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Provo • For Diane Christensen, vindication came Tuesday morning.
Christensen was one of 23 residents who alleged that Municipal Councilman Steve Turley had engaged in unethical conduct. At their request, both the Utah County Attorney's Office and the city investigated Turley.
In July, the county attorney filed 10 felony fraud charges against Turley, which are still pending. On Tuesday, Mayor John Curtis announced the results of a separate civil ethics investigation: Turley had violated the Municipal Officers' and Employees' Ethics Act, and should be dismissed from the council.
"If the council, city staff and especially the public cannot have faith in the veracity of their elected officials, our ability to carry on our work would be irreparably harmed," Curtis wrote to the council in his recommendation. "Those who seek public office should expect to live up to a high standard that exceeds average and normal."
Christensen, who received a copy of retired 4th District Judge Anthony Schofield's ethics report before it was publicly released, said it validated the allegations she and the other residents made.
"We are grateful that Judge Schofield, who is an independent investigator, objectively and intelligently came to the conclusion that we have come to a long time ago," Christensen said. "[Turley] told many lies and misused his office."
Schofield, who was hired by the city to look into the matter, found five instances where Turley either failed to disclose a conflict of interest or took actions that were based on information he gleaned as a councilman.
Craig Carlile, Turley's attorney, said he was preparing a response to Schofield's 22-page report. He said Turley was "disappointed" by the report and Curtis' recommendation. He said Schofield was not given enough time to look into the accusations or Turley's response.
Carlile also said the ethics statute was flawed, in that it did not provide the accused adequate opportunity to confront accusers or even to know what the charges were.
The law "allows a handful of politically motivated citizens to override an election without the prospect of due process," Carlile said.
In a statement emailed to reporters Tuesday evening, Turley, 43, defended his conduct.
"I've been a passionate advocate for Provo taxpayers, who rightly expect high ethical standards of me as one of their elected officials. I have met that standard," Turley said.
Christensen said she and the other residents who raised the allegations did not target Turley for political reasons. She noted that the residents were a cross-section of Provo whose only common interest was having an ethical government.
"To say that it is politically motivated, it would have to be a conspiracy of massive proportions," Christensen said.
Former Councilman David Knecht, who was interviewed by Schofield, said Christensen paid a price for calling for the investigation.
"She's lost friends, and people think she was doing this for political purposes," Knecht said.
But he said the report not only vindicates Christensen's efforts, but his own belief that Turley acted unethically while on the council.
Knecht said the surprise in the report for him was that the ethics code does not make it illegal for a councilman to lie. Schofield said the ethics law does not address lies or deception.
In the course of the investigation, Schofield and an associate interviewed 32 people and spent nearly 10 hours allowing Turley to respond to the allegations.
Schofield, in his report, acknowledged the time constraint he faced, which is why he said there were only five instances where he found Turley violated the ethics code.
"Given the patterns which I found of Mr. Turley's disregard for his ethical obligations, particularly his duty to disclose, if I had time to investigate thoroughly all of the matters as to which I made a more cursory review, I think it likely that other violations exist," Schofield wrote. "That is a sad commentary."
Schofield's investigation found that Turley failed to disclose ownership in property that the council was taking action on. In one instance, he was a partner in a development that was applying for a change in land-use policy.
In another case, Turley had purchased land near a proposed transit hub after learning about the transit plans as a councilman.
Schofield reported that Turley also failed to disclose his interest in swapping U.S. Forest Service land for property in Rock Canyon.
The council received Schofield's report in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning. Council Chairman Rick Healey said the council is still reviewing the report and is working on how to proceed.
Brian Jones, the council's attorney, said the council does have the authority under the act to vote Turley off the council for his ethical lapses.
Curtis launched the investigation after Turley refused to step down after the criminal charges related to his private business but not his elected position were filed against him. Turley instead chose to take an unofficial leave of absence.
What the ethics report says
In 2005, Steve Turley failed to disclose that he, through a company he owned, was seeking to purchase land in southeast Provo for development that the Municipal Council was considering for a land-use policy change. While Turley did disclose he had an interest in the area, he never told the council he was trying to buy the land that would be affected by the policy change.
Also in 2005, after the council discussed creating a transit-oriented district in south Provo, Turley attempted to negotiate the purchase of some of the property being considered for the district. Investigator Anthony Schofield, a former district judge, found that Turley improperly used information he gained as a councilman.
In 2007, Turley purchased a hamburger restaurant in Springville that was adjacent to Provo's Mountain Vista Business Park. Turley voted on a sale of land in the business park before he disclosed his ownership of the hamburger restaurant. Schofield said Turley had a duty to disclose that conflict so all parties would be aware of it.
In 2006 and 2007, Turley attempted to acquire U.S. Forest Service land in Pole Canyon, near a gravel pit he owned in Provo Canyon. Turley learned that the Forest Service was interested in acquiring Rock Canyon property that Richard Davis had mining claims on. Turley approached Davis with an offer to trade his land for other property in order to get the Forest Service property. At the time, the city was negotiating a swap with Davis to end the city's dispute with Davis over mining the property. Turley was advised by city attorneys to stay out of the negotiations. Davis told The Salt Lake Tribune that Turley's actions permanently doomed any settlement between him and the city. While Schofield said it was not in his power to assign blame for the breakdown in negotiations, he said Turley violated ethics codes by not disclosing his involvement in the land swap.
In 2009, Turley proposed converting an old gravel pit at the mouth of Slate Canyon into a sports complex for the city. He also agreed with Whitaker Construction, which would do the leveling work, to get 35-50 cents a ton for the gravel that would be removed from the site. While Turley disclosed his interest in the project after neighbors charged he was trying to reopen a gravel pit, he did not immediately declare his business agreement on the gravel removal.