SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County councilors aren’t sure what to do with an elected official whose mental capacity seems to have diminished, leaving him struggling to answer questions as simple as “What’s your address?”
Council members quizzed County Recorder Gary Ott on Tuesday, but the befuddled official was at times unable to answer basic questions without turning to his chief deputy for help — even when officials asked him to name his chief deputy, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2dT51aa ). His responses were often jumbled and barely audible.
Many county employees have known and liked the recorder for more than a decade, and they winced when he appeared confused at such basic questions. Ott sometimes struggles with deafness, but he found it challenging to answer questions submitted in writing as well.
After months of public concern over the 64-year-old Ott’s health, an audit found that the recorder had “very little oversight or involvement” in his office’s activities. Council members have also raised concern that he is being manipulated by his staff.
“Anyone who saw what happened in there cannot but feel concern on a human level,” said Sim Gill, county district attorney, after the meeting.
County leaders say they are at a loss for how to handle the situation. Ott was elected to a six-year term ending in 2020 and cannot legally be forced to resign.
His taxpayer-funded position pays about $150,000 a year.
Although County Auditor Scott Tingley found that Ott was rarely involved in the day-to-day management of his office, he said the office complies with all state and county laws, generates few complaints and delivers its services at reasonable prices.
Karmen Sanone, Ott’s aide and girlfriend, disputed the assertion that Ott wasn’t deeply involved in the office’s management. She said he either goes into the office or calls chief deputy Julie Dole every day.
Councilman Sam Granato told Ott Tuesday that there’s “probably some manipulation going on in your office,” hinting at suspicions that Dole and Sanone are propping up Ott while running his office.
Councilwomen Jenny Wilson and Aimee Winder Newton also probed Ott to find out whether he or Dole gave the orders in his office. He responded several times by saying “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know what you’re getting at” and asking the officials to repeat the questions.
One veteran county staffer was wiping away tears by the end of the 40-minute exchange.
“It was very concerning,” said Newton. “Our big concern is we love Gary. . But what I heard there was a series of questions posed by the council that were not answered for them.”
County leaders acknowledge that criminal activity is not involved in the case — and short of that, neither the council nor the mayor can force Ott to resign. Newton said she and Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw are considering a resolution to put pressure on Ott to step aside.