SALT LAKE CITY — A judge Friday approved the separation agreement between the family of embattled county Recorder Gary Ott and Salt Lake County, clearing the way for Ott's resignation to take effect Aug. 1
The order was signed by 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck, according to the court filing obtained from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
The signed order states the judge found the agreement — drafted between the county, Ott's independent attorney and his siblings — "in the best interests" of the county recorder, who's held the elected position since 2001.
Scrutiny of Ott's role also is spurring possible change in Salt Lake County, where leaders are taking early steps to dissolve the post of recorder and move its responsibilities to the surveyor's office, Mayor Ben McAdams said Friday.
"I think it's time that we explore that," McAdams said.
The change would require approval from the state Legislature, the mayor said, adding that he has had early discussions with lawmakers who may back such a proposal in the 2018 legislative session.
The move would save money and combine two divisions that McAdams says are closely aligned. The surveyor's office does boundary, topographical and other surveys of land the county owns or is considering buying, among other things.
Ott has been struggling with health issues that have played out publicly over the past year and a half while he continued to collect $190,000 in taxpayer-paid salary and benefits — and while his top staff, Karmen Sanone and Julie Dole, have stayed in their appointed positions.
"Specifically, the agreement provides for (Ott's) resignation both from his elected position and from his employment relationship with the county so (Ott) may retire in the peace and dignity to which he is entitled," the order states.
The judge's signature gives final approval to an agreement that sets Ott's official resignation date for Aug. 1, with a severance package agreement of $35,000 — 12 weeks of salary — to be placed into an account dedicated to Ott's care.
He will also stay on the county's health care plan through Aug. 15, according to the resignation agreement.
"We hope today's decision by the court enables Mr. Ott and his family to move forward with the privacy they deserve when dealing with sensitive medical and financial matters personal to Mr. Ott," said a joint statement from the county district attorney's and mayor's offices.
The Friday order, McAdams said, "brings to a close a very sad chapter to a career of outstanding service by Gary Ott."
District Attorney Sim Gill became emotional Friday morning as he described the efforts to officially resolve uncertainty over Ott's well-being and his elected position.
"It has been an emotional challenge and emotionally trying for everybody who has been involved in this process, just on a human level, to see somebody who deserved much more than what he got," Gill said.
While Gill didn't specifically identify Dole or Sanone, he lamented that "those who were around Gary" didn't act in his best interest.
Sanone and Dole have been accused by county officials, employees and others of covering up Ott's condition so they could keep their jobs in the recorder's office. Both women have denied those allegations.
"This was an unfortunate tragedy that did not need to come to this point," Gill said. "He was deserving of much more dignity and respect than what this unfortunate process afforded him, and hopefully we can preserve and return some of that dignity and respect to him, to a man who deserves nothing less for the service he has given to this community and to Salt Lake County."
The signed order clears the path for closure to more than a year-and-a-half long saga in which county officials, employees and others have had mounting concerns about Ott's health and well-being.
It's a story the Deseret News has pursued since it published its first investigative report in February 2016, when Grantsville police found Ott wandering in freezing temperatures in rural Tooele County.
Since then, county officials have struggled to address the situation, having no legal means to remove Ott from office. Their struggle, however, has prompted a discussion at the state Legislature to create a law to help an elected official step down when he or she may be mentally incapacitated.
Once Ott's Aug. 1 resignation passes, the Salt Lake County Republican Party will have 30 days to nominate someone for the vacancy until a special election in 2018.
Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Jake Parkinson said at least three people have stepped forward expressing interest in the position, but he declined to name them, wanting to allow them to announce their own candidacy.
On Friday, Rep. Adam Gardiner, R-West Jordan, announced his candidacy for the position.
Dole has also expressed interest in the position, though County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said Thursday she refuses to support her.
Lingering legal battle
Though the judge approved the resignation agreement, a legal battle still lingers between Sanone, Ott's office aide and self-described "longtime friend," and Ott's family.
Sanone, who has also been identified as Ott's girlfriend or fiancee, is contesting the family's guardianship over the county recorder. She and her attorney, Aaron Bergman, had also filed a temporary restraining order Thursday to block the agreement from taking effect.
Lubeck ruled last week that Ott's family will maintain temporary legal guardianship, though the matter of a permanent guardianship won't be sorted out until after a Sept. 6 court hearing.
Sanone said Friday she was "not surprised but still disappointed" in Lubeck's approval of the resignation agreement.
"I think it's a premature action," she said, noting that Lubeck last week had motioned to freeze Ott's assets while the matter of permanent guardianship is being sorted out.
"There is no rush on this," she said. "Because (the resignation) does significantly deprive Gary of an asset."
Sanone has accused Ott's family of only seeking guardianship of Ott so they can take control of his money. His family's attorney has said Ott's siblings "flatly deny" that accusation, and that their "No. 1 priority" is their brother's well-being.
Sanone said her "top concern" is Ott's care, and she questioned whether his family has placed him in a proper care facility.
Ott's attorney and ex-wife Mary Corporon has declined to discuss specifics of Ott's condition or whereabouts, but she told Lubeck last week that he's been admitted into a medical facility under the advice of at least two medical providers.
Sanone contends that because Ott signed an advance health care directive in 2015, he would want her to be his permanent guardian, not his family.
"I'm the person Gary wanted to be his guardian," she said Friday. "I'm the one that has been with him for the last 10 years, and I think I'm the best to care for him."
Contributing: McKenzie Romero, Annie Knox