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County GOP volunteer at center of bullying allegations says he wasn’t given ‘fair process’

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Scott Miller, then-vice chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, speaks at a press conference on Oct. 12, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Miller resigned as chairman of the Salt Lake County GOP over the weekend after allegations of bullying against women emerged.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Salt Lake County GOP volunteer at the center of bullying allegations raised by several Republican women said Tuesday that despite seeking a “fair process” from party leadership, he didn’t get an opportunity to hear the allegations or defend himself before they became public.

“The recent allegations brought against me are very serious. In no way am I discounting the feelings and accusations of the alleged victims; I believe they should be heard and every allegation fully vetted. Part of that vetting must include allowing the accused to respond to the allegations,” Dave Robinson, former volunteer communications director for the party, said in an emailed statement to the Deseret News.

He said he began hearing rumors against himself in January, but did not learn of the specific allegations until last week.

“I believe this issue involves the Salt Lake County GOP, the state GOP, the governor’s office, and more,” Robinson said.

On Saturday, a media report detailed allegations from women who were candidates or worked within the party about a “toxic, bullying culture that existed over the past campaign season for the county’s Republican women.”

The report cited conversations, comments and name-calling from Robinson, who was Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Scott Miller’s unofficial communications director, that the women describe as demeaning and degrading.

“On numerous occasions, I emailed requests for a formal, fair and transparent process from the Salt Lake County GOP Executive Committee to understand the allegations against me, to provide documents, text messages, and to be heard. They did not provide any such opportunity,” Robinson said in his email to the Deseret News.

He said he believes several of the accusations against him “are tied directly to the state GOP and involve direct efforts on the part of state GOP staff to undermine the work of the county GOP.”

“For months, I made multiple requests of (Utah GOP) Chairman Derek Brown to meet and discuss the rumors and allegations I was aware of at the time. My requests went unanswered,” he said.

Robinson said he also reached out to Gov. Spencer Cox’s office for information because one of the women who made allegations against him “has a very close relationship” with that office, but Cox’s office gave “no assistance.”

Councilwoman speaks out on claims

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Laurie Stringham — who alleged to the Salt Lake Tribune that Robinson threatened her and used a lewd term to criticize a campaign video she made— said during Tuesday’s County Council meeting that after a first incident was reported in September “following the appropriate process,” the harassment didn’t stop.

“Yet, it continued and increased. It needed to be confronted in the light of day. I have been impressed with the hundreds of kind messages, support and calls for change I received this weekend,” Stringham said.

She described as “complicit” those who dismissed the alleged behavior, ignored it or said the women should “grow a thicker skin.”

“You should know that this response is repugnant to many and is a mindset that needs to be rooted out and changed,” Stringham said, promising to “continue to speak up, work with entities and law enforcement, and protect women and men who face these horrific situations every day.”

During the meeting, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson thanked Stringham and County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who also raised concerns about Robinson. 

“As a woman in politics, I want to say that I appreciate your voice and your courage, and I think any institution, when we have the strength of our voices at times when we know, kind of within ourselves, that we need to speak out and do so, we’re strengthening those institutions and bringing out some accountability,” Wilson said.

County GOP forms ethics committee

The Salt Lake County GOP announced late Monday evening it formed an ethics advisory committee after the allegations emerged over the weekend and led to the resignation of Miller on Sunday.

“We, as the Salt Lake County Republican Party, do not condone harassment of any kind. We have formed an ethics advisory committee to develop new policies regarding a volunteer code of conduct, harassment and updating communication policies,” the county GOP’s executive committee said in a statement after a meeting on Monday evening.

The ethics committee will work with the party’s existing bylaws committee to address issues raised in the women’s reports and make recommendations to new leaders after the party convention on May 10, according to the statement.

“We as the Salt Lake County Republican Party are lucky to have so many amazing women leaders and volunteers represent us. We will be making an invitation to those who have filed complaints to be involved in the process,” party leaders said.

Miller was quoted in the article as dismissing the accusations as “internal squabbling.” Miller sent an email Friday that preempted the article by the Salt Lake Tribune, naming the seven women who spoke to the newspaper in bold type, most of whom he accused of being “sore losers who failed to win their respective races” and who he claimed, along with “special interest backers,” may be “attempting to embarrass and cancel me and our volunteers.”

“They will not succeed,” Miller said in the email. “As your Utah GOP chairman, I will use the same winning formula we used in Salt Lake County to win all across Utah. ... I will not be cancelled.”

But backlash to Miller’s response came quickly from leaders even within his own party, including Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. Miller announced his resignation less than 24 hours later.

Robinson disagreed with criticism that Miller failed to act on previous bullying complaints.

“I have the utmost respect for Chairman Miller. To my knowledge, if there was a complaint from a candidate, Chair Miller addressed and resolved it immediately,” Robinson said, adding that he looks forward to “a thorough and complete legal investigation into these very serious allegations and actions.”

Monday’s statement from the Salt Lake County GOP’s executive committee again sought to explain that the committee took “immediate action” after receiving the first official complaint.

“Once the accusations were reported, the executive committee made multiple efforts to have the chair see to it that the behavior ended. Not only did the executive committee address the initial complaint, it also reached out and requested information from others who might also have concerns and asked them to submit formal written complaints,” the statement said.

“The executive committee took these complaints seriously and discussed them at length in a closed executive session. As a result of that meeting, the executive committee believed the situation would be remedied,” the group’s statement says.

The executive committee promised to receive “any and all complaints” and ensure that complainants “are treated with respect and consideration.”

“Any individual who comes forward should feel safe and know that their concerns will be addressed in a timely and proper fashion. The executive committee will be vigilant in continuing to protect the dignity and rights of all people,” leaders said in the statement.