Herriman city council, residents call on mayor to resign
Dec 13, 2018 11:38AM
By Justin Adams
Mayor David Watts reacts to a letter written and read by the city council demanding his resignation.
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
During the Dec. 12 city council meeting, both the Herriman City Council and a handful of Herriman residents publicly called for Mayor David Watts to resign, following allegations that he violated the city’s purchasing policies on two trips to Washington D.C.
“We feel your actions have not only lost our trust but that of city staff and residents. As such, we ask for your immediate resignation as mayor,” said a prepared statement by the other four members of the city council, as read during the meeting by Councilmember Nicole Martin.
The call for resignation was met by applause from many Herriman residents in attendance who had previously made the same recommendation.
John Patterson, a Herriman resident and former city manager in other cities, said that Watts’ actions were the worst he’s seen from the approximately 200 elected officials he has previously worked with.
“He has yet to step up and do the right thing and say ‘I’m sorry,’” he said. “I listened to the previous meeting, hoping that he would apologize… But no. He remains recalcitrant in his defense of these indefensible actions. Shame on you mayor. At this point I think the best thing for you to do is resign.”
Trips to Washington D.C.
The issue began this summer when the city’s finance department alerted the city council about deficiencies in the mayor’s documentation of spending he made with a city-issued credit card during two trips to Washington D.C. of that year.
The first was part of a regular trip that select city officials and employees make to lobby the state’s congressional delegation on behalf of the city. Upon returning, the Herriman group, which included Martin and City Manager Brett Wood, learned that their flight was overbooked and they wouldn’t be able to fly that night.
Undeterred, Watts lobbied the airline to get on an earlier flight.
“He negotiated a deal to get a direct flight home. That’s what he told me. He got me on the trip and himself,” said Wood.
When Wood learned that the mayor had gotten the two on an earlier flight home than the rest of the team, he said he was “very frustrated” and demanded that the airline take him back off the flight.
“I’m not going to leave the rest of them behind. This isn’t war. This is just what you do in leadership,” he said.
Ultimately, Watts was the only one to take an earlier flight. That included a layover in Denver, where he stayed at a hotel with a room cost of $346, nearly double the city’s policy of a $180 maximum on hotel rooms for travel. After the layover, Watts only ended up arriving in Salt Lake City half an hour earlier than the rest of Herriman officials.
The mayor’s stated reason for needing to return early was so that he could attend a special training session that the Unified Fire Authority offers to elected officials each year. When he arrived at the training, he spoke with fellow City Councilmember Sherrie Ohrn about why he was there, yet Martin was not, who was also supposed to attend.
She said the mayor described a scene in which he was able to use his title as mayor to leverage the airline into getting him a seat on the flight. “It’s another example of the attitude that is frustrating this council,” she said.
The mayor’s second trip to Washington D.C. was to attend a national convention as a representative of the South Salt Lake Valley Mosquito Abatement District. As Watts was not acting in his role of Herriman mayor, he should not have used the city credit card at all, according to Finance Director Alan Rae.
However, the mayor used the card to get an Uber ride to and from the airport (despite the Mosquito Abatement District had already bought him a metrocard to use for that purpose).
Watts also once again used the card to purchase an earlier flight home in order to attend the city council’s vote to withdraw from the Unified Police Department. However, other city council members made clear the mayor had previously planned to participate in that meeting electronically. In fact, even as the mayor was en route to Salt Lake City, he was still communicating to the city that he would only be participating electronically.
“To me, that was an outright lie,” Martin said.
When the mayor attended the next Mosquito Abatement District board meeting, he reported on his trip to the national convention, saying that it was a “party,” according to the board’s June 11 minutes.
Watts also said at that time that his biggest concern would be that he would hate for anyone to accuse anyone on the board that they’re going for a free vacation, saying, “That is almost what it felt like to me. I just enjoyed a couple of free days in Washington D.C. and got my face in front of some congressional delegates and I didn’t do any good.”
“It’s one thing to think that, but it’s another to say it as your report during a meeting,” said Councilmember Jared Henderson.
Lack of Communication
After the mayor was informed his purchases were outside city policy, he promised during a July 11 work meeting that he would pay back the city for whatever amount was deemed outside of the city’s purchasing policy.
“It’s public money,” he said at the time. "We should be held to a higher standard.”
The council met again in November to revisit the subject after repayment was not made. The mayor alleged he never received a firm amount from either the council or the city finance department for what he owed.
Also complicating matters, the issue was turned over to the District Attorney’s office to investigate the possibility of any criminal actions on the mayor’s part. During this time, the mayor allegedly stopped communicating with the council or staff about the issue, which included his absence from the Nov. 14 meeting where it was discussed. He also held on to receipts for the purchases in question until after the investigation was complete.
When the mayor did not attend the November meeting, the city council resolved to issue an official letter of reprimand for the mayor at the next city council meeting on Dec. 12. Leading up to that meeting, the mayor asked the other council members by email if at least part of the meeting could be done in closed session. Utah state law allows cities to meet in closed session to discuss the character, personal competence, or physical or mental health of an individual.
However, the mayor apparently was not thinking of himself in this regard. Instead, the reason for the closed session was to discuss the competence of city staff, he told the city council by email.
“The professional conduct I’m referring to is that of our executive and finance staff. I think the actions of our staff have led to a gross misunderstanding of the issue and have caused harm to the city,” he said.
The council responded with a collectively drafted and signed letter rejecting the mayor’s request for a closed meeting. It read in part, “You have lost the trust of the public and this council. Trust and respect are earned. They are not inherently given with the title. You have consistently demonstrated poor judgment, acted in a self-serving manner, and seemed desperate to avoid proper process and transparency in doing what is right.”
December 12 Meeting
The Dec. 12 work meeting began with Mayor Watts distributing ten packets to the council and various city staff. The packets contained previously missing documentation of the credit card uses from the two trips to Washington D.C.
Regarding the packets, the mayor said later during the city council meeting, “Upon advice of my attorney last week I provided a packet of receipts and documentation to the city regarding the questioned purchases made on the Herriman City-issued credit card. It is my hope that this will clear up any remaining concerns the council has.”
It did not.
“I think it’s insulting that you think this makes this go away,” Henderson told him. “This doesn’t absolve you of any of the violations of policy. None. Not a single one.”
Councilmember Ohrn told the mayor that by not providing the packets to the council prior to the meeting so they could review them showed a “complete lack of respect to your fellow members on the council.”
Councilmember Clint Smith took issue that the mayor used city supplies to put together the ten packets. “Why should the city incur any additional cost related to this issue?” he asked.
When the issue extended into the city council general meeting, the mayor kicked things off by reading a prepared statement.
“I am grateful to finally be able to talk with you about the accusations made against me,” he read. He then pointed to the legal investigation as to why he hadn’t previously commented or provided the full documentation.
“While there is no office to which I can turn for the return of my reputation, I believe that time and my continued service to you will reflect my integrity,” he said in closing.
Following the mayor’s address, Finance Director Rae provided a summary of the alleged spending violations.
“We have an elected official who blatantly violated our policies. We have no recourse for that so I came to the city council and said what do we do with this? That’s how this all started,” he said.
Next residents were given the chance to voice their opinion. Of the about 10 residents who spoke, almost all explicitly called for the mayor to resign.
“I was hoping there would be an apology,” said resident Curt Noble. “I was hoping that there would be a repayment. But it sounds like from your letter that there won’t be.”
Haley Hill said what bothered her most was the amount of time spent by city officials and employees on this issue when they could have been working on other ways to help the city. “It’s sickening,” she said.
Ron Mortensen agreed. “What’s the hard cost for this? It’s not a thousand bucks. It’s much more than that,” he said.
Following the citizen comments, each city council member took time to share their thoughts on the situation.
Smith said this issue was just the latest in a pattern of misbehavior by the mayor.
“Unfortunately for us as a council, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with behavior issues and poor judgment by the mayor,” Smith said. “It is only the most recent and the most public. After dealing with some of these previous issues as a council, we all agreed that the next issue would be dealt with publicly and handled in an open meeting because we felt that the public had a right to know.”
While Smith didn’t get into many specifics, he referenced times in which the mayor “has withheld information from this body that he has gleaned” from various meetings.
Other council members pointed to Watts’ attitude and handling of the situation as the most serious transgression of all.
“He had two opportunities to at least try to say the right thing. Instead, total denial,” Henderson said.
“It’s the attitude. There has not been an apology,” Ohrn said.
Finally, Martin presented the council’s letter of reprimand. “Despite all attempts to correct behavior, we view you as damaging to our city and by extension our residents. You continue to illustrate a refusal to accept responsibility for your actions,” she read, before going on to call for the mayor’s resignation.
In the event that the mayor refused to resign, the letter stated that the city would “formally remove [him] from all assigned board and committee positions,” and lower his salary “commensurate with his lessened responsibility.” It also stated that the city would “notify all stakeholders and interested parties” that Watts does not speak for Herriman City or the city council.
The mayor then made somewhat of an apology saying, “I’m sorry that we’re in this situation. Clearly I’ve already been tried and convicted. That’s fine.”
Watts then went on to say that he would not be resigning, but would accept the council’s other punishments.
“Unfortunately I believe that there has been so much misinformation that has been provided that there’s nothing I can do now,” he said. “Instead of fighting it and trying to go through all these inaccuracies, I’ll simply accept what the council has read.”
After a ten minute recess, the city council meeting continued almost as if nothing had happened. The mayor and city council went through several more items on the agenda before adjourning a little before midnight.
This story will be updated with further information as the South Valley Journal attempts to reach various city officials for follow up.