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Salt Lake County officials said thanks and goodbye Tuesday to Assessor Lee Gardner, whose 19-year tenure setting the taxable value of county lands is coming to an end Aug. 31.

Gardner formally submitted his resignation to the County Council, two weeks before he and his wife depart for a mission in Spain for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had informed the council in February of his intent to leave office with a year remaining on his fifth term upon receiving his mission call.

The call has come. The Gardners depart Sept. 2 for the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center in Provo, then it's off to the island of Majorca to deal with young adults.

"Tough duty, Lee," joked Michael Jensen, one of several county councilmen who noted they have worked with Gardner for at least a decade, occasionally as adversaries but always in a dignified, respectful manner.

Another county long-timer, Councilman Randy Horiuchi, said he thinks there were times when Gardner was one of "the most unpopular county officials" ever, such as the year when a system of rolling appraisals hit east bench residents with a hefty property valuation hike — and subsequent tax increase — after years of escaping the impacts of inflation.

But he stayed cool throughout, Horiuchi added.

Other councilmen also weighed in with praise.

"You're a good guy," said David Wilde. "Godspeed on this next journey," added Sam Granato. "Your intellect always trumped your politics, and that was good," Democrat Jim Bradley said of the Republican assessor. "You served the county well and gave us a good image."

Gardner said all of the compliments should be directed to his staff, many of whom were present to gave their outgoing boss a standing ovation after the council passed a resolution lauding his services.

He thanked his sons for helping him in five election campaigns, admitting "I won't miss running one more time."

As his last official public act, Gardner told a joke about the taxman who died and went to heaven, where St. Peter quickly showed him through the pearly gates, observing that he earned a speedy entrance because "you've had your share of hell."

On Sept. 19, the Salt Lake County Republican Party's Central Committee is scheduled to pick a replacement to complete Gardner's unfinished term.

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