Republicans are not likely to challenge the legality of replacing Democrat Dave Watson on the ballot for the two-year seat on the Salt Lake County Commission.
But now that a deputy county attorney has decided it is all right for Watson to withdraw because of a mental disability, critics are questioning how Watson can remain in office."I think it's a little funny that he (Watson) qualifies to be a commissioner but doesn't qualify to be a candidate," said Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, echoing an opinion expressed by many Wednesday.
Deputy County Attorney Gavin Anderson issued an opinion Wednesday afternoon saying Democrats were within the law last Saturday when they replaced Watson with Riverton Mayor Dale Gardiner in the race against Republican M. Tom Shimizu. The move came more than a month after the filing deadline.
Watson withdrew five days after being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of cocaine. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of drunken driving. No charges have yet been filed in connection with the substance believed to be cocaine.
County Clerk Dixon Hindley said he will follow Anderson's advice and place Gardiner on the ballot in November.
When he withdrew, Watson presented an opinion from a doctor that the stress of the race and the legal charges were leading to a mental disorder. State law prohibits candidates from being replaced after the filing deadline unless they can show they are mentally or physically unable to continue or they have filed improperly.
Although the doctor's letter did not specifically say Watson was mentally disabled, it was strong enough to satisfy the legal requirement for withdrawing from the race, Anderson said.
State Republican Chairman Craig Moody, who had not yet seen Anderson's opinion, said Republicans are not likely to challenge it.
"We're happy with Dale Gardiner as a candidate," he said. "He's never been a problem or a threat to us." > At the end of his 10-page opinion, Anderson said Utah law does not require an incumbent candidate who is declared mentally disabled to resign from office.
"While logic, propriety or fairness may dictate one or another response to that suggestion, it remains that Utah law simply makes no connection between the two subjects," he said.
Watson claims the stress of the campaign was leading to a mental disorder. The stress is gone now that he is out of the race, therefore he can continue as a commissioner, he said earlier this week.
Watson would not comment Wednesday. His attorney, Ron Yengich, was upset that Watson had spoken too freely in recent media interviews and advised him to remain quiet, said Leslie Armknecht, Watson's administrative assistant.
Meanwhile, Commission Chairman Bart Barker said Wednesday people have approached him proposing deals that would allow Watson to resign without losing money. Although he declined to say who the people were, Barker said he believes they are close to Watson.
"I've tried on the different approaches to see how they feel, and none of them feel very comfortable," Barker said.
One option under consideration would allow Watson to resign with the full salary and benefits he would have earned during the remainder of his term. He then would be replaced by Public Works Director John Hiskey, avoiding the need to pay an extra salary.
But Barker worries the public may not agree that Watson should be paid the approximately $30,000 he would earn during the rest of the year.
"I'm not sure the public would approach it logically," he said. "Dave could stay, I suppose, and it wouldn't be the end of the world. I don't think he'd be particularly effective."