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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Salt Lake County Council has dropped all penalties for political action committees that violate county election law, thereby making it impossible for prosecutors to pursue the case against two aides to County Mayor Nancy Workman.
Council members voted 8-1 Tuesday to scrap the penalties, saving Deputy Mayor Alan Dayton and Workman's administrative aide, Gerrie Shaw, from facing class B misdemeanor charges for receiving and distributing funds to candidates before filing notice that they had formed a PAC, Friends of Salt Lake County.
The dissenting vote was cast by Democratic Councilman Jim Bradley, who said the council should be strengthening election laws, not weakening them.
"We're doing this because of the Dayton problem," Bradley said. "That's not the way to run government. ... You're all making a mistake."
Claire Geddes, director of Utah Legislative Watch, said, "That is just outrageous. The public doesn't have much trust of elected officials right now, and when they do things like this, it provides more fodder for them to believe ethics in this state are awful. I don't know what you have to do in this state to get in trouble."
Dayton, who calls his PAC's late filing an oversight, praised Tuesday's action as a "good bipartisan effort to fix a troubled ordinance."
"It's only fair," he said. "At least now we're going to get the same treatment as the Democrats who filed late."
The council's vote also included a request for the District Attorney's Office to rewrite the entire election code and bring back a draft by August. The new ordinance would reduce sanctions for election violations from misdemeanors to infractions, punishable by a fine, increase financial reporting and simplify the form for financial disclosures.
Following a complaint from the county's Democratic Party, District Attorney David Yocom, a Democrat, had proposed an undisclosed plea agreement with Dayton and Shaw. They refused. Yocom, who said he could not prosecute because he technically was the pair's attorney, handed the case to Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill to decide any charges.
Gill said Tuesday afternoon the case now would be dropped.
"That (council) action certainly would make moot the filing of any charges," Gill said. "If there's no law articulating any penalties, there's no basis to formulate a criminal prosecution."
GOP Councilman Russell Skousen pushed to drop the criminal sanction immediately so that Dayton and Shaw would not face charges.
"I don't want to see them go to any more time or expense because of this seriously flawed ordinance," Skousen said. "We just ought to remove it from the table."
Workman says she stands by the aides: "Their integrity is absolutely the finest."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)