SANDY — A councilman’s attire and behavior earlier this week is being called “inappropriate” and “in poor taste” by some Sandy residents.
During a truth-in-taxation hearing on Tuesday, Councilman Chris McCandless wore a bulletproof vest and helmet, joking about needing it for the public meeting, and laughed after Sandy Police Sgt. Amy DeNeff said her house burned down.
Though McCandless apologized, saying he did not realize she was serious, DeNeff and other citizens said his demeanor was “insensitive” and “hurtful.”
“His entire demeanor during that whole meeting was just awful, it was unprofessional,” said Sandy resident Katie Johnson.
“Because I was here when we did the last tax increase and you guys were all really, really scary, I decided to come a little more prepared,” McCandless can be heard saying in a video of the meeting, before slipping into the protective gear.
While some council members said McCandless meant no harm and that his actions were merely a “brand of humor,” others said the behavior was inappropriate or not representative of the council as a whole.
“Chris’ heart is always in the right place. He was trying to inject some levity into an otherwise tense situation,” Councilwoman Kristin Coleman-Nicholl said in an email.
“Everyone has their own brand of humor, and unfortunately the joke fell flat with some of the crowd,” she added.
But Councilwoman Maren Barker called McCandless’ attire “inappropriate and insensitive,” and said “in light of all the shootings that have been going on, there are a lot of people that are very sensitive to the situations, and I thought it was insensitive.”
Resident Jessica Davies is one of those people.
“I think there are just some things that you don’t joke about,” she said. “I was frustrated, because there are people in this country that are burying loved ones because of these mass shootings and so for him to put that on as a joke, I just thought was pretty heartless and unprofessional.”
Johnson agreed, saying the attire was “in poor taste” and lamenting that McCandless had laughed and made quips throughout the “serious meeting.”
“Any elected official, I don’t think should act like that,” she said about his laughing during the police officer’s comments.
Though McCandless is not visible in footage of the meeting that shows DeNeff addressing the council, his laugh can be heard after she announced that her house burned down in January.
“I shouldn’t laugh, sorry. I thought you were joking for a second. I’m sorry your house burned down,” he said after realizing she was serious.
During a phone interview, DeNeff said, “I’m not really sure who would joke about something like that.”
In a text message, McCandless said “obviously I would have never laughed at that tragedy. I thought she was joking at first and then realized my mistake. Truly regrettable.”
“I can’t speak for what was going on inside his head or what he was thinking when those comments were made,” she said. “He’s my district representative — the elected official where I live — and for him to mock the tragedy that befell my family was hurtful.”
Johnson and Davies both noted the audience gasped after McCandless laughed.
“You could just hear everybody in there go, ‘Oh my gosh’,” Davies said.
When asked during a phone call about the bulletproof attire, McCandless laughed but would not provide further comment.
After sporting the vest and helmet for about five minutes, McCandless said, “You guys are all smiling so I must look really stupid up here and you are all nodding so I think I’ll take this stuff off in a minute.”
However, Davies said “nobody in the room laughed” and noted that “everybody was really uncomfortable with it.”
After taking off the vest and helmet, McCandless can be heard saying, “Holy cow, you guys gotta wear these and walk around in them?”
DeNeff said, “I don’t have their job, I wouldn’t want it, but they wouldn’t want mine either.
“They don’t know, the personal and professional sacrifices we have to make,” she said, adding that “to sort of make light of all of that is hurtful to (our) profession and (to) every single person that puts a badge on.”
Barker said “his behavior did not reflect the council’s attitude” as a whole.
“I personally believe he has a history of being insensitive,” she said. “He tends to make light” and “jokes about pretty serious situations that should be respected.”
Councilman Zach Robinson agreed that the behavior is not representative of the council but said he understands “where McCandless was coming from.”
“Chris is the kind of guy that does try to make our residents included in the process and feel comfortable when they are in the council chambers, and so I think it was probably a misstep on his part,” he said. “It’s probably something I wouldn’t have done in light of what is going on in our country.”
Councilman Steve Fairbanks, however, said he could not understand “why anyone would bother getting upset about it.”
“Taste is like beauty, it’s in the eyes of the beholder. Was it a good idea, was it a bad idea? I don’t know. I think he just tried to ease the tension, and I don’t think it’s newsworthy or worth getting excited about,” he added.
Councilwoman Brooke Christensen and Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn did not wish to comment. Councilwoman Linda Martinez Saville did not respond to a request for comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the first name of Sandy Police Sgt. Amy DeNeff.