SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time, a member of Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott's family is speaking publicly about his health concerns — repeating accusations that Ott's staff has been "manipulating" him so they can keep their jobs.
Kathy Chamberlain, Ott's sister, took to Facebook Wednesday to accuse Ott's chief deputy, Julie Dole, and office aide Karmen Sanone of using Ott as a "pawn."
Previously, county employees have launched similar accusations, worried that Dole and Sanone — who has also been accused of fostering a nepotistic relationship with Ott — have been covering the 66-year-old's condition to stay in their appointed positions. Dole and Sanone have denied those accusations.
"Julie, it's nauseating to me to see how Gary, a good kind man, has been manipulated by you and by Karmen," Chamberlain wrote in response to a Facebook post Dole wrote saying she had no personal knowledge of her boss' health.
"To say you have no personal knowledge of his health conditions is laughable," Chamberlain wrote. "Don't insult people with that ridiculous lie. He is a pawn in the middle of two powerful, deceiving, greedy women! His reputation and the many good things he has done in office will be destroyed because of you."
Dole responded: "As Gary's family you are understandably concerned, but that does not give you the right to slander me with absolutely no evidence. You cast your aspersions with no knowledge of what I do. Gary has not and does not share his personal health with me. He hired me to run the recorder's office, which I have done in an efficient and effective manner. Gary did not hire me to manage or be involved in his personal life."
While I understand there are views of a cover-up on my part, I reject this portrayal, as I have no personal knowledge of...
Sanone told the Deseret News Thursday she was "astounded" by Chamberlain's comments.
"I don't know why Kathy is being so malicious toward Julie or me," she said. "Gary has told all members of his family, on several occasions, that he does not want to resign. If indeed they had his best interest at heart they would respect his wishes and privacy."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams called on Ott to resign on Wednesday.
Throughout the time the Deseret News has investigated concerns surrounding Ott and whether he is mentally capable of running his office, no family members have agreed to publicly comment out of concerns for Ott's privacy, until this week.
But now — days after the Deseret News published a report detailing a rambling and difficult-to-understand conversation with Ott amid mounting concerns from county employees that his work attendance has become increasingly sporadic — Chamberlain is speaking out.
Ott's sister is frustrated for how drawn-out and difficult the situation has become for her brother. She said she worries Dole and Sanone have been "manipulating" Ott not to resign so they can keep their jobs.
"I don't think there's any question about that," she told the Deseret News Thursday.
Chamberlain said Ott's family, who live several hours away in southern Utah, have become increasingly concerned for Ott, especially over the past several months.
"Until maybe two months ago, I was talking to Gary almost every day on the phone," Chamberlain said, but Ott, for some reason, stopped answering. When she would contact Sanone to try to reach Ott, Chamberlain said Sanone would tell her "his phone wasn't her problem."
"We feel a real need to make sure he's OK," Chamberlain said. "It's been very difficult lately."
Most of all, Chamberlain said his family is "devastated" by Ott's situation, and how it's played out so publicly because of Ott's elected position.
"He's a man with a lot of integrity," she said. "I don't think it's been in his control, otherwise this thing wouldn't have been dragged on for so long."
Chamberlain added: "We are heartsick at what's happened to his reputation. He's a victim. He really is."
McAdams said he's "eager" to meet with family members or other loved ones to negotiate the terms of Ott's resignation, in case that's a decision Ott needs help making.
The call for Ott's resignation comes nearly 18 months after the Deseret News published its first investigative report in February 2016, detailing concerns that the longtime recorder's health could be deteriorating to the point he may no longer be capable of doing his job.
Since then, Ott has remained in his $180,000-per-year position, including salary and benefits.
Chamberlain said she and other family members "would love to" start conversations to find a solution that would be in Ott's best interest.
"Believe me, we've been talking about that for a long time," she said.
In response to questions about Chamberlain's accusations, Sanone accused Ott's family of "rarely" visiting.
"For example, last summer, while traveling back to southern Utah after spending a few days in Park City, Kathy texted asking Gary to leave a meeting and meet her and her husband outside the county complex so they could visit while they walked their dog," Sanone said. "Since it is my understanding that Gary has chosen not to share personal information with his family and the visits are so short and infrequent, Kathy really has no credible information on which to base the accusations she is making."
Sanone continued: "Just the fact that his sister would send a text expecting him to leave a meeting to meet her to walk her dog for a few minutes shows how little she knows about the office and Gary's position as well as how little respect she has for him and the office."
Chamberlain stressed that Ott's family has tried to visit him.
"We have been there, and we care about him, and we love him. We want what's best for him right now," she said.
Dole called Chamberlain's comments "concerning," insisting that the accusations are unfounded. She said Ott's family "doesn't even know me" and has no evidence that she does anything with Ott other than her job in the recorder's office. She again said she has no influence over her boss.
"If Gary wanted to resign now, I'd be happy as pie," she said. "I would support him in whatever he wanted to do."
Dole added that she "doesn't like getting lumped" into the same "category" as Sanone, who has been identified as Ott's girlfriend, fiancee or wife in court and police documents.
"I don't have a personal relationship with Gary," Dole said.
Dole said "if there is an issue" with Ott being manipulated or taken advantage of, "it definitely does not lie with me."
Chamberlain said Dole's responses "sound like a political speech."
She said she "truly feel he's being manipulated" by both Dole and Sanone.
"You know," she said. "You can build and build on lies, and pretty soon things come crashing down. You can't keep up the farce forever."
County leaders, employees and others have suspected that Ott has been living outside his elected district in North Ogden. The Deseret News investigated those claims, finding Ott standing along the side of the road in front of Sanone's house on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
Rick Scadden, who says he's a neighbor of Sanone, said Thursday that he sees Ott with Sanone on a near-daily basis, often in the middle of the day — "walking the fields" of Sanone's rural property or walking their dogs.
"I'm talking Monday through Friday," he said.
Scadden said Ott "absolutely" appears to have health issues. When he has tried to talk with Ott, he said Sanone "controls every conversation."
"She won't really let him speak," Scadden said. "The way she controls his every move makes me believe she's manipulating him."
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has said he does have an attorney assigned to a case involving Ott, but he has declined to elaborate on details of the investigation. Gill has said that investigators are looking into "all relevant issues," including residency.
Sanone has declined to comment to the Deseret News about her relationship with Ott. When the Deseret News most recently questioned Sanone about why Ott was in North Ogden, she insisted he still lives in his elected district but visits occasionally.
“He doesn’t keep his clothes or anything here,” she said. “They’re all in Salt Lake. So he still lives in Salt Lake.”