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West Jordan • City leaders tried but failed Wednesday to censure Councilman Jeff Haaga for violating his oath of office by seeming to claim to be above the law when he was involved in an alleged misdemeanor hit-and-run crash.
The censure motion received a 3-2 vote but failed because four affirmative votes are required to pass the seven-member council. Two members were absent, including Haaga which itself sparked criticism.
"He's not here tonight; that means he is a coward," said resident Craig Pearce during the public comment period. "Tonight, I think we need to cut the cancer out."
State law gives the council no power to remove a council member from office, except through judicial proceedings involving "high crimes and misdemeanors" or malfeasance.
Haaga is charged with a class C misdemeanor for leaving the scene of a July 19 crash that caused minor damage.
Police did not charge Haaga with DUI, though witnesses said he was obviously intoxicated, because they said too much time had passed an hour between the time his car backed into another vehicle in the parking lot of a local tavern and when police made first contact with him at his home.
A bartender told police he had ordered four 24-ounce beers and one shot of whiskey before attempting to leave in his vehicle. Several men then stopped him and someone drove him home. He allegedly returned on foot to retrieve his vehicle, started to drive away and backed into a car.
The resolution singled out Haaga for condemnation not because of the crime he's alleged to have committed, but because of his apparent attempt to use his elected position to get special treatment.
During his recorded encounter with a South Jordan Police officer called in to avoid a conflict of interest with West Jordan police Haaga noted his membership on the City Council and referred to special "protection" he said comes with the position.
The censure resolution said this behavior constituted "malconduct" in violation of city rules, policies and procedures, and it said the council condemned his acts "in the strongest terms."
It stated that one of the governing principles of the United States is the rule of law, "which means that the law is uniformly applied to all citizens, and that no individual citizen has a status 'above the law.' "
It was the apparent appeal for special treatment by police that has sparked anger from residents, council colleagues and former city leaders.
Dennis Randall, a former West Jordan mayor, echoed a previous call from Melissa Johnson, another former mayor, asking for Haaga to step down.
"To protect the honor of this City Council and the city itself, he should resign," Randall said.
"We should be held to a higher standard," agreed former three-term council member Kathy Hilton, recounting how, when she got a speeding ticket while in office, she was so embarrassed she "prayed that no one would find out."
Councilman Chad Nichols said he took no pleasure in sponsoring the censure resolution, but that he felt compelled to do so.
"Is this politically motivated? Absolutely," Nichols said. "The public demands action now."
Councilman Zach Jacob concurred.
"It's a sad situation that we're all in," he said, adding, "It's either condone or condemn."
Mayor Kim Rolfe and Councilman Dick Burton abstained from voting, an action recorded as "no" votes. Councilman Chris McConnehey was absent, showing up after the meeting adjourned and saying his Delta flight had been delayed.
Celina Milner, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, shook her head as she left the meeting.
"We're still known as the wild, wild West Jordan," she said. "It's really disappointing and not the image we want."