Community activists and county residents are calling for Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson to resign.
Watson and his staff, however, say they are receiving greater pressure from supporters to stay on the job despite his arrest early Sunday on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of cocaine.Meanwhile, Democratic leaders say they will decide by Saturday whether Watson should stay in the race for re-election against Republican M. Tom Shimizu.
Watson said Wednesday it would be irrational for him to decide yet whether to step down, although he is considering several options.
The commissioner attended routine commission meetings Wednesday, voting and expressing opinions on issues.
But leaders of groups fighting drug and alcohol abuse said in interviews Wednesday that Watson should resign.
"The first thing my 20-year-old son said is that he (Watson) would probably get off just because he is a commissioner," said Marva Jones, vice president of the Utah Federation for a Drug Free Youth, noting that people may get the wrong impression if Watson is allowed to plea-bargain.
Although Watson has actively supported the group in the past, Jones said, he should no longer continue on a commission that controls the county's Division of Alcohol and Drugs.
Kathy Sieverts, president of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said young people will be watching closely to see if Watson resigns and if he is prosecuted.
If Watson is allowed to remain on the commission, young people will think it is all right to drink and drive, she said.
"I feel badly if this destroys his (Watson's) career and home, but that was a choice that he made," Sieverts said. "You can drink, but you don't have to drive."
The two remaining commissioners said they wonder if the county can function normally in the wake of Watson's arrest. Supporters and detractors have kept commission secretaries busy answering phone calls this week.
"The majority of our calls are about this. So it's certainly tying up our staff," said Commission Chairman Bart Barker. "I've had to cancel things I had planned so I could consult with people on this."
Barker showed reporters Wednesday a stack of telephone messages from people wanting Watson to resign. Watson's secretary, Elaine Carter, said she had received about 50 telephone calls in support of the commissioner. Watson said he had received about 40 supportive letters at home.
Barker wrote nine suggestions for his secretary to use in answering calls. He urged her not to defend Watson, but to be charitable to his family.
"A lot of callers are obviously angry at Commissioner Watson. Let's be supportive of what they say so they don't also become angry at us," one of the suggestions said.
Warren Nuesmeyer, Salt Lake County Democratic Party chairman, said Watson's political future should be decided before the party's convention Saturday morning.
"This a ticklish situation," Nuesmeyer said Wednesday at a meeting of the Salt Lake County Democratic Central Committee. "It deals more with people's lives than we realize."
Nuesmeyer said the committee has been meeting with elected officials, candidates and party leaders to discuss the matter.
"We're trying to assess what damage has been done, what damage control measure we should take," he said.
Party leaders face strict laws that may prohibit them from choosing a replacement for Watson. B.T. Price, a perennial candidate most Democrats believe can't win, has also filed for the race and may end up being the party's only candidate.
Watson was arrested early Sunday at 2108 S. State, and an Intoxilyzer test later determined Watson's blood-alcohol level exceeded the state's legal limit of .08, according to documents filed with the South Salt Lake Justice of the Peace Court. A small amount of a substance believed to be cocaine was found after officers searched Watson, police said.