A recent sexual harassment complaint and subsequent investigation into Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves have several legislators asking whether there ought to be another legal path to removing a county official from office.
Seventeen of Utah County’s state representatives and state senators signed a letter to Graves dated Dec. 13 asking that he resign, joining calls from Graves’ fellow commissioners, Nathan Ivie and Bill Lee, as well as the Utah County Republican Party.
Graves has previously told the Daily Herald he does not plan on resigning, though he also does not plan to seek re-election when his term ends at the end of 2018.
Though many people have called for Graves’ to be removed from office, state statute does not make it that simple in this situation. Commissioners can be removed from office for high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance, according to state statute, but there isn’t a method to recall or impeach them.
“We haven’t had a recall provision in Utah, because we have seen cases where it hasn’t been misconduct, like we’ve seen with Graves, or inability to perform services, like with (former Salt Lake County Recorder) Garry Ott,” said state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. “But based on introducing legislation or casting a vote someone didn’t like.”
No charges are filed against Graves, because there were no charges to pursue after the conclusion of the investigation, said Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman.
The investigation into the sexual harassment complaint filed against Graves by a county employee could not corroborate the woman’s claims that sexual harassment had occurred, but did not reflect favorably on Graves.
Of the 14 witnesses interviewed for the investigation, nearly all of them corroborated stories painting Graves as a workplace bully who was dishonest, demeaning, intimidating, threatening, and explosive, the investigation conclusion stated.
“I certainly think that conduct rises to the level where he should resign and or be removed,” said Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork.
Bramble said during his time in the Legislature, he’s witnessed several legislators who have made mistakes like getting DUIs, but have resigned after such incidents.
“They didn’t put the state through a protracted battle,” Bramble said. “I would hope that Mr. Graves has enough respect for the institution for which he serves to step down.”
Bramble said right now, he doesn’t know if legislation will be introduced allowing for removal of county officials, and said it will be difficult to establish a high enough bar for elected official behavior without opening the door to use removal from office as a political weapon.
Even if legislation is introduced, Bramble said, it would be for a long-term picture, and would not be instituted quickly enough to affect Graves.
Most legislation goes into effect the year after it is passed, so anything passed in 2018 would likely not go into effect until 2019. Graves’ term goes to the end of 2018.
McKell said he is supportive of the concept of creating that type of legislation, but wants to see what it would look like.
“In a situation like we have, where (Graves) created a hostile work environment, that’s where (removal from office) becomes appropriate,” McKell said.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, already has a bill file opened for legislation inspired by Graves’ behavior, though it does not have to do with removing an elected official from office.
The bill he’s working on would require that, should an elected official resign or be removed from office, the party that nominated that official originally would be the party in charge of filling the vacancy.
Shortly before the complaint and investigation came to light, Graves had switched his affiliation from Republican to Democrat. He told the Daily Herald at the time that it was to get attention during budget season.
“The one egregious thing Graves did that I thought exposed a weakness in our code, he switched parties presumably so that if he did resign, the other party could pick his replacement,” Daw said.
Daw said he is not actively discussing adding language to that bill that would allow for a reasonable process of removing a county official from office, but didn’t rule it out for the future.
“Once the bill file is open, those things can certainly be added or discussed,” Daw said.
If he does not resign, Graves will continue to receive his annual salary of $119,444 plus benefits through the end of 2018. Graves called in to participate in the Utah County Commission meeting Tuesday.
Graves did not respond to the Daily Herald’s request for comment Thursday.