Bob Bernick’s notebook: Utah Republicans are terrible at reforms that apply to them

The Utah Legislature, controlled by Republicans for upwards of 40 years, does many good things, as I’ve reported in the past.

Frugal budgets, liquor law reform, oversight of many state and local government agencies.

But one thing the 104 part-time legislators consistently delay or just ignore, are reforms that have to do with themselves – their elections, their pay, their ethics, and so on.

There is no better example of this that the very sad case of Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott.

I have known Ott for years.

He was a man of wit, of kindness, and many times he helped me personally research property and other records for stories I was working on.

But that Gary Ott is no more.

In fact, intellectually he is a shadow of himself, clearly incapacitated.

In an excellent job of reporting and writing, Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar interviewed Ott outside of a house he is clearly living in in North Ogden – way out of his Salt Lake County base – a violation that would require him to leave his post if provable.

In McKellar’s story and taped interview, Ott didn’t seem to know where he was, what he is about, or why he’s not at his office on a work day.

Enough about the proof.

We know what is happening here – several people around Ott are keeping him in office to get access to his salary and to shore up their appointed jobs.


Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has called on Ott to resign. But who knows if Ott even has the sense to do so.

Way back in 1992, then-Democratic Sen. Omar Bunnell fell ill. He was hospitalized. The legislative session was approaching – and then it started without him. It was evident Bunnell was not going to get better. What to do?

I was told at the time that Democratic Party officials wrote a letter of resignation and Bunnell’s wife was told to take it into his hospital room and come back with it signed.

It was done, but who knows if Bunnell ever signed it, or knew what he was doing if he did. He died several months later at age 80.

If not for the financial issues, perhaps those around Ott, who supposedly love him and want the best for him, would do the same today.

But that’s not happening.

In the 2017 session, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, in response to the Ott situation, introduced HB364.

It said, in part: “A statement that, under penalty of perjury, the sponsors (of the removal petition) have a good-faith belief that the challenged officer is, due to mental incapacity, no longer able to fulfill the duties of the challenged officer’s office.”

Sounds reasonable.

But, again, legislators, fearing a political removal, refused to act on it.

Seems pretty clear that a competent officeholder – accused of being mentally unable to do his or her job – could easily refute that claim by testifying in public that he or she is just fine, thank you very much.

In fact, a year ago Ott appeared at a Salt Lake County Council meeting to do just that.

But he clearly failed.

Among other stumbles, Ott couldn’t name his chief deputy, Julie Dole – who is running the office now, as Ott doesn’t know what he’s doing from one day to the next.

She was sitting right next to Ott at that hearing.

My mother had dementia at the end of her life, and at one point couldn’t remember her long-time son-in-law, although to the end she thankfully knew my sister and me.

These are hard situations, as many Utahns with older family members well know.

But the Ott case is especially bad.

He hasn’t been in his office in months – but that paycheck keeps coming.

Utah lawmakers need to act.

If HB364 – with its requirement of collecting voter signatures to remove an ill person from office – is not the right answer, then find one that can pass in the 2018 Legislature.

Let’s settle this.

And give Gary Ott some peace.