This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Dementia is a terrible thing.
For anyone who has watched someone go through it, there's a sense of helplessness as you watch a loved one vanish. And, faced with the slow decline, I think any of us would want someone looking out for our best interest when we no longer can.
That has been the twofold tragedy of the saga of Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott the inability of anyone to offer any meaningful help, and the failure of anyone who cares for him to look out for his well-being.
That may be changing, as a judge last week ruled that Ott's family should continue acting as his guardian, and not his secretary and, depending on whom you talk to, girlfriend, Karmen Sanone.
Ott's family has had guardianship since he was found sitting in a parked truck in a Walmart parking lot in Weber County, according to a police report at the time.
Ott's painful public decline has played out over two years or more, while Sanone and his chief deputy in the office, Julie Dole, attempted to cover for him, lying to the public about his increasingly obvious incapacitation.
Even before he was re-elected to a six year term in 2014, those around him said they saw signs he was slipping. Sanone had started helping Ott manage his finances and there were rumors his condition was deteriorating.
Sanone and Dole have publicly perpetuated this fable that everything is fine, even though they are contradicted by their own statements in the court record.
One only needs to look at the growing number of police reports or listen to the rambling interview with the Deseret News last month to see that, not only is he suffering from a diminished mental capacity, but his own safety and well-being could be in jeopardy.
Last October, as questions were swirling about Ott's competence, Dole posted a photo of the recorder sitting at an empty desk in front of an empty blue computer screen with an empty expression on his face and the caption "Just another day at the office."
It's an office that Ott, by his own admission, rarely visits.
It's difficult to fathom what Sanone and Dole stand to gain from this kind transparent deceit, aside from protecting their own paychecks.
In the fall, the Salt Lake County Republican Party censured Dole, herself a former party chairwoman, for hiding Ott's health problems. Really, the time for the party to have acted was before the 2016 election, when signs of his infirmity were already showing.
County officials have practically exhausted their options and are increasingly frustrated. Mayor Ben McAdams has called on Ott to step down and the county council has considered cutting his budget and his salary. They are now looking into whether he still lives in the county, which might disqualify him from holding office.
An investigation by Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill's office has been excruciatingly slow. It has been 10 months since Gill took over the probe from the attorney general's office which, frankly, should have kept the investigation.
Since then, we have seen no action, at least on the outside, although Gill said the work is ongoing and he takes it seriously.
Sanone privately made overtures to council members last month about negotiating the terms of Ott's early retirement, asking for health coverage and a sizable portion of his remaining salary in exchange for him stepping aside, although it is unclear what authority she actually had to make such an offer.
Now, with the judge's ruling last week, there is at least an opportunity for his loved ones to step in, try to negotiate an early retirement for the recorder, and salvage his remaining dignity.
And going forward, the Utah Legislature needs to start the process of amending the Utah Constitution to create a way to remove elected officials when they become incapacitated. It should not be an easy thing that can be done on a political whim.
But neither should we ask elected representatives to stand by while a helpless individual and the taxpayers they all represent are callously taken advantage of.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @RobertGehrke