Provo • Utah County legislators joined a growing chorus calling on County Commissioner Greg Graves to resign in the wake of an investigation that showed he is viewed by numerous public employees as a bully who has outbursts during uncomfortable interactions they try to avoid if they can.
Dozens of public officials from the county are discussing a letter that would seek to usher Graves to the door, according to state Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, who agreed to add his name to the letter calling for the first-term commissioner’s resignation. Reps. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and Norm Thurston, R-Provo, also said they agreed with the letter.
“Greg Graves has shown an ever increasingly bizarre pattern of not being able to do his job, making life miserable at work, creating a hostile work environment bordering on sexual harassment,” Daw said. “It’s time for him to go.”
Various legislators have called Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee to ask his opinion about a letter that’s circulated in recent days. Lee and Commissioner Nathan Ivie last week voted to publicly disclose a female county employee’s sexual harassment complaint against Graves and the ensuing investigation. The two then called on him to quit nearly a year before his position is on the ballot again.
Before the investigation’s release, Graves said by phone it would exonerate him of an employee’s complaint that he sexually harassed her. He admitted that his behavior could be viewed by some as offensive, but declined to elaborate on the other observations made by witnesses interviewed by an attorney who investigated the harassment complaint.
The county agreed to pay $6,000 to a lawyer whose report showed Graves is widely viewed as a bully to be avoided when possible.
“It is also important to note, based on statements from nearly all of the witnesses, that Respondent is widely viewed as a workplace ‘bully,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘demeaning,’ ‘intimidating,’ ‘threatening,’ ‘explosive,’ and someone with whom personal interaction is to be avoided as much as possible,” the report said.
The investigator noted the employee who made the complaint — and who later filed a complaint with the state — was a “credible witness,” but that he wasn’t asked to conduct a legal analysis. He also said he found no eyewitnesses who saw Graves allegedly touch the female employee’s leg above the knee during a golf outing or hear sexually explicit conversations he allegedly had with the employee.
“I was unable to identify any eyewitnesses who could either confirm or deny the various allegations of sexual or suggestive comments and behaviors by Respondent, including: comments about his marriage, his dating preferences, Claimant’s attractiveness, touching Claimant’s knee [and] comments about his sexual desirability.”
The investigator added: “I conclude that [Graves] treated Claimant in an unfair, demeaning and offensive manner ... and that this behavior was fully consistent with the way Respondent treats many other employees of the county.”
The investigative report was released Thursday. It appeared to be business as usual at the county Tuesday, when the three-member commission held its first meeting after the harassment allegations were made public.
Graves didn’t attend the meeting at which the commission debated its 2018 budget. He called in instead and hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment since Wednesday.
Lee and Ivie said they would make no mention of the allegations during Tuesday’s meeting, saying they were focusing on approving a budget that included a 3.2 percent cost-of-living raise for employees. No one mentioned the Graves scandal during public comment.
Next week, Lee said, could be a different story. Lee and Ivie may vote on a measure to censure Graves, a move that largely would signal the colleagues’ strong disapproval of his actions, based on multiple employees’ assertions. County policy actually requires the commission to publicly censure elected officials who are found to have “serious behavior or performance violations” that would result in disciplinary action for nonelected employees. Fellow commissioners are also exploring ways to limit Graves’ authority and influence as an elected leader.
Expressing disapproval is about the extent of the commission’s ability to act. Utah law leaves almost no option for counties to remove elected officials from office.
“Salt Lake County had to deal with Gary Ott,” Bramble said on Tuesday, referring to the late county recorder who remained in office despite years spent suffering from dementia that apparently hurt his ability to run the office. “We’re having to deal with Greg Graves.”
County and state officials who were aware of Ott’s abnormal behavior scoured state law unsuccessfully for a mechanism to remove him from his post while other employees ran the office in his final years. Ott died of his disease earlier this year, shortly after his family gained temporary custody and struck a deal with the county to have him resign from office.
It’s unclear what influence, if any, legislators and other local public officials could have on Graves’ term. Last week, he was defiant against early calls for his resignation.
“Never gonna happen,” he said Wednesday. “I do really want to say something, but I’ll save it. I’m sure we’ll talk again in the future.”