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Salt Lake County GOP chooses new county recorder, rejects former deputy Julie Dole

SANDY — After more than a year of political turmoil, Salt Lake County Republicans have chosen a new face to take former Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott's place.

Rep. Adam Gardiner, R-West Jordan, won the majority of votes from the party's 344 delegates Thursday and was officially named the county's GOP nominee to be considered for official ratification by the Salt Lake County Council Friday morning.

"It's going to be a new day for Salt Lake County and the recorder's office. I'm excited to get to work," Gardiner said, celebrating in the halls of Jordan High School after the vote.

Julie Dole, Ott's former chief deputy — who was sworn in 17 days ago as acting recorder until the party could choose a recorder to serve through 2018 — failed to garner enough support, despite her efforts to convince fellow Republicans that the accusations of her colluding to keep her boss in office despite his failing health were absurd and false.

Pending approval by the County Council, the GOP vote marks a new chapter for the recorder's office, which has been cast in a shadow of scandal for more than a year and a half, when questions about Ott's mental health began to arise.

After months of grappling with Ott's situation — because state law provides no mechanism to remove a mentally incapacitated elected official — county officials last month struck a deal with Ott's family, approved by a judge, to make Ott's resignation official on Aug. 1.

Dole, along with Ott's office aide and girlfriend/caregiver Karmen Sanone, has been accused by county officials, employees and others of hiding Ott's condition to keep her high-paying, deputy appointment in the recorder's office — collecting about $190,000 in taxpayer-paid salary and benefits.

Dole and Sanone have consistently denied those accusations. Dole has insisted that she never hid Ott's condition, but rather she had no place or right, as Ott's employee, to speak out about her boss's private life.

Dole, after being eliminated in the first round of voting with only 7 percent of the vote, was tearful as she hugged her supporters, including some staff from the recorder's office.

"The staff is family. You know, I just lost my family," she said, wiping away tears.

Dole said she "was ready to walk away" because of the accusations against her and the party's investigation — which she has deemed purely political and unfounded — but she fought for the position because her staff "were the ones that asked her to run."

In her speech to GOP voters, Dole accused her opponents of "using the media in collaboration with members of the opposing party to create a false impression of my years of hard work and service to the Republican Party and to the recorder's office."

Dole has said she urged Ott to resign, but he was reluctant and she had no way to force him to do so. She argued she's the most qualified person to be the recorder, having kept the office running smoothly since 2014 — but it didn't sway voters.

Of eight candidates, Gardiner and former GOP vice chairman Scott Miller advanced to the second round of voting. Gardiner then swept the vote with 62 percent.

Gardiner said he plans on resigning from his position in the Legislature so his full focus will be on the recorder's office. He said his first order of business will be to restore the trust of the public — and fire Dole.

"The office has been mismanaged for the last four years, and it needs dedicated focus. That's what I plan to give it," he said. "If you talk to any of the employees in the office the morale is extremely low. ... There are a lot of issues in the office, and starting tomorrow morning I can really get to work."

Gardiner said Dole's statements that all of the accusations against her have only been politically motivated and unfounded were "absolutely not true."

"It's been well-documented in every news outlet in the state," he said. "It is apparent that she didn't know what the issues really were by how much she lost by and how little trust (the party) had in her."

He said "it didn't have to come to this, and we did because she chose not to be honest."

When asked what he would have done differently in Dole's position, faced with a boss struggling with his health, Gardiner declined to comment other than saying he "wasn't in (Dole's) shoes, but in my opinion, honesty is always the best policy."

When the Deseret News first began investigating Ott's health after he was found wandering and incoherent in remote Tooele County in January 2016, Dole repeatedly dismissed or downplayed health concerns about Ott.

She said she had never noticed any problem that prevented him from doing his job, and she insisted Ott was running the office but just wasn't a "detail leader." Dole would also routinely answer questions on Ott's behalf, even interjecting when others tried to directly speak with him.

Frustrations and suspicions that Dole and Sanone haven't been forthright with Ott's situation spurred a complaint last fall to the Utah Attorney General's Office, calling Ott a "target of exploitation" by his staff.

Since then, the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office has investigated issues surrounding Ott and accusations of elder abuse.

The Salt Lake County Republican Party has also launched its own investigation into Dole, after censuring her last year for making "blatantly false public statements" that "appear to be a deliberate attempt to hide from the public the health and mental state" of Ott.

Auditors have determined the recorder's office has been meeting its statutory duties, but Ott hasn't had any influence or control since he was last elected in 2014.

Dole has said she dislikes being "lumped in" with Sanone, who others — including the state auditor — have suspected of having a nepotistic relationship with Ott.

While the GOP's selection of a new recorder likely marks an end of a politically tumultuous era for the recorder's office, some issues around Ott continue to linger.

In addition to the Salt Lake County investigations, Ott's family and Sanone remain locked in a legal battle over guardianship of Ott. A hearing for that matter is scheduled for Sept. 6.

It's not clear exactly where Ott is now, but last month Ott's family's attorney said he was in an unspecified medical facility under the advice of doctors. Ott's family lives in southern Utah.

Dole said she doesn't know what's next for her and whether she'll be working in the private or public sector.

"It depends on what offers come my way," she said.