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S.L. County GOP plans to meet with recorder about health concerns

FILE — Gary Ott speaks before the first round of balloting for Salt Lake County mayor at the Salt Lake County GOP convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
FILE — Gary Ott speaks before the first round of balloting for Salt Lake County mayor at the Salt Lake County GOP convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County GOP Chairwoman Suzanne Mulet said she plans to meet with county recorder Gary Ott to discuss his "options" following questions raised this week about his ability to perform his duties as an elected official.

The Deseret News reported earlier this week that county leaders and employees — coupled with recent police reports and an investigation into Ott's office — have raised concerns about whether Ott is suffering from health issues that may be preventing him from running his office.

"Within the bylaws of the county party, I literally don't have any power, but I can sit down and talk with our candidates and give them advice," Mulet said Thursday.

"So I'm in the process of meeting with Gary. He deserves after almost a quarter century of service to be provided options so that he can make a decision that's not going to end his career. Let's handle this with some dignity," she said.

In response to the concerns about Ott's health, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said Wednesday he's considering proposing legislation to address situations when elected officials may become unable to fulfill their elected roles, but those elected officials can't or won't resign.

According to current state law, only voters can evaluate their elected officials during elections, and officeholders cannot be recalled unless they commit high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance while in office.

Normally, Salt Lake County officials serve four-year terms. However, Ott, who was re-elected to his fourth term in January 2015, was one of four Salt Lake County officials granted a one-time, two-year term extension in 2014.

The measure, passed during the 2011 Utah Legislature, allows a one-time variance in terms to create a stagger and avoid situations where all eight elected county offices, outside of the mayor, could be starting new terms simultaneously.

Therefore, Ott's term runs through the end of 2020, and it wouldn't be until then that voters could decide whether he should continue serving in his elected role.

"To the extent a voter has a concern, yes, they will have to wait," said State Elections Director Mark Thomas. "It's one of those unique situations that's kind of playing out and that we're learning more and more about."

Eliason said because there's only one week left in the 2016 Legislature, it's unlikely that any law creating a new process to address when elected officials may fall ill could be introduced this year. However, he said he'll still look into it to see if anything should be done next year.

It's an issue, he said, that will take time to vet.

"I want to make sure we don't have a knee-jerk reaction to a one-person situation," Eliason said.

Mulet said she's "very pleased to see" a lawmaker interested in tackling the issue.

But County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has said she doesn't think it should take a new law to address elected officials' possible health concerns. Instead, she said the Salt Lake County Republican Party should work with Ott to come up with a solution.

"I'm doing what I can on my part," Mulet said. "Now that it's been brought to our attention, I'm taking action."

Mulet said she wasn't aware of any "concrete indicators" that Ott wasn't carrying out his duties as county recorder, but also that her role does not entail asking elected officials to resign.

When asked what options she would be discussing with Ott, Mulet declined to elaborate, saying it would be a "disservice" to Ott to discuss it publicly without first meeting with him.

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: KatieMcKellar1