Gibson, speaking Thursday at the Salt Lake City offices of his attorney, Peter Stirba, expressed relief and said he will move on. “I look forward to many more years of public service. I don’t know what shape that will take,” he said.
Most immediately, he will pursue appointment as deputy director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. He announced last December he’d step down as commissioner to take the DNR post but put the plans on hold after news of the Ogden Police Department investigation emerged the next day.
Beyond that, he said he would investigate the possibility of follow-up action in response to the allegations that led to the police probe and involvement of Davis County prosecutors. “I do know who made the allegation and I don’t know if we do have recourse. That will undoubtedly be discussed,” he said.
Any action, though, wouldn’t be out of rancor, he said. Rather, he pointed to what he fears is increasing use of the legal arena to make baseless allegations to harm political foes, which he and Stirba assert was at the root of the Gibson case. “I don’t have any anger. I simply don’t want this to happen to other good people in the future,” Gibson said, sitting with Stirba and wife Katrina in a boardroom of his lawyer’s office.
At the center of the matter, according to many familiar with the case, was a flood-mitigation project along the Weber River near property owned by the Gibson family in western Weber County. The aim of the multi-million-dollar project, completed in 2015, was to shore up the river and minimize the potential for future flooding.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and his deputy, Rick Westmoreland, said Thursday in a letter distributed by Stirba that “there is insufficient evidence” to prove misuse of public funds by Gibson. The letter also made reference to the flood project, noting that 75 percent of the funding for the initiative came from the feds and that officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service oversaw it.
“There was nothing done on land associated with Kerry Gibson or his family that was not ... vital to the success of the project (or) different in nature and scope from any other area along the river,” the letter said. It went on to say Gibson didn’t direct or control any element of the project on land owned by him or his family.
Gibson, too, alluded to the project, saying he “couldn’t be more proud” of the initiative and the flood protection it added to western Weber County.
Per the Davis County review, the prosecutors zeroed in on whether Gibson misappropriated Weber County equipment or personnel for work on Gibson family property. They also looked into whether Gibson directed Weber County employees to perform campaign fundraising activities on his behalf during business hours, according to the Davis County letter.
Gibson and Stirba said last month that the review by Rawlings’ office was complete and that Gibson wouldn’t be facing charges. As of April 20, though, Rawlings’ office had said it was still working on the matter, and Thursday’s news was the first official word from the Davis County officials that they were finished and wouldn’t be pursuing charges.
‘A REAL ISSUE’
Gibson, a former Utah House member serving his second term as county commissioner, said he fears such cases will keep would-be candidates from vying for public office. Stirba echoed that.
That allegations like those Gibson faced can convert political tiffs into legal fights “basically makes public office not attractive for a lot of qualified candidates,” Stirba said. “That’s a real issue.”
Beyond that, Gibson, a dairy farmer, said the turn of events has taken an emotional toll, though many stood by him through it all. He rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing all along.
“I truly care about my reputation. There’s not too many things that are more important to me than my good name and my honor,” he said.
Officials have not said exactly what spurred the probe into Gibson. Kevin McLeod, former assistant director of the Weber County Community and Economic Development Department, said it stemmed from questions related to management of the flood-mitigation project along the Weber River, things he heard and brought to the attention of the Weber County Attorney’s Office.
Ogden Police handled the subsequent investigation. Then the Weber County Attorney’s Office, which offers legal counsel to county commissioners, asked the Davis County Attorney’s Office to review the police probe due to concerns about conflict of interest.
Stirba praised the thoroughness of Davis County officials in reviewing the matter. The Davis County officials said in their letter Thursday that they followed up on many allegations, even after receiving the initial Ogden Police Department report.
“They have looked into every aspect of my life,” Gibson said.
Below is all of the Standard-Examiner’s coverage so far of the Kerry Gibson investigation.