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Salt Lake County Council launches investigation into troubled recorder's residency

FILE - A portrait of current County Recorder Gary W. Ott in the Salt Lake County Recorder's office in Salt Lake City, Monday, June 5, 2017. The Salt Lake County Council is slated today to consider an investigation into whether troubled Ott lives in the co
FILE - A portrait of current County Recorder Gary W. Ott in the Salt Lake County Recorder's office in Salt Lake City, Monday, June 5, 2017. The Salt Lake County Council is slated today to consider an investigation into whether troubled Ott lives in the county he's been elected to represent.
Kelsey Brunner, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to form a special committee to investigate troubled Recorder Gary Ott's residency.

Now, the County Council plans to use its subpoena power to summon documents related to Ott's living status, along with witness testimony to determine whether Ott should lose his elected position for living outside the county.

Before the vote, Council Chairman Steve DeBry said he cares about three main issues: Ott's "health and well-being," ensuring the recorder's office is "functioning appropriately" and bringing "closure to this ongoing soap opera saga."

DeBry and Councilmembers Arylyn Bradshaw and Max Burdick were appointed to sit on the investigative subcommittee and work with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office as soon as next week to begin issuing subpoenas.

The council action comes after Ott's family filed a petition for legal guardianship over him amid festering concerns over Ott's health and worries that he spends most of his time away from his Salt Lake City home.

The Deseret News was investigating claims that Ott has been living in Weber County with Karmen Sanone — Ott's office aide whom many have identified as his girlfriend or fiancee — when a reporter found him outside Sanone's house last month. In the 45-minute conversation, Ott could not answer questions coherently.

When asked if he lives in Salt Lake City during that conversation, Ott said: "Uh ... not really." But when asked where he lived, Ott said he lived "up in Salt Lake." When asked to clarify whether he lived in North Ogden or Salt Lake, Ott said: "Both."

Previously, when asked if Ott has been living in Weber County with her, Sanone said he still "maintains a residence" in Salt Lake City and that he only comes to North Ogden to visit occasionally.

Emails and phone calls to Ott and Sanone were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Earlier this month, a default notice was posted on Ott's Salt Lake home, and the News found a water service termination notice hanging on the front door due to an outstanding bill.

Since last fall, Weber County deputies have been called at least twice to check on Ott's welfare while at Sanone's North Ogden home.

The County Council has also been considering cutting portions of the recorder's office budget — amid additional concerns with software launched in the recorder's office last week — but the public hearing originally scheduled for Tuesday night was delayed.

While remaining tight-lipped about the details of the possible budget cuts, council members say they'll continue with that discussion after they receive more information from the new investigative committee.

Councilman Michael Jensen said "it's sad that we've come to this point," but for the sake of county residents and the recorder's office "there needs to be some closure and clarity."

"But I hope," Jensen added, "we keep in mind that Gary is a human being, a person, and recognize he has spent two decades here as recorder."

Bradshaw said the council has a "sincere concern" for Ott, "but additionally there is concern for the integrity of the county."

"The reason residency has risen to the topic of conversation today is because by all indications by reports in the media, the elected recorder has not been residing in the county," Bradshaw said.

Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said county officials have worried about Ott's situation for months, so "it's time we get this resolved." Wilson also noted that based off of information she's received that she's "confident" that, upon resignation or "movement" out of his elected district, Ott will be covered financially through the retirement system.

"We all just need to collectively come up with the next step here," she said.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said residency is among the narrow options county officials can pursue to address the concerns around Ott.

"We know that certainly (Ott's) not been in our community. He's been up north," the district attorney said on "The Doug Wright Show." "But residency is a very hard challenge."

That's because the definition of residency hinges on an individual's "intent" or where they say they've established their primary residence, Gill said. Oftentimes, state law determines residency based on where a person has registered to vote.

"It's a difficult hill to climb up," he said.

Additionally, Gill told the council that if the person in question is suffering from "diminished capacity," that can create a whole new "wrinkle" in the matter because that person may not be able to explain his or her situation.

Gill said if Ott's family is granted guardianship, they would be able to speak on his behalf. He added, however, that court actions around Ott's guardianship were preliminary, and it's not exactly clear what position his family is in currently because the court proceeding is sealed.

Ott's family deferred all questions to their attorney, Mary Corporon (who is also Ott's ex-wife). Corporon declined to give details about the case, but said it wasn't clear whether the family would be able to answer residency questions to the council because "I don't know if another person would even know what (Ott's) intentions" are.

In an interview Tuesday, Gill said he's pleased to see that Ott's family has "stepped up" to intervene in a "tragic situation."

The district attorney's office has been investigating Ott's well-being for months, including allegations that the recorder lives outside Salt Lake County and that Sanone and Ott's deputy, Julie Dole, have been covering up Ott's situation to keep their jobs. Both women have denied those allegations.

"Thus far there's been a vacuum and no one who's been able to step up in a responsible way," Gill said. "It's tragic there's been such a lack of transparency and forthrightness about the reality of what's going on, and we've lost focus on the fact that we have a human being at the center of this who needs to be taken care of, who deserves the respect and dignity for the service he has done at a human level.

"Shame on all of those individuals and people who are not making him the No. 1 priority of our concern. On a human level, it is a tragedy (and) nobody should tolerate this kind of behavior."

After the vote, Dole said she thinks the council's investigation is "fair." When asked if she knew whether Ott has been residing in Salt Lake County or not, she said she didn't have "first-hand knowledge," but whenever Ott has asked her to give him a ride to work "he's always had me pick him up at his residence in Salt Lake County."

The last time she gave him a ride was roughly the end of last year, Dole said.

Dole also added that she hopes the county investigations will "clear her name."

"Over the last year and a half or so ... I've been being smeared of doing something nefarious or manipulative, and I haven't. So I would love it if this investigation or any others that follow will show that I've just been doing my job and running the office."