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Dole sworn in as acting county recorder; Ott's office aide resigns

County attorney says investigation progressing

SALT LAKE CITY — On the morning of embattled Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott's final day as an elected official, there were two dramatic staffing changes within his office.

His chief deputy, Julie Dole, was sworn in Tuesday to take his place until the GOP can choose a replacement, and Ott's aide Karmen Sanone was cleaning out her office.

Dole — who had taken the oath of office shortly before 11 a.m. — told the Deseret News that she did not "plan on keeping" Sanone and she had accepted her resignation.

"I could have chosen to appoint her, but I don't feel like she meets the needs of the recorder's office at this time," Dole said.

Sanone said she submitted a letter of resignation on July 22 "because it was proper protocol" following the judge's approval of Ott's resignation. According to her resignation letter, Sanone set an effective date of Aug. 16, but she learned Tuesday "they're turning my access off today."

Either way, Sanone said, "I didn't want to stay."

"It's not as fun as it used to be," Sanone said. "It's not as challenging as it used to be."

She said she was "going to resign anyway," regardless of the events that have unfolded over the last year and a half.

Dole and Sanone have been accused by county officials, employees and others of covering up Ott's health issues so she and Sanone could remain in their appointed positions. Both women have denied those accusations.

Concerns about Ott's health have played out publicly over the last year and a half while he continued to collect $190,000 in taxpayer-paid salary and benefits. Throughout that time, his work attendance appeared to dwindle and he became unable to engage in coherent conversations.

County officials have struggled to address the issue, having no legal means to remove Ott from office — but the situation changed when Ott's family recently obtained legal guardianship of him and worked with attorneys and county leaders to draft a resignation deal.

Ott's resignation, effective Tuesday at noon, was signed by a judge last month.

It comes the day after State Auditor John Dougall sent a letter to the County Council stating Dole and others within the office should have been aware that Sanone — who has also been identified as Ott's girlfriend of fiancee — was possibly hired in violation of the county's nepotism ordinance.

Last month, the Salt Lake County GOP launched an investigation into Dole because "the circumstances surrounding Mr. Ott's retirement give the party cause for great concern, including the allegations directed at his Chief Deputy Julie Dole," the party said in a statement.

FILE - Julie Dole, Salt Lake County chief deputy recorder, leaves 3rd District Court after a hearing in the guardianship case for Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott in West Jordan on July 14, 2017. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

That comes after county Republicans censured Dole last year when leadership voted to cite Dole for violating the party's ethics by making "blatantly false public statements" that "appear to be a deliberate attempt to hide from the public the health and mental state" of Ott.

Dole has dismissed both acts as political and continues to insist she has not hidden Ott's condition — but rather she was in no place, as Ott's employee, to speak out about her boss' private life.

"I could see something was going on with Gary, but I didn't know what it was," Dole said Tuesday, also noting, as she has before, that Ott has always "delegated" his work to her since she began working for him in 2014.

Dole's swearing in

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen conducted the ceremony under the direction of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, which sent her an email instructing her to swear in Dole.

"As Julie is currently serving as appointed chief deputy recorder, Utah state statute provides that she will take over Gary's position as 'acting Salt Lake County recorder' effective noon on Aug. 1, 2017," wrote Gavin Anderson, deputy district attorney, in an email to Swensen.

Dole said she will keep the office "moving forward" as the acting recorder, as she has been doing for months in Ott's absence.

"I know the job; I know the office backward and forward, so this provides continuity for the office to run well," she said.

Dole, who has essentially been running the recorder's office ever since Ott was last re-elected in 2014 — according to Dougall — will be acting county recorder until the Salt Lake County Republican Party chooses a replacement. The party's central committee is scheduled to vote Aug. 17.

Dole is one of at least eight people who have so far expressed interest in the position, according to Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Jake Parkinson.

Parkinson said one candidate has not yet publicly announced his or her candidacy, but the others include Adam Gardiner, Scott Miller, Melvin Nimer, Sterling Shoell, Andy Eatchel and Jeff Lund.

County investigations

Following Ott's official resignation, the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday voted to dissolve its investigative committee formed just weeks ago to investigate Ott's residency and whether he's been living within his district or with Sanone in Weber County.

It's not clear exactly where Ott is now, but his family's attorney has said he's been admitted into a medical facility. Ott's family lives in southern Utah.

Because Ott is no longer an elected official, Council Chairman Steve DeBry said the matter of Ott's residency is — at least from the council's perspective — "dead in the water now."

"I've been frustrated forever on this deal, forever, since it started," DeBry said, adding that from his perspective "I feel like there was a bunch of smoke and mirrors going on."

But what matters now is "Gary's being taken care of" and "we need to move on from here."

Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw agreed.

"Nobody's interested in going after Gary Ott," he said.

Addressing Dougall's letter to the council about a potential nepotism violation, DeBry said it's not up to the council to pursue any charges — but rather it's up to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

In an interview after the council meeting, Gill said had any nepotism charges been filed, they would have been against Ott, not Sanone, because Ott was technically the supervisor.

"I'm not going to file charges against Gary Ott," Gill said.

Sanone disputes any claims of nepotism, saying she "got this job based on my qualifications and experience."

"The council, the mayor knows that I'm well-qualified for this job, that it had nothing to do with my relationship with Gary," Sanone said.

FILE - Karmon Sanone arrives at Third District Court for Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott's hearing in West Jordan on Friday, July 14, 2017. Sanone is an office aid in the recorder's office and in a relationship with Ott. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

DeBry, earlier Tuesday, said in an interview that the Salt Lake County District Attorney has been investigating issues including nepotism, elder abuse and any other law violations, "the whole nine yards," for months but nothing has come of it yet because those issues "are so nebulous to prove."

However, Gill said Tuesday his investigation into issues surrounding Ott continues — and he hinted that they're making some headway.

He said some "dynamics" have changed because "for the first time we have actual guardians" of Ott in place.

"I think we're actually in a better position to reach final conclusions," Gill said.

Gill also hinted that his office has been investigating finances, though he did not elaborate.

"I can truthfully tell you from a financial documents perspective, we have looked at a whole host of stuff we could get our hands on," he said. "It's not like nothing has been done. There's a lot that's been done, but until now there have been certain impediments that were in the way."

He also said his staff just Tuesday morning had a meeting with some "different agencies outside of our jurisdiction" with regard to the case. He declined to say which outside agencies are now involved.

"Without going into details, the principal chief deputy who's been involved with this investigation met with everybody not only within our jurisdiction but outside of our jurisdiction," Gill said. "We're starting to segment our investigation with different agencies and different partners."