Herriman City Council demands repayment after mayor admitted misusing taxpayer money

Local News

HERRIMAN (ABC 4 News) – Herriman City Councilmembers have demanded repayment of misused city funds by Mayor David Watts by December 12th before they pursue legal action to garnish his wages.

According to documents provided to ABC 4 News by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office, Herriman Police Chief Troy Carr requested an investigation through the D.A.’s office.

The documents stated Mayor Watts traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a Mosquito Abatement District board meeting. Herriman City Manager Brett Wood said this meeting had nothing to do with the city and his trip was paid for by the Abatement District.

After the Abatement District meeting was done, the documents stated Mayor Watts came home earlier than scheduled to attend a city council meeting and used a Herriman City credit card to pay for the early return flight to Salt Lake City on May 16, 2018, which was approximately $700. City council members explained additional travel charges were made, which brought the total to a little under $1000.

According to Wood, the mayor decided to purchase a return ticket on his own that would get him home sooner and didn’t tell him until after the fact.

However, Mayor Watts’ attorney, Shawn Hullinger said the mayor called someone at Herriman City and talked to that person about the expense before he purchased a ticket with the city credit card and ‘was told this would be permissible.'” The D.A.’s office said they do not know who this person at the city office was.

Herriman City Councilmember Sherrie Ohrn said the mayor explained he was unclear about the city’s policy, leading to the travel charges on the city’s credit card.

In the D.A.’s document, legal investigator Lt. Marcos Garaycochea received and reviewed Herriman City’s Policies Acknowledgement Form, which was signed by Mayor Watts on December 12, 2017, stating he had received or had access to a copy of the city’s policy manual.

During a city council meeting on July 11th, Wood asked Mayor Watts about the travel charges.

“Mayor Watts acknowledged that he had not followed the policy as it was outlined, which is turning in receipts and that some of the charges that he had put on his credit card were in fact, not appropriate charges for Herriman city to pay,” said Herriman City Councilmember Nicole Martin.

Martin’s fellow councilmember, Sherrie Ohrn told ABC 4 News Mayor Watts stated he would pay the money back.

“He asked if he could have a little bit of time to go through his receipts and his documents and figure out exactly what he needed to do to answer our questions and he would get back with us,” said Ohrn.

However, when Watts was scheduled to meet with the city council again in November, Ohrn said he sent out an e-mail to city officials, stating he was no longer attending at the advice of his attorney.

“It’s the mayor right to get legal counsel and so we respect that that’s his right. But we also expect that he is going to follow through with his word. He gave us his word in July that he would, in fact, pay that back,” said Martin.

According the D.A.’s document, Watt’s attorney said, “Since this matter may be the subject of ongoing legal action, I took the funds into trust, pending a determination of lawful claim of the funds.”

On November 15th, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office sent a letter to Herriman City, stating they would not be filing criminal charges against Mayor Watts.

“We don’t believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt and to the unanimous satisfaction of a jury that the mayor acted with a criminal intent when he purchased the ticket,” the letter stated. 

The letter continues to explain, “If we were inclined to file a criminal charge, Utah State law requires us to show that, at the time the mayor purchased the return flight ticket on the city credit card, he possessed a criminal intent to deceive or defraud the city, or that he knew his actions were unauthorized and unlawful at the time, but that he proceeded anyway.”

Despite the investigation, both Martin and Ohrn said it shouldn’t have taken this long for the mayor to pay back the money.

“It’s frustrating. We have spent an incredible amount of time on this, responding to concerned residents, concerned press, and people wanting to know what’s going on. We would like an answer,” said Ohrn. “Regardless if there are criminal charges or not, there was a violation of policy in relation to our credit card policy.”

Ohrn said the city has received e-mails, phone calls, and social media comments asking for Watts’ resignation.

“I think, had it been paid back in July, the integrity question would be much less. But now, we’re pushing December, the integrity question goes through the roof for me,” said Ohrn.

She said this issue has been a distraction and there are bigger problems that need to be addressed by city council.

“We have a resurrection of the Olympia Hills Development. That meeting is going to be here on December 13th. Our focus needs to be on those types of things that will majorly impact our residents for years to come,” said Ohrn.

City council members said they have demanded repayment from Mayor Watts by their next meeting on December 12th. If he fails to resolve the issue by then, they will proceed with legal action to garnish his wages.

Mayor Watts did not return our requests for comment. His attorney, Shawn Hullinger declined to comment.

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