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In our opinion: Pursuing family guardianship of Gary Ott is a sensible approach

Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott answers questions while meeting with the Salt Lake County Council in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.
Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott answers questions while meeting with the Salt Lake County Council in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The ongoing saga of Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott has generated intense community interest. The latest report that Mr. Ott’s brother and sister have petitioned for guardianship over the embattled recorder will hopefully result in a sensible and humane resolution that balances compassion for Mr. Ott — who has commendably served the county for many years — with a concern for good governance.

Persistent reporting by the Deseret News shows that Mr. Ott struggles to remember his own home address, fears hurting others if he gets behind the wheel of an automobile and is not engaged in the day-to-day workings of his office.

In a closed Salt Lake County Council session Tuesday, members of the council voted unanimously to investigate Mr. Ott’s residency. Changing residency outside the county is grounds for removing an elected county official. But as District Attorney Sim Gill has previously pointed out, making that case will be challenging. Residency can depend on things like ”intent” or even where Mr. Ott is registered to vote.

There are, however, ample reasons to suspect that Mr. Ott is no longer living in his Salt Lake residence. The Deseret News reported earlier this month that a loan default notice and a water termination notice were both posted on Mr. Ott’s residence.

Meanwhile, in the last year, deputies from Weber County — not Salt Lake County — have had to check on Mr. Ott at the home of his subordinate co-worker Karmen Sanone, who resides in North Ogden. Some suspect that Sanone has been manipulating Mr. Ott or hiding his condition with the assistance of her co-worker Julie Dole, who is Mr. Ott’s chief deputy, in order to keep her job.

Sanone and Dole both deny these accusations.

Ever since the Deseret News reported in January of 2016 that the Grantsville Police found Mr. Ott wandering cold and confused on a winter night, there’s been countywide anxiety about the recorder’s health. Well-meaning public officials have sought sensible avenues to help Mr. Ott ease into retirement. But there is no state law that permits the removal of an elected official in this kind of a situation.

The best solution, therefore, is for Mr. Ott’s family to seek guardianship over Mr. Ott, and then to find an avenue to resolve this matter for their brother and Salt Lake County.

The family, not Ms. Sanone or Ms. Dole, is in the best position to act in the interest of Mr. Ott. The county must continue to take a hard look at Sanone and Dole, whose actions are rightly the subject of scrutiny from the district attorney’s office.

An earlier, independent investigation by the law firm Holland and Hart concluded that while no county policies were being violated in the recorder’s office, there was widespread “dysfunction” due in part to perceptions that top managers were hiding Gary Ott’s health situation from other office employees. Some were even “resentful that his girlfriend was hired to walk him through his job.”