Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
Former bombastic state lawmaker Carl Wimmer, who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to become an evangelical preacher, alleges a small central Utah police department denied him a promotion due to his age and religion.
Now, he intends to sue.
The Utah Labor Commission has backed Wimmer’s claims, finding “reasonable cause” to believe that the Gunnison Valley Police board opted not to make him police chief after members discussed his retirement eligibility and religion. A summary of the commission’s investigation, conducted by its Antidiscrimination and Labor Division, is documented in a “proposed determination and order” report released in May.
Wimmer has been in mediation with the police department since late May, but he said the parties now are at an impasse. Even after the state’s determination, police board members are “digging their heels in. To this day, they’re still claiming they did nothing wrong,” he said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I knew they held my religion against me,” said Wimmer, 46.“I was disappointed I was right.”
Asked for comment, Gunnison mayor and police board member Lori Nay directed The Tribune to a statement issued on Sept. 3. “The Gunnison Valley Police Department denies all claims of discrimination asserted by Carl Wimmer,” the statement says, going on to add that it disagrees with the Labor Commission’s findings.
“For these reasons,” the statement says, “it will vigorously defend itself against the claims before the [Labor Commission], an appellate body, or in federal court.”
The other members of the police board are Centerfield Mayor Thomas Sorensen, former Centerfield City Council member Keith Garff, former Chief of Police Brett McCall and Centerfield Recorder Tammy Winegar.
The Labor Commission only finds cause in 3% to 5% of the discrimination cases it investigates each year, according to a spokesperson.
‘Reinvigorated for the future’
When Wimmer left Salt Lake County in 2012, he was looking for a change of pace. He had recently resigned from the Legislature, lost a congressional bid to former Rep. Mia Love and said he had a job offer with the Nevada Republican Party, which it denied in an embarrassing public spectacle.
With more than a decade of law enforcement experience under his belt, Wimmer relocated to the small town of Gunnison after accepting a job as a school resource officer for the local police department, which also serves the town of Centerfield in Sanpete County.
A few months after making the move, Wimmer had a crisis of faith. A lifelong member and defender of the Latter-day Saints faith, which is sometimes informally referred to as the Mormon church, the former lawmaker began questioning his beliefs after reading materials like “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins,” he told The Ex Mormon Files in 2014.
“It was worse than death,” Wimmer said in that interview with the online program.
Eventually, Wimmer and his family converted to evangelical Christianity. He studied theology and became a pastor while continuing to work as a police officer in Gunnison.
“People in the community actually thought I started my own religion,” Wimmer told The Tribune. “There were rumors I’d become some kind of strange polygamist … they called us the ‘Wimmer cult.’”
Still, Wimmer said he felt supported in his job and by the police chief at the time.
In November, as the police department began its search for a new chief, Wimmer said he thought the job description had been written with him in mind.
“I have enough years on to retire, but when they were going to hire a new chief, boy, I was reinvigorated for the future of my career,” Wimmer said. “I’ve been a cop for nearly a quarter century, and I had so many ideas of what we could do with that police department.”
Qualifications for the position included having earned a bachelor’s degree, at least eight years’ experience in law enforcement, four years of supervisory experience, and the ability to work with elected officials and community organizations, according to the Labor Commission’s report.
“I thought, ‘They clearly want me to get the job,’” Wimmer said. “[They said] they’re going to hire from within, and I’m the only one who met the qualifications.”
Indeed, the Labor Commission’s investigation found that the other two applicants for the job had associate degrees, while Wimmer was about to complete a master’s. Wimmer also had more police experience and direct experience supervising other officers.
The police board developed a list of questions for each candidate as part of the interviewing process, according to the report. One struck Wimmer as odd — “How will you position your side interests in relation to the position of chief?”
“I knew immediately they were asking about my job as a pastor,” Wimmer said. “I wasn’t about to give them any satisfaction so I didn’t bring it up.”
Board members also asked Wimmer about his retirement plans, and one asked him, “you’ve been at it 25 years, so I mean are you starting to count the days where I’m gonna quit in a couple years?” according to the investigation report.
Wimmer claimed this was a veiled question about his age. He responded by telling the board he had no intention of slowing down. “They were unprofessional questions,” Wimmer said. “Be that as it may, I still left the interview fairly confident.”
But on Dec. 9, a board member showed up at Wimmer’s door to inform him he wasn’t getting the job. Members had instead selected the least experienced applicant, calling him “community-oriented,” according to the report. They even discussed promoting the other candidate to a new second-in-command role.
Wimmer alleges the board member told him he was not selected as chief because he was an “outsider” and not part of the local “culture.”
“I quit on the spot,” Wimmer said. A few days before Christmas, he filed his discrimination claim with the state.
‘I don’t think he’s got any ties’
During the Labor Commission’s investigation, board members denied the “outsider” and “culture” comments were made. They denied the “side interests” question was directed at Wimmer specifically, noting the other applicants had other gigs, like a YouTube channel and a construction business.
They also denied discussing Wimmer’s religion, retirement plans and age. But recordings of board discussions obtained by a Labor Commission investigator appear to show otherwise.
In post-interview deliberations, board members said the most important thing to Wimmer was “his preaching” and that his work as a pastor was “his first ambition,” according to the report. Some appeared to express annoyance that Wimmer didn’t mention his church work during the hiring process. Another board member mentioned watching Wimmer’s interview with The Ex Mormon Files.
“The main thing is [Wimmer] had to deal with a really ugly situation,” Nay, the mayor of Gunnison, said according to the report, “and you can’t deal with a really ugly situation and not get something on you. You know? And whether that’s real or perceived, that perception’s gonna be a handicap to him if he were chief of police.”
The Labor Commission investigator suggested that Nay was likely either referring to Wimmer’s departure from the Latter-day Saints or his The Ex Mormon Files interview.
Board members further discussed Wimmer’s retirement plans, with one member claiming he told her he planned to retire at the end of the school year. Another suggested that becoming police chief “would be a way for [Wimmer] to pad his resume.”
Board members further noted that Wimmer “was probably the most qualified to do the job,” but that he may not be the right fit because of the community’s perception of him, according to the report.
“I don’t think he’s got any ties to this valley whatsoever,” a board member said, according to the report, despite Wimmer having lived and worked in Gunnison for nearly a decade. The other two applicants, however, were “local boys,” a board member said.
Wimmer said seeing those comments in the Labor Commission report was “devastating.”
“I have poured an incredible amount of love and service into that community,” he said, noting his…