Commission moves ahead with investigation of Sheriff Cordova
His lawyers say allegations are baseless, but commission's attorney says that's no answer
The Carbon County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to have the Carbon County Attorney's Office investigate the residency status of Sheriff James Cordova to determine if he has legally vacated his office by establishing a primary residence outside of Carbon County.
The commissioners made their decision during a public meeting in which the sheriff's alleged absence from the area was discussed formally for the first time.
Reading from a prepared statement, Carbon County Attorney Christian Bryner explained that this matter was being discussed in public because as an elected official, the sheriff is ultimately responsible to the citizens. The commission felt that it was therefore proper for the residents of the area to review the information the commission has gathered and hear the sheriff's explanation regarding that information at the same time.
"This investigation is not being conducted out of any animus toward the sheriff, but out of a duty imposed by state statute, explained Bryner. According to state law, "If an officer establishes his principal place of residence outside of the county in which he was elected, the office is automatically vacant."
Bryner also explained that the commission would only be discussing the sheriff's primary place of residence and that any comments concerning his performance would not be accepted or considered.
Under state law, an elected official's residency is determined by a number of factors including but not limited to:
where said official intends to stay;
where his or her family lives;
where the person sleeps;
where is the person is employed, where their real property is;
and where they are considered for purposes of tax exemption.
Information collected by the commission indicated that the sheriff and his wife purchased a home in St. George in December of 2013 and put their Carbon County residence up for sale at the same time. Bryner commented that Cordova had filed a residential tax exemption in Washington County in which he did not claim the St. George property as his primary place of residence. A note attached to the filing did however state that both Cordova and his wife were actively seeking employment in Washington County. This document was dated February 2014.
"I believe this shows an intent to change his place of residence," said Bryner.
Bryner went on to explain that the sheriff's wife currently is employed in Washington County and has been for several months. As her employment requires her to spend substantial time in southern Utah, Bryner commented that this also shows intent on the part of the sheriff.
The county attorney alleged that the sheriff has made several moving trips since purchasing the Washington County property. Taking the furnishings from his Carbon County residence to St. George.
Bryner stated that since buying the new home, Cordova has been largely absent from the sheriff's office, going as far as to give a month by month detail of the sheriff's days at work.
According to Bryner, Cordova was at the sheriff's office for seven days in January, five days in February, two days in March, one day in April, five days in May and six days in June. Bryner also contended that the sheriff has delegated all of his person-to-person interactions with county agencies to other members of the department.
"So commissioners, these factors when taken together create a presumption in my mind that the sheriff has moved out of Carbon County, said Bryner. "That he no longer resides here and that he intends to continue to reside outside of Carbon County."
When given the opportunity to address these allegations, Cordova's attorney Richard Golden stated that he found the information to be baseless.
Golden began by taking issue with the fact that the sheriff had been given only three days notice concerning the meeting. He stated that this lack of time impeded the sheriff's right to due process.
Golden stated that Cordova was registered to vote in Carbon County and all the commissioners has to do to gain that information was to ask.
He further stated that the sheriff did have a residence in Carbon County and that his house had not sold yet.
To Golden, the sheriff's intent was at the heart of the matter. He stated that the sheriff freely admitted that he had bought a home in St. George and planned to move there at some time and that he planned to retire at sometime in the future.
"Intent is the key issue when determining residence. Where do you intend to go at night? Where do you intend to reside. Residence is based on where a person spends his nights," said Golden. "If we were to take real evidence on this, the evidence would show that Sheriff Cordova has resided here between 60 and 70 percent of the time."
Golden further refuted some of the other allegations against Cordova by claiming that because his wife is not the sheriff, her place of employment had no bearing on the matter. He also stated that an intent to change jobs in the future did not bear on his current residence.
"What the county attorney is asking here is that the commission not allow Sheriff Cordova to plan for retirement," said Golden.
The sheriff's attorney explained that while the Cordova's Price home is up for sale it hasn't sold yet. If it does, Cordova plans to rent an apartment.
Golden did not address the sheriff's changes concerning delegation of duties or the amount of time Cordova has spent in Carbon County. His contention was that no evidence exists to show that Sheriff Cordova intends to move.
Following Golden's comments, Bryner explained that the meeting was meant to serve as a fact finding session only. He explained that it had been brought forward because of the public's large amount of interest in the amount of time Sheriff Cordova has been gone from the area.
He also contended that Golden had not taken the issues head on and had skirted the cumulative issues presented.
"This isn't retirement planning. This is starting the retirement before the retirement has come," said Bryner. "We've got the purchase of a home already. We've got Sheriff Cordova's wife living there and working there already. We've got him spending time there already. We've got him not coming into the office. We've got him delegating his tasks. I think this bears further investigation."
After a further rebuttal from Golden, the commission addressed the issue swiftly.
Commissioner John Jones stated that he had called the sheriff and attempted to discuss the issue directly. Sheriff Cordova responded that he had not called Jones back at the advice of his counsel.
Jones continued to state that a lot of information has been brought forward and that it did seem proper to have the county attorney's office investigate the matter.
Sheriff Cordova did not apply for re-election this year. His 16 year run as Carbon County Sheriff will come to an and on December 31.