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Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has a message for the Draper City Council: Do not accuse Councilwoman Michele Weeks in a public meeting of unsubstantiated ethical violations.
In a letter that one councilman called a "shot across the bow" and that the council feared reads like a threat of legal action, Shurtleff said city officials made "unsupported, public allegations" of unethical or possibly illegal behavior against Weeks that shouldn't happen in public again.
The letter follows continued tension between Mayor Troy Walker and other City Council members and Weeks since her election in 2015.
Weeks, who ran for the Legislature as a Democrat a year before she was elected to the nonpartisan City Council but now is unaffiliated, said she enlisted the high-profile attorney because she's been repeatedly targeted by her Republican-leaning colleagues and Walker over political divisions.
"I know I took their friend's place [former Councilman Bill Colbert], but sometimes you have to just move on and do the best for what society and the residents need," Weeks said. "It just seems like the mayor and council have accused me of doing a lot of things that just have no merit to [them]."
During her time on the council, Weeks said, members have disbanded a commission she oversaw, left her out of discussions in which agreements were made and, most recently, accused her of unethical behavior.
"It just is a constant thing," she said.
Walker and some of the council members took issue with a letter Weeks put in the March/April edition of the city-funded newsletter, Draper Forward.
In the publication, Weeks directed anyone interested to check out a Facebook page she created, What's Draper Up To?, where she posts about city happenings and council actions that she said help residents easily keep tabs city government.
"This Facebook page has been a great way to let both sides of an issue have a voice, even if I seek feedback on possibly controversial proposals," Weeks wrote. "I hear you!"
She also touted an event she created to recognize teachers in 2016 and said the event would be bigger this year. She said she runs the event through her nonprofit and doesn't raise political money from it.
The council discussed the letter near the end of its meeting March 7, when some members called it a "political advertisement" that Walker said may raise a legal issue.
The council's discussion led Weeks to hire Shurtleff, who himself has been accused of ethical violations during his time in office. Shurtleff, the three-term predecessor to former Attorney General John Swallow, faced public corruption criminal charges before a judge dismissed the case against him in July before trial.
Shurtleff said he reviewed allegations against Weeks and determined she didn't violate any laws. He sent the council a letter May 2 that council members say reads like a legal threat.
"As you know, central to our American Justice system, is the absolute right to be considered innocent until proven guilty or liable of any alleged misconduct," Shurtleff wrote. "I request on behalf of Councilmember Weeks, that each of you respect that right and refrain from using a public meeting to lodge any such allegations or claims."
The council asked City Attorney Mike Barker to study the letter and provide his opinion about what it means and what the proper avenues are for an ethics inquiry.
Barker said Tuesday he hadn't yet finished the opinion but that, in general, there are numerous possible avenues for an inquiry into whether a public official or city employee violated ethics rules or laws. He said no one had asked him to investigate Weeks.
Shurtleff's letter may prevent the council from having an open debate during its meetings, but one councilman took to Facebook to speak out against Weeks.
"My response to this [letter] is that I will absolutely not be intimidated nor deterred from exposing any unethical behavior by any member of the City Council, the Mayor or city staff," Councilman Jeff Stenquist wrote in a Facebook post. "I believe it is my responsibility to speak out if I'm aware of anyone who misuses public office for personal financial gain."
In an interview, Stenquist widely accused Weeks of using her office for "personal, political" gain, and he said the city should consider referring the matter to the attorney general's office or ethics commission to investigate.
Weeks said she plans to call on the mayor to set aside politics and refrain from pelting her "with allegations that have no substantial evidence. Just stop the bulls- and let's get down to work."