SALT LAKE CITY — Amid concerns about embattled Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott, the County Council said Tuesday it wants answers about whether his office is running properly or if there are personnel issues that may be impacting its work.
The council voted unanimously to launch a performance audit of the recorder's office.
"We regularly have presentations from our elected officials, whether they be in budget session or for other operational matters. But we haven't had that level of engagement with our Recorder Gary Ott," said County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who made the motion for the audit.
The Deseret News reported in February that county leaders and employees — coupled with recent police reports and an investigation into Ott's office — have raised questions about whether Ott is suffering from health issues that could be preventing him from doing his job.
Wilson said the council receives a "vast majority" of information about the recorder's office from Julie Dole, Ott's chief deputy recorder who regularly assures the council that the office is running efficiently, meets its statutory requirements and does not have personnel issues.
"Today's action was to have that reassurance," Wilson said. "In our role as a council, we regularly, weekly almost, have interface with other elected officials, and our interactions have been limited with (Ott). So we feel that we’re not in a position to get the level of detail from that source and it would be good to have an independent review at this moment in time."
Ott and his right-hand administrators, Dole and governmental affairs liaison Karmen Sanone, deny there is anything preventing Ott from doing his job and that everything within the recorder's office is running smoothly.
However, some county employees have alleged that Sanone and Dole are actually running the office, not Ott, and they are covering for him and his condition.
"I would think that given the unique situation in the recorder's office, this could have implications in terms of personnel," Councilman Jim Bradley said, asking District Attorney Sim Gill if the issue would justify having a closed session to provide "more specific direction" for the auditor.
But Salt Lake County Auditor Scott Tingley said his audit would be limited to operational functions of the office and whether it has the resources it needs.
"We would never look at the competency of an individual in a management role or anything like that," Tingley said. "That's not our call to make. It's strictly the resources provided to make sure the organization is structurally sound so they can accomplish their vision and mission. That's as far as we would be allowed to go, given that we're audit professionals, not HR professionals."
After the council's vote Tuesday, Dole said Ott was in a meeting and unavailable to comment on the audit. But she said it's not a concern.
"We usually have (audits) done yearly, so it's nothing unusual," she said, adding that there are no "personnel" issues within the recorder's office that are concerning to her, either.
By law, there is no mechanism in place for elected officials to evaluate each other's capabilities. Voters themselves must make those evaluations, and officeholders cannot be recalled unless they commit high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance while in office.
Under a specially extended term, Ott won't be up for re-election until the end of 2020.
Wilson urged Tingley to have the audit completed in three months.