Former Salt Lake County recorder Gary Ott should be remembered for his years of dedicated and competent public service, not for the controversy that defined his final years, when he showed signs of dementia while seemingly being propped up by his closest aides.
Ott served as the county’s elected recorder from 2001 until August, when, hampered by health problems, he resigned as part of an agreement negotiated between his next of kin and county officials.
Generally speaking, people enter public service for noble reasons, and the way they conduct themselves in office demonstrates their intentions. Ott was a good public servant who did his job well. Voters in Salt Lake County rewarded him by re-electing him several times.
Unless they are involved in high-profile controversies, county recorders tend to operate in a relatively quiet and hopefully efficient manner, far from the public spotlight. And yet their service is essential for the sort of order that allows freedom and the private ownership of property to thrive with a minimum of disputes.
Few things are as important as being able to prove ownership of property. Any real estate transaction requires a title search to determine whether outside interests have liens or encumbrances on the land in question.
The county recorder maintains and files these records, as well as accurate maps.
The office records mortgages and real estate transactions. Given the value of land and the disputes that frequently arise, these records must be accurate and free from manipulation. A large section of the economy relies on a trustworthy source to prove transactions occurred and to provide evidence of ownership.
It can be a thankless job that goes unnoticed unless something goes wrong. Despite the controversy over whether Ott was capable of performing his duties at the end, it is a testament to his leadership and organizational skills during sunnier days that no one questioned whether his office was adequately performing its duties.
The controversy surrounding his declining years — whether his aides hid his condition for their own benefit — has yet to play out. The district attorney’s office is still conducting an investigation.
But regardless of that outcome, Ott should be remembered as a dedicated, hard-working public servant who did his job well.