Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman was riding a horse in Sandy's Dimple Dell Park Wednesday morning when she got the news: A panel of four county attorneys announced that it had found "sufficient credible evidence" to charge her with felony misuse of public monies.
Workman clicked off her cell phone, looked at the hundreds of acres of wilderness around her and sighed.
"Last time I was here, my horse threw me on my head," she said. "Now this. This is not a good place to be."
Several hours later, Workman — still in the boots, jeans and T-shirt she wore while riding — stood before a swarm of reporters in a Salt Palace Convention Center room and maintained she had done nothing wrong except fail to strictly follow procedure in paying county employees to help her daughter. She said she would fight the charges and continue her re-election campaign.
"I cannot roll over," she said.
The panel came to its conclusion after looking into Workman's hiring of two employees who did accounting work under her daughter, Aisza Wilde, at the Murray-based Boys and Girls Clubs of South Valley. The employees, whose time cards were signed by Workman herself, were paid primarily with county money. The panel found that "there is no evidence that either ever performed any work for Salt Lake County."
Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom, who conducted the investigation into the matter, convened the panel in June to avoid the conflicts inherent in a county attorney deciding
whether to charge his own chief executive with a crime.
Workman, noting that the panel based its conclusions on Yocom's investigation, as well as the fact that one of Yocom's investigators sat in on all the panel's meetings, said it wasn't enough.
"They've long had a saying in the computer business: garbage in, garbage out," she said in a press release. "The conclusion of the panel can only be as valid as the input its members received."
The panel convened by Yocom consisted of Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson, Weber County chief deputy attorney William Daines, Summit County chief prosecuting attorney David Brickey and Davis County deputy county attorney Brian Namba.
Yocom has yet to decide whether to actually charge Workman consistent with the panel's conclusions.
"We're still looking at it," he said Wednesday. He said the panel had amassed additional evidence that he wants to take a look at and that he would likely announce a decision in the next day or two.
If Yocom follows the panel's conclusions (the most probable course, since he convened it for that very purpose), the County Council would be required to put Workman on paid administrative leave, and Deputy Mayor Alan Dayton would likely take over as acting mayor.
Workman would be free to continue to campaign for re-election.
The mayor said in her press conference that she has no intention of taking an administrative leave "until I am told otherwise" — and, in fact, she has no obligation to volunteer. According to state law, the County Council has to place on paid leave any elected county officer charged with a felony relating to the officer's official duties until a court "disposes of the charges."
County Council Chairman Steve Harmsen said if Yocom comes up with charges today, he (Harmsen) would call a special meeting of the council.
Placing Workman on leave "would be something we as a council would have to consider and probably act on," he said.
In his own press conference, Peter Corroon, Workman's Democratic opponent in the mayoral race, said the announcement was "unfortunate" and "hard for everyone." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Workman's troubles certainly help his chances (and those of independent candidate Merrill Cook).
The numbers bear him out: Recent polls by the Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV and others show Workman's support rapidly eroding in the wake of the "guzzle-gate" scandal and the employee-hiring investigation. A new poll conducted Wednesday afternoon by the newspaper and TV station show Workman now trailing Corroon by double digits.
The poll by Dan Jones and Associates showed Workman with 23 percent voter support vs. 36 percent support for Corroon.
The poll also showed that despite her legal troubles, 66 percent of the 408 people surveyed said Workman should not resign her post while 26 percent said she should. When asked if she should continue her re-election campaign, 43 percent said she should and 44 percent said she should step down as the Republican nominee.
"I wouldn't be very honest if I didn't say this didn't help our campaign," said Cook, predicting that independents and disgruntled Republicans would vote for him. "It acts as sort of a pole vault for us."
Political consultant LaVarr Webb, a Workman supporter, said the news is probably politically fatal.
"It is very damaging to Workman's chances," he said. "She has very little chance of being re-elected, and in fact may hurt other Republicans."
County officials said they were disturbed by the announcement but emphasized that the business of county government will go on.
"I wish Workman well, I sympathize with her family, but Alan Dayton will do very well," Councilman Jim Bradley said. "The council will carry on. (The staffers) are all professionals."
"County government is still going," Councilman Michael Jensen said. "If residents call 911, they'll get an answer."
Contributing: Wendy Leonard