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Official in Hurricane is placed on leave pending city probe

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HURRICANE, Washington County — Hurricane city treasurer Shelley Cox has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Hurricane City Manager Clark Fawcett put Cox on indefinite leave last Thursday. Reasons for the action were discussed during an executive session with the City Council that same evening, said Hurricane councilman David Sanders.

"This is the part of my job that I really dislike," said Sanders, whose term expires at the end of this year. Council members unanimously approved Fawcett's personnel decision, he added.

Cox was hired by the city in December 1992 to be a liaison with Wal-Mart, which was in the process of building a massive distribution center on the south end of town. Cox was appointed to the treasurer's position after the person holding the $31,230 job left.

Sanders would not comment on the investigation or what prompted the decision to remove Cox.

Hurricane is the fifth town in southern Utah to put an employee on administrative leave within recent months. Several former public employees of other towns are facing criminal charges in relation to their previous jobs, as well.

Springdale City Manager Glenn Hill was abruptly fired from his $60,000 job in July. A criminal investigation is being conducted by the Washington County Sheriff's Office and is nearly ready for review, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said Wednesday. A decision on whether any charges will be filed against Hill will follow that review, he said.

Teri Hatch, former Springdale town clerk, was placed on paid administrative leave at the same time as Hill was fired. She eventually lost her job and has been replaced by Debi Groves, La Verkin's former city recorder.

Groves, who said she sought other employment for personal reasons, had been in the middle of a controversial ordinance passed and then revoked by the La Verkin Council. As recorder, Groves was responsible for putting together a voter information ballot on reinstating the U.N.-free zone ordinance — something that brought La Verkin international praise and ridicule.

La Verkin residents will vote Nov. 4 on whether they want to live in a U.N.-free zone, which essentially bans the city from doing business with the international organization and outlaws any U.N.-imposed tax on residents. Now that Groves is gone, La Verkin City Manager Doug Wilson said he hopes the next recorder can get up to speed quickly on the divisive issue.

Also in La Verkin, Police Chief Kim Seegmiller and part-time officer Sharon Johnson were placed on paid administrative leave by the City Council because of alleged improprieties. The two were later reinstated to their jobs in good standing after Johnson's ex-husband retracted comments he made to a council member that prompted the action.

Both Seegmiller and Johnson said they have retained attorneys and are preparing a lawsuit against the city for violating their civil rights.

Former Virgin Mayor Jay Lee submitted his resignation Aug. 28 after pleading no contest to attempted misuse of public funds and guilty to attempted witness tampering.

The case against former town clerk Stacy Noelle Higbee, who also was charged with misuse of public funds, was dismissed in 5th District Court this week because of a scheduling error. Washington County will file a motion to reinstate the charge against Higbee, Belnap said.

Farther north in Iron County, Sheriff David "Dude" Benson will be in a Cedar City courtroom on Sept. 22 for a preliminary hearing on six felony counts involving misuse of public funds, witness tampering, theft and destruction of public records.

Benson has been on paid administrative leave since May. Former Iron County undersheriff Lt. Chuck Mitchell, who also was placed on paid administrative leave, pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and resigned.

Mitchell told prosecutors he and Benson lied to the county attorney about the return of funds missing from the sheriff's office.

E-MAIL: nperkins@infowest.com