A citizens' complaint charging two Davis County commissioners and a former commissioner with malfeasance and misusing county money was filed with the county clerk's office Wednesday afternoon.
The complaint names Commission Chairman Harold J. Tippetts, Commissioner William L. Peters, and former commissioner and now County Clerk Glen E. Saunders.Each of the nine allegations, some dating back to 1983, have all been investigated and found to be groundless, the commissioners said.
The complaint was filed under a section of Utah law that allows citizens to directly petition the presiding district court judge to investigate charges against government officials and remove them from office.
It was left last Friday afternoon on the desk of Judge Ronald O. Hyde, the presiding judge, in Ogden. Hyde forwarded it Monday to Judge Douglas L Cornaby in Farmington, who reviewed it Wednesday. Cornaby ordered it filed with the county clerk Wednesday afternoon, giving the complaint legal standing, and ordered copies of it served on Tippetts, Peters, and Saunders.
Copies were also served on County Attorney Mel Wilson; deputy attorney Gerald Hess, who handles the county's civil work; deputy attorney Robert Hart; and LaMar Holt, a county auditor's office employee.
Timing of the complaint, just a few days before Tuesday's primary election, led those named to charge it is politically motivated and partially grounded in an ongoing dispute between the commissioners and County Auditor Ruth Kennington.
Reed Oviatt, one of the signers, denied the charge, saying his group has been researching the allegations for several weeks. He said it was filed in response to a challenge from Peters that his group "put up or shut up" on allegations of waste and mismanagement in county government.
In addition to Oviatt, a vocal tax-initiative activist, the complaint is signed by Ruby J. Price, former Davis County Republican Party chairman, and six other citizens.
The allegations are:
-Expense and travel funds were misused in March of this year when the commissioners, along with Holt and Hess, traveled to New York City on a bond rating trip.
-County employees who misappropriated funds - one of the findings of a 1983 outside audit of the county - were not prosecuted.
-A contract for payment of $62,000 in bonding fees on the $18.5 million bond election to build a new jail and court complex this spring should have been put out for bid.
-A construction management contract on the jail project for $180,000 should also have been put out for bid.
-A $650,000 purchase of 57 acres of land adjacent to the jail site, using interest earned on hospital bonds, should have received voter approval before being passed.
-Construction of the animal control facility in 1985, also using hospital bond interest money, should have gone to the voters for approval.
-County funds were invested in a mutual fund that dealt in part in options and futures, which is not allowed under the state's Money Management Act.
-The commissioners have interfered with Kennington's performance of her duties.
-An investigation into mileage reimbursement of a deputy county attorney was hindered.
Because the last charge involves the county attorney's office, the complaint asks that if the present county attorney fails to prosecute the charges, they be forwarded to the Utah Supreme Court with a request for a special prosecutor.
Hess said he and County Attorney Mel Wilson are charged with representing the county officials, so with Judge Cornaby's approval the complaint has been forwarded to the Utah Attorney General's office for action. If they decline to prosecute, Hess said an attorney from another county could be brought it.
"This is the equivalent of a lawsuit, it has the standing of a lawsuit, but it's really a different kind of animal," Hess said of the complaint. "It charges the officials with a crime but it's a civil lawsuit and the end result of it is the removal of the officials from office."
Both Tippetts and Saunders lost their bids for re-election in Tuesday's primary to GOP rivals and will leave office Jan. 1, so Hess said in their case the suit could be moot.
"I have already researched in depth the issues that have been raised, and they've been explained numerous times in the press, so I feel there was a significant political motivation behind the action," Hess said.
"But, since the issues have been raised again, it may be an opportunity for us to put to rest these issues, with finality, with the force of a court ruling," he said.
"We've been reviewing the allegations this week and feel they have no substance to them at all," said Tippets, the commission chairman. "I'm personally disappointed that people are motivated to do something like this without checking into the allegations more carefully.
"I'm thoroughly disgusted with the allegations myself," said Tippetts, adding they have all been aired before. "Most of them have been thoroughly wrung out in the media."
"These people have taken on a heavy responsibility. We're not going to allow this to be a hit and run operation," he said.