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City councilman resigns months after controversial run-in with police

Mar 29, 2017 10:16AM ● Published by Tori LaRue

Jeff Haaga resigned from the West Jordan City Council on March 20. (Facebook)

By Tori La Rue | tori@mycityjournals.com

Jeff Haaga resigned from the West Jordan City Council on March 20, eight months after a alleged drunken encounter with police in which he claimed he was “protected” because of his position as a councilman.

Haaga cited “personal family matters” as his reason for resignation in a letter addressed to Mayor Kim Rolfe. 

“I appreciate Councilmember Haaga’s willingness to serve our city and wish him the best,” Mayor Kim Rolfe said in a prepared statement.

Former Mayor Melissa Johnson, several residents, Alliance for a Better Utah and others formally asked Haaga to resign in August after he was charged with failure to remain at the scene of an accident, a Class C misdemeanor, on July 23.

On July 19, Haaga had been involved in a hit-and-run crash at a local bar after which South Jordan police officers questioned him at his home. Witnesses at the scene said Haaga was “visibly intoxicated” at the time of the crash, but officers said they did not issue a DUI because there was about an hour lapse in time between the crash and their questioning.

Haaga pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the accident on Oct. 7 and was issued a $500 fine and 180 days of probation. Jail time, which could have been up to 90 days for this charge, was waived.

Haaga missed four consecutive city council meetings in August and September, including the Aug. 10 meeting where several city councilmembers made a motion to censure him. The censure failed 3-2 because four votes are needed to pass a vote in a seven-member council. 

The city council passed an ordinance of ethical standards for elected officials effective Sept. 7. The standards outline behaviors that are inappropriate for council members and created a legal backbone to potentially remove noncompliant council members from office. Claims against Haaga’s actions prior to Sept. 7 could not be filed under this ordinance, but similar actions in the future can.

Rolfe said the ethics ordinance was not aimed at Haaga but said he was hopeful it would help the city avoid conflicts in city government that landed West Jordan spots in news stories the past few years.

“I think this will set the future to be more respective of individuals on the council and will stop some of the issues that we have dealt with,” he said. “I don’t want to be specific with that, but this will resolve many of the concerns now because there is direction.”

The city council accepted Haaga’s resignation at the March 22 city council meeting, and acknowledged that the city could move forward with appointing a new city council member to fill the vacancy for the remainder of Haaga’s term.

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

Haaga served in an at large seat on the council since January 2014. This means he represented the city as a whole, not a particular district of the city.

Those who are interested in filling the vacancy from now until January may submit a vacancy application in-person to city clerk Melanie Briggs. The appointed council member must be a registered voter, have resided in West Jordan for 12 consecutive months, currently live in West Jordan and meet other legal requirements.

Appointed council members participate in an interview process during a public meeting and are selected by blind vote of the current council members.

The appointed council member would fill Haaga’s former seat until January 2018. The council at-large positions are up for election in November.

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