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In our opinion: Balance good governance with compassion for County Recorder Gary Ott

A portrait of current Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott is pictured in the Salt Lake County Recorder's Office in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 5, 2017.
A portrait of current Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott is pictured in the Salt Lake County Recorder's Office in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 5, 2017.
Kelsey Brunner, Deseret News

Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott appears to be afflicted by a condition that has left him unable to effectively discharge his duties.

All evidence suggests that the office’s day-to-day operations are run by Ott’s chief deputy, Julie Dole. While evidently effective at her job, some in Salt Lake County have soured on Dole after she appeared to keep Ott’s situation from the public.

Not exactly an ideal attribute for a public employee.

For his part, Mr. Ott gave yet another incoherent interview this week, providing even more evidence of his incapacity.

Enough of this sad farce.

The Salt Lake County Council needs to take action by appropriately reducing Mr. Ott's pay — given his lack of involvement in the office — and allowing Ott to stay home and receive the medical attention he requires. Compassion dictates that he should maintain his benefits and a reduced salary to cover his needs. This action could help motivate appropriate retirement, the optimal solution.

By his own admission to Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar this week, Ott no longer feels safe behind the wheel. Mr. Ott should not be coming into work, nor should Ott receive a six-figure salary given that he no longer contributes to office operations.

Allowing a man with diminished capacity to carry on acting like he’s healthy while providing him with a sizable taxpayer-funded salary is a mockery of good governance and should weigh on the county’s conscience.

Nor is it helping Gary Ott.

The District Attorney for Salt Lake County, Sim Gill, said he’s conducting an investigation. But he’s likely known about the Ott situation for more than a year, and, to date, he hasn’t provided the public with any findings.

The Ott situation — which also involves concerns of a nepotistic “romance” between Ott and one of his aids, Karmen Sanone — is a galling embarrassment.

It further undermines the public’s trust in government. For too long county employees, including Dole and Sanone, have appeared to hide Ott’s problems from the voters and public officials. For too long state and county officials have taken no action to officially relieve Mr. Ott from his day-to-day duties and let him focus on his health.

Since Ott’s situation is evidently such that he cannot answer basic questions — like, say, what street he lives on — this has caused some to suspect that Karmen Sanone, Ott’s apparent love interest, has been helping to mask Ott’s condition to maintain her job and his six-figure county-paid salary.

That is corrosive to voter’s perceptions of how county government operates.

“The situation with Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott is devastating,” County Councilwoman, Aimee Winder Newton, posted on Facebook on Tuesday. “So here's my question ... about the only thing we can do is cut his salary. Does that take away motivation for this charade to continue? Do you think that's the right answer?”

There may be concerns of the political implications of reducing a public official's pay. Could, for example, such an action be wielded for partisan purposes in the future? Or, is the county statutorily obligated to wait until its next budget review to act? Such concerns are worthy of consideration. However, anomalous circumstances call for anomalous courses of action.

The right answer is to appropriately reduce Mr. Ott’s salary and instruct him to remain at home where he can receive proper assistance. As noted, Mr. Ott told the Deseret News that he no longer drives out of fear that he’ll hurt someone.

Mr. Ott still randomly comes into the office. He needs to get to a place where his health and welfare is the primary concern. The county needs to return to a place where citizens can have confidence their government agencies are being managed in the public interest.