After months of review and $3,300 in legal bills, an outside attorney told the Draper City Council he found ethically questionable use of government email by a councilwoman and front-runner for mayor but no evidence the conduct was an intentional misuse of office.
Councilwoman Michele Weeks, the subject of the inquiry, says the three-page report clears her of wrongdoing. It was her second claim of victory after a state commission rejected a Draper resident’s complaint in July.
“The witch hunt has ended!” Weeks’ campaign declared in a news release. “These accusations were just a way for the mayor and the Council to bully me and punish me for pushing for more transparency in our local government, speaking up against the rezoning for high density housing, and scrutinizing site plans.”
Dennis C. Ferguson reviewed emails that showed Weeks used her government account to organize a teacher appreciation night, encourage a man to run for city council, seek discounted cosmetic work for a pageant and inquire about a prosecution into a zoning violation.
Ferguson’s report found “some areas of ethical concern,” but he wrote that he wasn’t asked to decide whether any of the conduct listed was criminal when the council hired him without setting a budget for the inquiry.
“It is outside the scope of my retention to provide advice relating to criminal prosecution,” Ferguson wrote. “However, while I identify some areas of ethical concern, I believe those issues are best addressed through education, clarification of policies, and increased appreciation of the lines between personal or political and governmental conduct and communication.”
Weeks also mentioned in a city-funded newsletter that she ran a Facebook page where she posted about city council business, which Ferguson also called inappropriate and the result of “naiveté.”
Councilman Jeff Stenquist in May proposed the council hire an independent attorney to review Weeks’ emails after a resident requested all emails from her government account following her 2015 election.
In asking for the investigation, Stenquist called it “a very serious matter that we need to address,” and called it the responsibility of the council to get advice from an independent attorney.
“The evidence, the information that we’ve received, you know, certainly goes beyond what would be considered unsubstantiated,” Stenquist said when asking for an outside investigation. “There’s very legitimate concerns.”
Stenquist said Ferguson’s denial to weigh in on criminality left open questions he wants answered.
“I don’t think the Ferguson report provided the closure we were seeking,” Stenquist said in an email Monday. “He indicated that Michele’s actions violated ethical statutes but then he also rationalized them as ignorance.”
He said the council had already taken “steps to protect against future misuse of public resources and improper interference with law enforcement matters by public officials.”
Beyond that, he said, “I suppose it will be up to law enforcement to determine if the evidence is sufficient to warrant further investigation or prosecution.”
He said “ultimately it‘s not up to the Council whether prosecution is warranted or not.” That would be up to the public, he said.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Weeks has challenged Walker’s re-election bid. She placed first of three candidates in the August primary, with 45 percent of the vote. Walker had 37 percent.