision himself.
Whether Ott will resign remains to be seen. He did not return direct requests for comment Wednesday, though Sanone responded to the Deseret News by email.
Sanone said she was "very disappointed" McAdams "would make such a statement public without reaching out" first. When asked if she intends to meet with McAdams or if she knew if Ott planned on resigning, she said it would be "premature to comment" because McAdams hadn't yet contacted her.
Ott's brother, who agreed to talk with the Deseret News on an unnamed basis, said he's open to meeting with McAdams to figure out a solution that would be in Ott's best interests.
"What we, the family, are after is, absolutely and without question, Gary's well-being. We don't want to see Gary tormented," he said. "Our goal is to make sure Gary's welfare is provided for and he's made to be as comfortable as he can be."
The brother confirmed that Ott is experiencing some health problems, but he believes — though he hasn't heard directly from Ott for months — that he is being taken care of by Sanone. He said Ott spends "most nights" in North Ogden with Sanone.
"Really, our only interest in this matter has to do with Gary's welfare," he said. "We want to make sure he's being provided for, he has a place to sleep, and he's not being treated in a way that can be described in any other way than caring."
Though neither McAdams nor the County Council can force an independently elected official to resign, the council does have control of the purse strings.
If Ott doesn't answer the call, McAdams said county leaders should explore "any and every option" available, including perhaps cutting Ott's pay, though he hopes it doesn't come to that.
Newton said she is looking into council action to lower Ott's pay. Wilson said she would support a salary reduction as long as Ott receives retirement benefits.
"If there are people potentially taking advantage of Gary from a financial aspect, having one more incentive taken off the table for them to continue this charade might be helpful," Newton said. "I don't know who manages his finances, but in his condition, it seems he's probably got somebody else on his accounts.
"At the end of the day, I think we all feel like Gary is a victim here and this is just a sad situation," she said. "We should be doing what we can to help him. … We need to disincentivize people who may be benefiting from the situation."
County Council Chairman Steve DeBry said he "wholeheartedly agrees" with McAdams' call for Ott's resignation. He said he hopes that resignation comes because he's not sure cutting Ott's pay would be in the recorder's best interest.
"There's got to be a better, more humane way to deal with this problem than taking away his (pay)," DeBry said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche