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After months of mounting pressure from state and county officials seeking to force Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott out of the spotlight of elected office for mental illness, attorneys for his family and the county reached an agreement for his resignation Thursday.
Ott's family is asking 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck who is presiding over a custody battle between Ott's siblings and his secretary/girlfriend to approve his resignation from office, effective Aug. 1.
In a court filing Thursday, attorneys for Ott, his family and the county asked Lubeck to ratify a proposed separation agreement under which the county would put $35,000 into a trust account for his ongoing care. Ott was in an undisclosed medical facility last week. The filing said he has a "mental incapacity that is not temporary in nature."
While the secretary, Karmen Sanone, who is fighting Ott's siblings for his guardianship, has the opportunity to oppose the proposal, attorney Mary Corporon said she viewed Ott's impending departure from the office he's held since 2001 as "a done deal."
"It's subject to the possibility that an interested party could come forward in the guardianship case and say we have to address this further in the court," said Corporon, who once was married to Ott and represents his family in the court case. "I'm moving forward with this as a done deal."
The county's proposal is a major turn in the saga that first broke into the open early last year when law enforcement officers found Ott wandering and incoherent in Tooele County. Last October, he was unable to answer basic questions put to him by County Council members, and elected leaders ever since have tried to find a way to remove Ott but could find no legal means to do so.
Corporon declined during a news conference to discuss Ott's medical condition, where he is and how long the family believes he's been incapacitated. She also would not expound on why the family thought it was time for Ott to leave office.
The recorder's mental capacity apparently declined in recent years, and emails obtained Wednesday by The Salt Lake Tribune showed scant evidence that he was involved in running the office after his 2014 re-election.
He apparently lived with Sanone, who owns a house and land in Weber County, and who at least once fretted over how to make an email to the mayor's office appear to be coming from Ott.
The proposed agreement would waive future claims against the county by Ott's family, but it would leave open the possibility of claims against Sanone and Julie Dole, Ott's chief deputy, as individuals.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's office is investigating the recorder's office.
Lubeck ruled last Friday that the family members a brother and two sisters would have temporary guardianship of Ott, a power that gives them the authority to make all financial and other decisions for him. The ruling was over the opposition of Sanone, who attorneys said had a document declaring her as Ott's preferred guardian.
The document was dated January 2015, the month Ott was sworn into his current term. Emails show that Dole wrote county human resources officials to tell them that Ott wanted to hire Sanone as his exempt secretary within hours of the 2014 election.
Critics have accused the two of shielding Ott's disability to protect their interests an allegation they have denied. As of the latest report on Utah's transparency website, Dole draws an annual salary and benefits of $190,291, while Sanone receives a compensation package of $70,348.
Ott's annual compensation package is worth just under $190,000, including a salary of $138,482, according to the state's transparency website.
The proposed separation payment is equal to 12 weeks of Ott's salary and would be used exclusively for his care. He would remain on the county's health care plan through Aug. 15. The filing says it may be "unprecedented" for an outgoing elected county official.
"It is nonetheless consistent with existing Salt Lake County policy for other non-merit appointed employees," the filing states. "In the view of undersigned counsel, [it] is reasonable and appropriate under the unique and unfortunate circumstances of [Ott's] current situation."
For more than a year, Ott's struggles have played out in the harsh spotlight of elective office, with him rarely saying a word publicly. Sanone has done most of the talking, and she has consistently downplayed his incapacity.
The proposed resignation agreement comes a day after the county released hundreds of pages of emails that showed Sanone and Dole were effectively running the recorder's office with little to no guidance from the recorder. The pair has insisted that Ott, a hands-off executive, is in charge and capable of continuing in his post.
At least one councilman, Republican Richard Snelgrove, said he believed Dole and Sanone were making decisions for the office without Ott being able to make them himself. "One thing is for sure, it won't be long before they're gone at the recorder's office," Snelgrove said.
Ott's resignation, if approved by the court, would trigger a replacement process that would have the county Republican Party nominate a new interim recorder for appointment by the County Council. The office then would be on the ballot in the November 2018 election two years before the original term was set to expire.
Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton wrote on Twitter that she wouldn't support Dole as recorder if Ott leaves.
"I will not support [Dole] for recorder when Ott's term is finished," Newton, a Republican, wrote. "It's time for the recorder's office to have transparency."