Embattled West Jordan councilman resigns 9 months after alleged drunken incident

Source: KSL and Deseret News

City Councilman Jeff Haaga has resigned nearly nine months after an apparent drunken encounter with police when he told an officer he had “protection” because he was an elected official.

West Jordan spokeswoman Kim Wells confirmed Tuesday that Haaga sent an email to Mayor Kim Rolfe late Monday night announcing his resignation.

But Haaga — who pleaded guilty in October for failing to remain at the scene of an accident after backing into a parked car while drunk — didn’t acknowledge the incident in his resignation letter.

Rather, the councilman said he was resigning “due to some personal family matters.”

“I am honored to have served West Jordan and its residents and am proud of the work I’ve done while in office,” Haaga said in the email, asking that his “privacy be respected as a private citizen during this transition period.”

Rolfe issued a statement Tuesday about Haaga’s resignation, saying, “I wish him the best.”

“With so many great people living in our city, I’m confident we will find someone who will be able to effectively fill his position,” the mayor said.

KSL first reported Haaga’s encounter with police and published body camera footage that showed the councilman rambling and repeating himself while being questioned by police on his porch — at one point telling officers, “You know I’m a councilman.”

After the incident was made public, the group Alliance for a Better Utah and former West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson called on Haaga to resign.

“Public office is not a shield to be used to deflect responsibility for your actions,” Johnson said at the time. “The fact you are a council member does not give you a free pass to ignore the law.”

Josh Kanter, Alliance for a Better Utah’s founder and chairman, said Haaga’s resignation is appropriate.

“Whatever Councilman Haaga’s reasons for his resignation, we believe that the public interest is best served by his decision,” Kanter said. “His claim to be above the law simply does not fit with a position of public trust, and the citizens of West Jordan deserve (elected officials) who understand and respect the positions of trust they hold in their community. Nevertheless, we wish Mr. Haaga and his family well in his and their future endeavors.”

Haaga has never publicly acknowledged the incident.

When he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge for the hit-and-run incident in the parking lot of Black Sheep Bar & Grill, 1520 W. 9000 South, Haaga evaded reporters on his way out of the courtroom, ignoring requests for comment as he made his way to his car with his family.

Instead, his attorney, Tyler Ayres, addressed reporters, saying there’s “no reason for him to resign” because he’s taken “full responsibility” for his actions by pleading guilty to the criminal charge.

Haaga was ordered to pay a $500 fine and spend 180 days on probation for the class C misdemeanor. No jail time was ordered.

During conversations with Haaga on his front porch, South Jordan police officer Cory Bowman told Haaga, “We were this close to arresting you for DUI. And realistically we probably should.”

Haaga, however, was not arrested for DUI. South Jordan police have said in order to charge someone with DUI, an officer has to prove that person was intoxicated and operating a vehicle, and over an hour had lapsed between the time Haaga backed into the parked car and when officers confronted him on his front porch.

In the months after the incident, Haaga missed several City Council meetings but eventually returned months later.

That was after West Jordan leaders passed a new code of conduct that includes standards for ethical conduct of elected officials, including provisions that prohibit elected officials from engaging in disorderly conduct or claiming they are “above the law.” Acts specifically outlined include driving under the influence, failure to cooperate with law enforcement or leaving the scene of the accident.

Failure to attend City Council meetings was also listed as a violation of ethical duties within the ordinance.

Each council member is typically paid $1,500 a month.

The City Council will likely appoint someone to fill the remainder of Haaga’s term, which runs through Dec. 31. The council could also choose not to fill the at-large seat, city officials said, because the position is up for election this year.

If it decides to fill his position, the City Council will interview applicants who meet qualifications for office, and the appointment will take place in an open meeting at a date yet to be determined, city officials said.

 

Read KSL article here and Deseret News article here.

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