One seat sat empty at the Provo Municipal Council meeting Tuesday, the first meeting since Councilman Steve Turley took a leave of absence.
Following a request by Mayor John Curtis and other council members to resign from office or face ethics charges, Turley chose to take an undefined leave of absence. Utah County Attorney’s Office charged Turley with seven counts of communications fraud, two counts of exploiting a vulnerable adult and one count of engaging in a pattern of criminal behavior.
Curtis asked Turley to resign by Monday or face ethics charges. Turley chose instead to send Curtis and other council members an email stating he was taking a leave of absence.
“In light of the charges filed against me today, and out of consideration for Provo city and the council, I will be taking a leave of absence effective immediately,” Turley wrote in the email.
There is a city ordinance that says if a council member is absent from the municipality for more than 60 days without the consent of the council, the office is automatically vacant. It’s not clear how that would apply in this situation.
“Who decided that Steve Turley could take a leave of absence?” Melanie McCoard said during the public comments at the council meeting Tuesday. “I don’t think it is fair that councilmen get the benefits of city employees but don’t have to meet the same regulations.”
Despite repeated requests to step down from office, Turley will retain his position on the council while the ethics charges are processed. The city has engaged former trial court judge Anthony Schofield to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct, at Curtis’s request.
“We are fortunate to have someone of Judge Schofield’s caliber working on this,” stated Curtis in a press release. “He met all of my criteria. He is a former judge now associated with one of the largest and most reputable law firms in the state. We have no authority to decide criminal or civil matters. All we have to work with is the Ethics Act. It provides a way to remove someone from office, but only on very specific grounds. General bad behavior does not currently qualify under the statute. Neither does being charged or convicted of a crime,” he said.
Complaints against Turley have been brought before the council since November 2010.
“I think the investigation has been conducted very tastefully,” said Eric Hunter of Provo. “I want to thank the council for the manner in which they have conducted the investigation of Mr. Turley.”