Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson says his obligations to the Democratic Party ended when he dropped his re-election bid, and he will not succumb to pressure to resign from his seat.
In an impromptu news conference Thursday afternoon, Watson again said he intends to serve the remaining seven months of his term, despite having pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of attempted possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.Watson was sentenced to six months on probation. He has yet to be sentenced for a conviction on drunken driving charges.
Although critics claim Watson is harming fellow Democrats by staying in office, Watson said he is receiving little pressure from the party.
"I don't see this as an issue in the political realm," he said.
His replacement in the race for the two-year commission seat, Riverton Mayor Dale Gardiner, has suggested that his campaign against Republican M. Tom Shimizu would be helped if Watson resigned.
Watson's comments came moments after leaders of the United Association of Community Councils, a group representing 22 grass-roots community councils in the unincorporated area, called for him to take a paid leave of absence.
David Howick, association president, said Watson can no longer be effective as a commissioner. But he asked that Watson not be replaced during the final seven months of his term.
"Who do you bring in to run county government knowing he will be out of a job in seven months?" Howick said.
Howick, a Republican candidate for the Utah House of Representatives, insisted the call for a leave of absence had nothing to do with politics.
"UACC is not political," Howick said. "We are acting in what we consider to be the best interest of county government."
However, the UACC stand represented only the opinion of five members of the association's executive board. The 22 community councils were not contacted for their opinions, said Norm Sims, former association president.
Some community council members disagreed with the call for a leave of absence and were concerned that the executive council made such a statement without their consent.
"Commissioner Watson has been good to our area," said Linda Norton, vice president of the Holladay-Cottonwood Community Council, noting her council has not taken a vote on whether Watson should resign. "I would never presume to say what our people would vote before it was brought to them."
If Watson does not leave, Howick said, county residents may start a petition drive for a civil lawsuit to remove him from office. But UACC leaders acknowledged such a move probably would take much longer than seven months to complete.
County officials said the county could not function properly with only two commissioners. For instance, any changes in county contracts require approval from three commissioners.
Watson said he wants to continue pursuing goals he set when elected in 1986. He may still resign, but only if he feels he is no longer effective.
"I've never minimized the mistake I've made, but I've never tried to cover it up, either," he said. "I didn't steal any money. There wasn't any malfeasance in office."
Quitting would be easy, Watson said.
"It's no fun to have your character assailed continually. I already have to live with the disappointment and the guilt of letting other people down," he said. "Given the opportunity, I can be very effective. I have seven months to prove that."
Watson was arrested early May 15 while driving near 21st South and State streets. 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. Officers searched Watson and found a small amount of cocaine.