HERRIMAN (ABC 4 News) – Six months ago, the city wanted answers from Herriman Mayor David Watts over his misuse of city funds. Now, they want him to resign.
The controversy originated from a trip he took to Washington D.C. for a board meeting in May 2018 with the Mosquito Abatement District. The trip was not related to city business.
During the trip, the mayor made several travel, transportation, and food purchases using the city’s credit card – a violation of city policy. Officials said the mayor had signed an acknowledgement form of the policy six months prior to the trip.
On July 11th, the unauthorized charges were brought to attention by Herriman City Manager Brett Wood during a city council meeting.
“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 in an interview with ABC 4 News back on November 30th.
The matter was brought to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office by city officials. During the investigation, Mayor Watt’s attorney deposited the money owed to the city in an escrow account. Prosecutors ultimately decided not to press criminal charges against the mayor.
However, city council members said the criminal investigation was separate from city matters and should not have delayed repayment of city funds. Councilmember Sherrie Ohrn told ABC 4 News on November 30th the city would garnish his wages if he didn’t repay the money by their next meeting.
At Wednesday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Watts was given the first word in addressing the matter.
“As your mayor, my commitment to you is complete honesty and transparency. It is my hope that you, the citizens of Herriman, will continue to reach out to me and be vocal when you see something that you question or believe is wrong,” said Mayor Watts.
He offered explanation for his silence on the issue up to that point.
“While under criminal investigation, it was not prudent for me to comment on the issues raised on my use of the Herriman city-issued credit cards,” said Mayor Watts. “I have now been cleared of these accusations by the district attorney. 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 any remaining concerns the council has.”
Ohrn said Mayor Watts provided the packet during the work meeting, not providing city council members enough time to look over the documents and prepare questions.
During the meeting, Herriman City’s Finance Director Alan Rae presented the following violations of city policy by Mayor Watts:
- Lack of documentation. His original report had two valid receipts for 21 items
- Meals did not list who was present and what was purchased
- Purchase an airline ticket for a trip that was paid for by the Mosquito Abatement board and, by his admission, has the money from cashing in their ticket. The new ticket was $690.80
- Used Uber on the City purchasing card for travel already paid by Mosquito Abatement in the amount of $49.42
- Exceeded the City’s approved rate for hotel rooms by $166.09
- Used his own personal SkyMiles account for a baggage claim charge of $25, when all rewards accrued by use of city purchasing cards is supposed to be returned as benefits for the city
Rae said he believes the mayor intently violated city policy.
“How do I deal with an elected official who blatantly, does not abide by our policies, and, despite the fact that he says he continues to make an effort, he doesn’t?” said Rae in the city council meeting.
Residents turned up the heat during the public comment session, vocalizing their outrage against Mayor Watts.
“We need to tie this up. Enough is enough. We’ve had it. We’re tired of the games. We’re tired of the excuses. We want to take care of this,” said Jared Henderson.
“You screwed up. I see that in your face,” said Devin Peterson.
“He remains recalcitrant in his defense of these indefensible actions. Shame on you, Mayor,” said John Patterson. “Do the right thing. Resign. Give us all a Christmas present.”
“I have seen this council work hard with all of the construction and everything else to gain the community’s trust. What you have done is violate that trust. You’ve taken that away…all of that hard work. You’ve squashed it,” said Dave Hadley.
“I feel like…Mayor, you’re arrogant about this. You’re arrogance is insulting to us. You’re not above the rules. None of us are and I feel like that’s what you’ve demonstrated is you believe you’re above the rules,” said Hailey Hill.
Herriman City Councilmembers also chimed in to express their frustration.
“We’re only in this position today solely because of the actions of the mayor, in my opinion, no one else. There’s no one else that can be blamed for this,” said Clint Smith.
Smith said this was not the first time the mayor had exhibited questionable behavior and poor judgment.
“It is only the most recent and the most public. After dealing with some of these issues at council, we agreed that the next issue would be dealt with publicly and handled in a public meeting because we felt like the public had a right to know,” said Smith. “I feel like your motives have been completely self-serving.”
Both councilmembers and residents expressed what frustrated them the most is the failure of the mayor to acknowledge and apologize for his actions.
“You had two chances. Here, and in the work meeting…two opportunities to at least try and say the right thing. But instead, there was total defiance, total denial that you did anything wrong,” said Councilmember Jared Henderson.
Ohrn said this issue should have been resolved a long timeago instead of serving as a big distraction in the city.
“There’s a saying, ‘Don’t make a mountain of a molehill.’ This was a molehill. He made it into a mountain,” said Ohrn.
At 11:58 p.m., Mayor Watts finally repaid the nearly $1000 he owed the city from six months ago. He said the reason why it took him so long to do so was because he didn’t know the exact amount he owed.
“Absolutely is not a valid excuse. It is the mayor’s responsibility when he turns in his expense report to make it right. It is not staff’s responsibilities to find receipts. It is not the city council’s responsibility,” said Ohrn. “The mayor kept saying he was just sitting there waiting for the council to tell him how much to pay. We actually sent him an official notification after the D.A. notification that they had chosen not to move forward with his prosecution.”
Despite the consensus in the city council chamber, she doesn’t believe Mayor Watts will abide to requests for him to resign.
“I don’t believe he is ever going to move forward in that direction. So I think that our responsibility is try to mitigate the negative impact that he can have on our city,” said Ohrn.
She said if the mayor chooses to stay for the remaining three years of his term, the city council will remove him from any boards related to the city.
“I don’t know how we move forward in rebuilding trust with the mayor at this point. I simply don’t trust him. It’s difficult after a pattern of this type of behavior to believe he’ll move forward with integrity.”