Governmental, business engagement in BC’s downtown revitalization is reason for optimism
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 02-17-16
Whether they supported funding it or not, even critics agree that the Academy Square building in downtown Brigham City has been restored beautifully. As people climb the grand staircase and turn into the ornately detailed ballroom for the first time, the most common reaction I’ve heard is a gasped “Wow.”
As a reporter, I’ve had a few opportunities now to attend functions there, and I have to admit, I’m impressed. The building is nothing short of stunning, mixing the old and the new in a way that seems to announce that Brigham City has not only arrived, but never actually left.
When I hear city officials proclaiming that it will one day prove to be the cornerstone of a revitalized downtown, a big part of me not only wants to believe them, but does. With the work the city and county have been doing to find the area a brand (birds, who knew?), the beginnings of a cohesive revitalization plan, and what seems to be a renewed commitment on the part of downtown business owners to innovate, upgrade and attract people back into the heart of the city, I have to say I’m cautiously optimistic for downtown’s future.
The stars seem to be aligning in Brigham City’s favor, beginning with the construction of the LDS temple that brings thousands of visitors into the city. That was followed by a general uptick in the economy that has seen sales tax revenues consistently outpace projections, enough to help the city fund the addition of nine more pickleball courts. Add to this the expansion of Utah State University Brigham City, which will hopefully keep many of our young people here at home instead of emigrating to Logan or Ogden, the awarding of high profile contracts to Orbital ATK that will keep hundreds employed for years to come, the expansion of Proctor & Gamble, and even the fact that UTOPIA is no longer losing money (and building in Perry!), I think the Brigham City Area Chamber of Commerce has a right to be optimistic as well.
And it’s this optimism that I try to dwell on as I circle the block for the third time trying to find a parking space for Academy Square. I’m still optimistic as I balance precariously on the snow-covered landscaping stones between the Academy building and the Hampton Inn, trying desperately not to fall and damage my tablet and camera, or worse, myself, as there is no real path there between the buildings from the hotel’s northeast parking lot.
“Next time,” I tell myself, “I’ll just park at the courthouse, or at Smith’s, and walk over.” But I never do. Instead I continually miss the one parallel spot open on Main Street, decide repeatedly not to risk parking a Suburban in a narrow 90 degree stall between two cars next to the Main Street Church, and eventually end up back at the same hotel lot, balancing on stones.
“Sorry I’m covered in snow and mud for our interview, Governor.” Just kidding, that never happened.
It was my interview with Jonathan and Courtney Johnson.
Do your part to revitalize downtown by supporting Academy Center
A recent article in the Box Elder News Journal announcing the contract for management of the Academy Center generated a surprising number of comments on our Facebook page. It was accompanied by a stunning interior photo. Most expressed excitement for the building. “I’m really excited for all the possibilities...so beautiful,” read one. Another person wrote, “Really wonderful to have this addition to Brigham City.” And from several others, “It is so beautiful.”
Guest Perspective by David Walker 01-13-16
There were, however, other comments, such as —“Really, in Brigham City. Wow.” And we have had numerous conversations with downtown merchants, property owners, restaurateurs, and visitors who have a great affection for this quaint little community, but cannot seem to view it from any perspective other than the past.
Historic Downtown Brigham City is a 501c(3) non-profit established at the encouragement of local and county officials to assist in revitalizing historic downtown. We have a lot of work to do. But if our focus is to bring life back into the historic commercial center of the city, we cannot do so by looking backwards.
Those who opposed the Academy Center project did so on ideological grounds, often voicing something akin to, “it shouldn’t even be here” or “it never should have been renovated.” Regardless of whether or not there is legitimacy in those claims—and we are not here to argue that one way or another—the fact of the matter is this: the Academy Square building and adjacent restaurant are here today. They are going to open and it portends great change in Brigham City, so long as it is managed properly.
Like other Main Street projects, we wrestle with the question of how to revitalize historic downtown in a way that preserves our history. Our hope is to add more restaurants, retail shopping, and art venues downtown. We have all the building blocks in place; historic infrastructure, city and county support, and a few brave merchants willing to duke it out in some tough economic times.
And now we have the Academy Center. The influx of visitors into our community will benefit everyone with increased economic viability for business, increased tax revenues for government, and an elevated cultural experience for the community.
We can’t change history. Let’s put past missteps in the past, and put our support behind this wonderful and historically significant facility, if for no other reason, than to make sure that the money that has been spent doesn’t go to waste.
Let’s get out and support the new Academy Center. If you haven’t seen it, you should really take the time for a visit. It really is beautiful, and yes, it really is in Brigham City.
Goodness of community helps keep the darkness at bay
Most of the stories I cover for the News Journal are fairly routine, dealing with the goings on in our local government bodies. Issues debated in city councils, boards or county commission meetings are important stories, as they often deal with policies that directly affect our readers’ lives and pocketbooks, but they aren’t particularly hard to cover. You find the main points, illustrate those with quotes and maybe a graphic or photo, research the subjects at hand and provide some background information in context, and then distill it all down to 500 words or so, and you’re done. I rarely carry any of that home with me at night.
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 12-30-15
It’s the crime stories that stick with you. The voice of a young girl describing abuse that she suffered at the hands of someone who was supposed to protect her, or the cries of family members attempting to articulate the pain of losing a loved one, these are things that I carry home. Being human (and yes, newspaper reporters are indeed human), I just can’t help it. I tend to hug my kids a little tighter; I worry a little more about where they are and who they’re with. I catch myself going overboard, and have to consciously choose to pull it back (sorry guys).
As I write these kinds of stories, I realize that just as I’m affected, what I report, and how I report it affects others as well. News reporters are supposed to dispassionately explain what happened, and over the last few years I think I’ve been able to do that. But that doesn’t make us robots. When I cover some kind of horror, I’m acutely aware that there are innocent people my story will touch, whether they are the victim, the family of a victim, or the family of a perpetrator.
Just as no parent raises their child with the goal of them becoming a victim, no parent raises their child with the goal of them becoming a pedophile, rapist or a murderer. No person chooses to marry a pedophile, rapist or murderer, and just as importantly, no child chooses to be born to one either.
I was very disheartened earlier this year when I was told by a parent that some school kids had put two-and-two together from a story I had written and had identified and then started bullying the victim of a terrible crime. What kind of kid does that? I’m guessing the kind I’ll be writing about in future crime stories not too many years from now. I’d tried very hard to protect identities of minor victims in my stories, but after that I made deeper changes to how I report. It still haunts me. Reporting on people who may pose a danger to the community is a public necessity, but certain non-essential details need to be balanced with protecting the innocent as best we can.
The most difficult story I’ve covered yet is the murder trial of Spencer Gerlach, who stabbed to death his ex-wife, Keltsie, last April in Brigham City. This tragedy has innocents on all sides, save for Spencer.
At Gerlach’s sentencing earlier this month, I was affected by the grief and pain expressed by Keltsie’s family. Grandmother Sally Warren was absolutely right, no mother or family should ever have to go through what they have. I listened intently when attorney Bernard Allen read a letter from Spencer’s parents to the court in which they stated they would have gladly traded places with Keltsie. Judging from everything I’ve heard about the Gerlach family, I suspect that statement was genuine and true. I was humbled by the compassion shown to the Gerlach family by Sheldon Mansfield, Keltsie’s father, both in court and on the News Journal Facebook page, where he addressed people making outraged comments regarding Spencer.
“I would ask that everyone please be considerate to all involved. The individual that a lot of comments are directed towards will most likely never see them, but his brothers and sister and parents may,” Mansfield wrote. “They are good people who also cared about and loved my daughter very much. My family has a lot of sympathy for what they are going through as well and hope they will find the support from a loving community like my wife and I have to help them through these trying times.”
Regardless of the fringes, that’s the kind of community we live in. As dark as I sometimes feel inside when covering the worst of us, that darkness lifts when I see something brightly shining on the best of us.
Thanksgiving traditions create lasting memories for kids, adults
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 11-25-15
When I was a kid growing up in Logan, Thanksgiving always meant two things: playing football with my brothers and our friends, and eating my fill at an early dinner.
There may be nothing extraordinary about either of those sureties, but I came from a family of seven children, five of whom were boys. The football was always full contact without pads or helmets, often resulting in injuries. And being the second youngest of seven kids, as I was, eating your fill at dinner was never actually guaranteed.
As we grew, the football game grew. At first it was girlfriends watching from the sidelines. The next year there were still a few girlfriends, with maybe a wife thrown in. The year after that fewer girlfriends, more wives, and the addition of tiny humans bundled up beyond recognition. Before I knew it the tiny humans, now larger, had taken their rightful place on the field, and it was my girlfriend watching from the sidelines. It continued this way up until 1994.
Up until the night before Thanksgiving that year, I had been looking forward to the game, and, of course, the eating. But that’s when the tiny human my wife was carrying inside her belly, our first, decided he’d like to begin his entrance into the world, an entrance which he finished, loudly, at Logan Regional Hospital on Thanksgiving morning. Needless to say I missed the game (and the eating).
In the years that followed, I made the trip to Logan for Thanksgiving several times, but not every year. Having families divided by a mountain range proved to be too much of an obstacle to overcome some years.
After my parents passed away in 2000, going to Logan for Thanksgiving just didn’t seem as important anymore. Some of us still lived there, but most of us didn’t. And getting together after trying to balance our family against everyone else’s families, never quite seemed to work out.
In about 2009 we made the decision to begin holding our own Thanksgiving, with our family of five, plus anyone else that wanted to join. Although that first meal was kind of a disaster (that was the year before I learned to take the gravy bag and giblets out before cooking), it was our disaster. And it’s been our disaster ever since.
In truth, I miss the games, though at 48 I realize they would probably kill me. But even with all the nostalgia, the whispers of a bygone era, and missing those who are distant or no longer with us, I love our own Thanksgiving more than ever. When I see my wife and kids around our table, I realize just how much I have to be thankful for. And I also realize that this won’t last, either.
To our readers, like the Madsens, who also play football; the Sepulvedas, who always name their turkey; and the Olsons, who help support the food pantry, a very happy Thanksgiving. Keep those traditions, because they’ll live on in the memories of your kids.
To my son Zac, a very happy birthday. Even though I didn’t get to eat the traditional Thanksgiving feast, your Thanksgiving is probably my favorite one.
And to Kevin Hyde, I’m really sorry about cracking your ribs during our game in 1982.
Perry election results should not be a mandate on issues
In what became a highly contentious election season in Perry, residents seemed to issue a mandate when they gave former mayor Jerry Nelson and Steve Pettingill—who is surrounded in controversy since Perry City does not recognize him as the Perry/Willard Sewer Board chairman—less than 10 percent of the vote, each.
We hope that the results are a referendum on personalities, and not the issues that have become central to Perry City this year, as those should be judged on their merits.
Nelson’s approach to airing grievances in public meetings, often with little regard to exhibiting the proper decorum required by such a forum, is certainly concerning and does nothing to further reasonable discourse between opposing sides.
However, even a person with a distasteful approach to dealing with disagreements can make legitimate points.
Two issues are central to the contentious atmosphere that has arisen in Perry: The city’s adoption of certain policies and procedures for the Three Mile Creek Shooting Sports Complex and a disagreement between Willard and Perry regarding the interpretation of the agreement that determines how costs will be split for the jointly-owned sewer plant. Nelson has taken the city—and particularly current Mayor Karen Cronin—to task frequently and vociferously on each issue.
We believe both issues should be analyzed on their own merits, and in so doing it is our contention that each side scores a win.
Regarding the adoption of policies and procedures for the city’s gun range, we believe the city acted appropriately, resulting from the strong recommendation of the city’s insurance provider to ensure such a document was in place and enforceable. While Nelson said the policies and procedures were forced through—in some cases using coercion—we have yet to find anyone who substantiates that.
In this day and age, the city needs to have the appropriate safeguards in place to mitigate liability and fraud in order to protect taxpayer money.
Admittedly, there was some urgency in getting the policies and procedures put in place, which was one of Nelson’s complaints, since the city needed them approved before the gun range hosted a state championship match earlier this year. However, any urgency—perceived or real—should not preclude one from conceding that the policies and procedures are necessary and in the best interest of Perry City.
Nelson was concerned about certain aspects of the policies and procedures, and certainly, reasonable people who concede the need for the document could debate some of the particulars, such as Nelson’s claim that the number of hours required to be logged by gun range volunteers before earning privileges to the range are too onerous, or that the policies and procedures call for too much oversight and approval from the mayor.
However, for those discussions to be fruitful, they need to be approached with a spirit of good-will and compromise.
Regarding the dispute surrounding the jointly-owned Perry/Willard Wastewater Treatment Plant, based on all information available, we believe Perry City is battling for an untenable and indefensible position. To this point, all Perry City has offered as evidence that all costs for the plant should be split by ownership percentage—which would result in savings for Perry City and its residents—is a poorly written interlocal agreement and a recording of a discussion at a sewer board meeting from 2014 that appears to bolster Perry City’s position.
In a newsletter sent to Perry residents, Mayor Karen Cronin tugged on citizens’ purse strings to gain support for the city’s position on the issue, saying that losing the dispute could mean $10 million to Perry residents.
As famous American writer Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.” While Sinclair was speaking specifically about a person’s livelihood, we believe the substance of the idea applies here; that it is politically and economically expedient for Perry City officials and its residents to ignore the fact that founders of the agreement from both cities have publicly declared on many occasions, and are in agreement, regarding the original intent, which is that the cities would split capital costs by ownership, and costs directly related to the treatment of sewage according to how much sewage each city pumps into the plant (flow rates).
Why should Willard residents have to pay anything to treat sewage from Perry City? That position would appear to defy reason and stand in opposition to fairness. Certainly, if the situation were reversed, and Willard City was seeking to have Perry residents pay a portion of the costs to treat sewage from Willard, things would look differently.
It is our hope that the issue will soon be resolved, as it does no one any good to have neighbors battling while trying to work together. Hopefully, there is enough good-will and compromise left in the south end of Box Elder County to make that a reality.
Panhandlers create moral dilemma for Brigham City residents
Few situations in life cause people to examine their own hearts more than seeing a person who publicly claims to be in need. How we react to that situation is, fairly or unfairly, often tied into how “good” and “how smart” we perceive ourselves to be. A “good person” would help. A “good Christian” would offer some money. Our moral sense then battles with our common sense, as we know that people aren’t always what they claim to be. And regardless of the action we take, we’re left feeling unsettled as either a possible sucker or a Scrooge.
Writer's Block - Nelson Phillips 11/04/15
Over the last few years Brigham City has seen an increase in panhandlers begging at busy intersections both downtown and off of 1100 South. While I can’t say this definitively, the increase seems to have coincided, at least partially, with the availability of public transportation linking our towns to the larger metro areas to the south. It also seems that word has spread about Box Elder County residents being kind and charitable, to the point now that it feels like we’ve become a destination, of sorts.
“Those guys make bank,” one local business owner told me. “I’ve sat out and watched, and every fourth or fifth car gives money, and it’s not just a dollar. Often it’s 10 or 20 dollars.” He said that the panhandlers he’s viewed can make up to $100 for a few hours of begging, which is better pay than most productive people with jobs get, and completely tax free. “And it’s often the same people making the rounds every few weeks. I mean, how often can one guy’s car break down in Brigham City?”
Aside from spotting familiar faces, it’s difficult to tell which panhandlers are genuinely in need of a helping hand, and which ones are scamming the public. In each case, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two.
It’s also difficult to assess what impact these people’s activities have on nearby businesses and our communities as a whole. Other than making people uncomfortable, or possibly presenting a traffic hazard, does non-aggressive panhandling really do any harm?
Legitimate answers to that question vary from person to person, location to location and situation to situation. Some experts say that panhandling can actually benefit local economies, because panhandlers tend to spend at least some of their money right away at nearby businesses. Others cite the impact that panhandlers have in frightening away paying customers, and in making new businesses reluctant to move into areas where begging is rampant. Still others say the greatest harm is done to the panhandlers themselves, with money gained from panhandling enabling addicts to support their habits.
According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, an organization that teams law enforcement agencies with a network of university-based researchers to come up with best practices for addressing public safety issues, the average panhandler is an unemployed, unmarried male in his 30s or 40s, with a high-school education, few family ties, laborer-level skills, and a substance abuse problem.
“Most panhandlers are not interested in regular employment, particularly not minimum-wage labor, which many believe would scarcely be more profitable than panhandling,” writes Professor Michael S. Scott of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. “Some panhandlers’ refusal to look for regular employment is better explained by their unwillingness or inability to commit to regular work hours, often because of substance abuse problems.”
Although I admit it’s an oversimplification, the data I’ve reviewed indicates that panhandlers beg because it’s an easy way to obtain unrestricted money, the collection of which fits their schedule, and allows them to fund their addictions. The worse their addiction becomes, often times the more aggressive their panhandling becomes, which leads to confrontations between panhandlers and the public or police, as well as confrontations with other panhandlers over the prime begging real estate.
When we give money to panhandlers, we’re essentially doing three things: making ourselves feel like we’re helping, attracting more panhandling to our community, and supplying addicts with their drug of choice. Our hearts are in the right place, but we’re completely ignoring our heads.
Laws to control panhandling can only go so far, as courts have ruled that non-aggressive panhandling, holding signs and not interfering with people or traffic, falls under 1st Amendment protections. While some cities such as Provo are experimenting with solicitor’s licensing schemes, the same as required with any street or door-to-door vendor, it’s not clear if even that will pass constitutional scrutiny, and pushes yet more responsibility onto our already overburdened police. I prefer a free-market solution to the problem, instead of clamping down on people who are already facing their own set of demons.
Salt Lake City, and other cities across the United States and Britain, have begun installing charity boxes in areas where panhandling is rampant. These boxes are placed to provide competition to panhandlers for charitable dollars, with 100 percent of any monies dropped in them going to support local homeless shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries. As people opt to give their money to organizations that help the needy (and provide other rehabilitative services that help get them back on a productive path), an interesting thing happens: people who are truly in need get a helping hand, and panhandlers disinterested in improving their situation move on to greener pastures.
Recently the Box Elder Food Pantry in Brigham City sent out an alert stating that they were in need of soup, as their latest food drive was “a bust.” The larger community rallied, and soups as well as other donations started coming in, alleviating the current shortage for a time. When I read this I was proud of my adopted community, as I am quite often. The people here are indeed generous and kind, and good.
I just can’t help but wonder whether some of that money we’ve handed to panhandlers outside of Walmart this year could have prevented our local food pantry from running out of soup in the first place.
Why sending fire trucks on medical calls is the right call
- Chief Joseph Bach 09-02-15
In city council meetings, letters to the editor and in person, several citizens have asked why we roll fire engines out with the ambulance on medical calls. That question arises often enough that I thought I’d try to answer it publicly in the newspaper.
With very limited staffing, the Brigham City Fire Department responds to an average of eight emergencies each day. The calls tend to come in bunches of two to five at a time, and range from auto and structure fires to medical emergencies, vehicle extrications, hazardous material spills, carbon monoxide calls, etc. We roll a fire engine to the medical calls, in addition to the ambulance, because for most medical emergencies we need at least four personnel to help lift and move a patient. The extra hands on the engine also carry useful equipment, and perform life-saving procedures and patient care, as they too are medically certified.
Why do we need four personnel to lift a patient? To put it bluntly, our population, both nationally and locally, is getting heavier. According to data supplied by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 33.8 percent of American men and 36.1 percent of women suffer from obesity. That same source reports that 37.1 percent of males and 36.9 percent of females in Box Elder County are in the same situation. In a recent survey of 1,356 first responders conducted by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, 47 percent reported sustaining a back injury while performing their duties. Our firefighters and EMTs move patients up and down stairs; they pick them up when they have fallen, often into very tight and awkward spaces like between tubs and sinks, in window wells, etc. We don’t want our personnel to injure themselves while treating others, so we roll the extra personnel with the extra equipment.
The staff on that engine must be prepared with the right equipment on hand to help the EMTs/paramedics with what they need, and be able to respond to the next emergency from that location, no matter what it is.
Recently we’ve responded to two incidents that show being ready with the right equipment is the proper procedure for us to follow.
Our engine crews were helping at medical emergencies when both the Woolen Mill fire and the Perry grass fire erupted. In each case the engine crew responded immediately while the ambulance crew continued patient care. In a fire situation, time equals life and property.
The houses on the north and south of the Woolen Mill sustained very little damage, and the grass fire on the Perry bench did not spread to the orchards or homes close by because we were able to get to them quickly.
This is why I believe rolling the fire engine with the ambulance is the right call.
Brigham City Fire and EMS: Change is not easy, but necessary
- Lance R. Bryce, M.D. 08-05-15
We simply could not function without a Fire/EMS department. People would literally die.
As the Trauma Director for Brigham City Hospital for nearly six years, I am deeply involved with, and interested in, the changes occurring in the Brigham City Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departments.
City services and the hospital have both made tremendous strides to improve patient care, starting with the first responders, EMS, emergency room nursing and full-time ER physicians, as well as our overall care at Brigham City Community Hospital. The changes and improvements are rooted in making patient care the number one priority. The State of Utah ranks our trauma program in the top two Level IV trauma programs in the state, and it is by far the youngest program to rank so high. The overall general consensus from the citizens is that things are a lot better than they used to be.
This is not because of one single individual but rather a tremendous coordinated group effort that begins with the first responders to any scene. The first responder/EMS component is 50 percent of the trauma program. The decisions and treatments given in the field make it possible for the hospital to save lives, and a tremendous coordinated group effort led by Karen Glauser RN, BCCH Trauma Coordinator, improved the programs and systems in place to allow better results in the field and even more lives to be saved.
However, progress was obstructed when Obamacare and the Fair Labor Standards Act were mandated by law. The tremendous financial burden placed upon the city in regards to benefits and pay was unsustainable. There are letters in the newspaper all the time about how we are paying too much for services provided by our city governments. I am sure there would have been much more complaining if taxes had gone up in order to meet the mandated requirements for fire and other emergency services employees.
The city’s solution was to hire more part time EMTs, which was a big, but unavoidable, set back to the progress of the trauma program. Nobody disagrees that “outsiders” do not know the area or our citizens as well as “locals” would. While there was an increase in scene times with the new employees, surprisingly, there were not as many major mistakes in patient care as we thought would happen with new graduates or non-locals.
It’s undisputed that a new graduate from an EMT or paramedic program is not going to be the best they can be on the first day of their career, but we hope to foster a strong mentoring program to facilitate quick growth for new employees.
All the changes were implemented prior to Chief Bach arriving. Jim Buchanan and others (the founding fathers of our current EMS system) were instrumental in helping overcome the incredibly expensive mandated requirements in labor laws, which directly impacted patient care. At the time it was the best option for the situation.
Now, Brigham City is shifting the entire EMS/Fire Department toward full-time positions, and EMS and fire services are no longer separate entities, but one program. Brigham City is in the process of hiring paramedics who will provide a higher level of care. Brigham City is also in the process of hiring fire captains who will run the fire department side of things as well as assist on medical calls. These captains have certifications that will make them experts in their profession. The goal is to have the captains be paramedics in a dual roll for the department. There will be a need for EMT/Firefighters to be dual certified. The goal is to have all of these individuals stationed at our fire department and will be on site to respond to medical and fire calls.
I am not sure the community is aware of this but there are cities/communities far less populated than ours with full time departments and paramedic care. We eliminate the concern of “non-locals” coming “on occasion” to staff our ambulances and fire trucks by having full time positions where their primary job is to serve and protect our communities. As for “all hands on deck” calls, the full-time positions will be supplemented by reserves.
Some people have expressed anger and frustration at the changes. The underlying tone and argument about the changes is that individuals are being “kicked out” of a program they helped build, and that they are “no longer valued for their long years of service.”
That argument is false. Those individuals in EMS are, and have been, invaluable. No one disagrees with that. However, if patient care is the first priority, as it is for any trauma program with any value, we should not be content to maintain status quo, but to continue to build upon the solid foundation established through the sacrifices made by the EMTs and firefighters who built the department. This means change is inevitable. The opposition to progress is detrimental to patient care in the long run.
We will never be able to repay those individuals who built the foundation, any more than we can repay our pioneer ancestors for their sacrifices to come here and build from scratch such a great place to live. I do believe we will be held accountable for how we capitalize upon sacrifices previously made, with each generation building upon the success—or failure—of the previous generation.
From the desk of the editor
- Sean Hales 04/22/15
I hate Facebook.
If one day, Facebook was nowhere to be found, mysteriously absorbed into the ethersphere of the infinite interwebs, I would laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
I would also probably host a party.
A big one.
With real people.
I have all but removed Facebook from my life, and the fact that my employment here at the News Journal requires me to log on to it and use it to engage readers is currently the worst part of my job.
At first, Facebook was fun. It allowed me to connect to old friends and acquaintances and maintain relationships with family members with whom the hectic nature of modern life might have otherwise prohibited.
For example, I have had pleasant and meaningful conversations with Joe regarding our philosophies of life and to commiserate over the suicide of a man I once considered my best friend, in a world that seems so very far away. Joe and I both had regrets, of one sort or another, regarding the man. That was good.
However, I also became privy to Joe’s fantastic life. His professional travels across the country and the exotic locations where he as golfed as a result. His huge house, and the amazing family that never seems to frown. Ever.
Now, I hate Joe, too. Why does he get to golf at Pinehurst No. 2 and Wolfcreek and brag to the world about it?
There’s also another Joe, who is as condescending and superior as he ever was in high school and lets me know it every time he posts a picture of his house overlooking the canyon, or his newest project refinishing some piece of retro furniture that identifies him as some truly hipster elite in the design world, with his appreciation of timeless lines and no-nonsense simplicity.
There’s also Adam, a highly successful artist who has seen the world while living the life of a true romantic.
Adam and other Joe can keep their awesomeness to themselves, for all I care.
Of course, let’s not forget the nameless, faceless masses—who I inadvertently approved as friends, or who could see my posts because their mother’s uncle is friends with an acquaintance whose grandfather’s great-nephew happened to go to the same high school as my step-brother—who saw fit to let me know that I am a coward and traitor, or heathen gentile, or uncouth philistine because of a random comment I made on a status update that featured a picture of a cat with its head stuck in a piece of bread.
In a world where there are no sticks and stones, words and pictures are the most dangerous weapons.
In any case, I found myself in a general, and nearly constant, state of discontent; nothing satisfied me and my life had become a source of very real disappointment.
I don’t know exactly when it struck me that Facebook was the source of my malaise, but since I quit using it regularly, I know I am much more content, happy and present in my own life. Of course, given the widespread use of Facebook, I wondered if something was wrong with me. If everyone else was fine using the social media site, certainly I was a mental case that likely needed counseling, medication, institutionalization, or all three.
So, imagine my relief when I received this email from the University of Houston: “UH Study Links Facebook Use to Depressive Symptoms.” A pair of studies, done by university researcher Mai-Ly Steers and published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, found an association between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms in both males and females.
“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers said. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad. If we’re comparing ourselves to our friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.”
I would add Facebook also makes it abundantly clear which people are definitely not your friends.
In summary, let me relate an inspirational meme I found on Facebook about the “Seven Cardinal Rules in Life,” one of which is “what others think of you is none of your business,” and another declares “Don’t compare your life with others.”
If we followed those rules, it occurs to me Facebook would be out of business.
Willard, Perry officials should seek original intent to resolve dispute - Our View
Much space has been devoted in the last two weeks about the ongoing dispute between the cities of Willard and Perry concerning their jointly-owned wastewater treatment facility. The cities disagree over the interpretation of the inter-local agreement they signed in 2008, specifically the section that states how operational and maintenance costs should be divided between the cities.
The story thus far is one of escalation, where disagreement turned into an action, and action into reaction, the consequences of which have created hard feelings, resulted in recent court action, poisoned the well of good will between the cities, and will, if left unchecked, harm the very project the two sides cooperated to build for the good of both their residents.
After an unsuccessful meeting between the two mayors and respective city councils in October of 2014, the sewer board itself voted in January that they would enforce the terms of the agreement, and making billing decisions as outlined.
After that vote, Perry City—in a closed session on Feb. 19—voted to dismiss sewer board members Bruce Howard and Steve Pettingill. Perry City Council member Todd Christensen opposed the move. The explanation given for Perry City’s actions was that the council had decided to rotate board members.
Perry City does indeed have the right to dismiss and appoint its own sewer board members, such as Howard, but the case is far less clear when it comes to Pettingill, who was agreed upon with Willard City to be a joint appointee.
Howard was replaced by Greg Hansen, whose engineering firm, Hansen & Associates, does a lot of work for Perry. Perry’s other board member, Paul Nelson, is a direct employee of the city, serving as Perry’s Public Works Director. Critics claim Perry City is trying to control the board with members over which it holds a financial interest in order to force a stalemate on the billing issue.
These and other actions prompted Willard City to file a cease and desist order in First District Court, prohibiting Perry City from interfering with Chairman Pettingill and Wastewater Treatment Plant Board actions, papers and assets. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for March 19 at 9 a.m., in courtroom three.
Much of the blame for the dispute lies in the ambiguity of the wording in the agreement, which states that the wastewater treatment board will set a monthly charge to each city by its ownership percentage of total operation and maintenance costs, or each city’s proportionate share of those expenses based on use.
Perry City Mayor Karen Cronin contends it is the former, while Willard Mayor Ken Braegger contends it’s the latter.
Upon investigation, it seems likely that the ambiguity was purposely—albeit inadequately—included to allow flexibility while bugs and kinks were worked out of the new sewer system. At the time Perry City had a significant problem with large amounts of groundwater leaking into pipes that artificially inflated the amount of flows coming from Perry, and thereby inflated Perry City’s percentage of use. Willard City, at that time, had very few homes hooked to sewer, and was in the process of getting more hooked in, which wouldn’t properly reflect the city’s usage in the near future.
It is likely that the wording was meant to give the sewer board alternative billing criteria—by ownership percentage rather than usage—while these issues were being dealt with. We believe the fact that both cities had individual metering stations installed, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, further indicates the original intent of the agreement.
We believe current officials should seek the resolution to their issue by discovering original intent.
The elected officials that negotiated the agreement between Willard and Perry are, for the most part, still around. They can tell us what the original intent was. A joint meeting, open to the public, where former Mayors Ryan Tingey and Jerry Nelson, as well as any other officials with knowledge of the original negotiations, testify to the circumstances and intents of the original agreement could solve the issue. Once the details of those discussions are known, drafting a better, more precise agreement in good faith between the two cities would be possible.
No one can fault Perry Mayor Karen Cronin and the City Council for looking out for the best interests of Perry City residents. That’s what good leaders do. But there comes a point where we need to balance our own self-interests with what is right and proper, and as of yet, that hasn’t taken place. We believe there’s still time, however, for all parties to come together and do the right thing.
We see the current state of affairs between the two cities as cause for sadness. Box Elder County is supposed to be a place in which families, neighbors and friends willingly work together for the common good of all. We expect these values from ourselves, and we should also expect them from our towns and cities, and the people who run them.
Original intent is what needs to be applied here. Then perhaps we can all go back to being friends and neighbors again.
Salt and sand attack, destroy communities in
From the desk of the editor by Sean Hales 02/18/15
Editor’s note: The above headline is slightly sensationalistic. Okay, it’s actually a complete fabrication, as is much of the story contained below. The exceptions are the story published by the Daily Mail and the part about the broken down Camaro in someone’s yard. Those people know who they are.
I walked into my office Monday morning noticeably less recuperated and rejuvenated than would have normally resulted from a lazy weekend with my family. That’s because I didn’t have a lazy weekend with my family. Instead, I was preparing for the end: a doomsday of salt and silica that will soon swallow all we hold dear in Box Elder County.
In case you missed it, we have been advised of our impending doom thanks to a photographer and a writer from the U.K.’s Daily Mail, who combined their talents to create the piece, “Journey to the ghost country: Haunting pictures capture the desolate beauty of Utah’s Box Elder County where towns are slowly being consumed by the salt flats.”
The photos that accompany the story include some pictures of Box Elder’s West Desert, but also a few junk cars sitting in yards that are obviously occupied by living people. (And just for the record, no, you are never going to get that Camaro running again. Give it a rest and call a flatbed to haul it to the junkyard, already. I’m sorry, but the dream has died.) There’s also a photo of a sign at a local drive-in. The photo is shot in such a way that it makes the drive-in look like a currently abandoned—but perhaps once thriving—eatery.
Upon finishing the article I rushed to my upstairs window and looked to the west, where I expected to see the creeping menace of salt and sand advancing on the horizon. All I could see was a few clouds and the tops of the stately sycamores than line Brigham City’s Main Street. As I looked around the neighborhood, I noticed several vehicles in need of repair on the lot that was once owned by Hansen Chevrolet on the north end of town.
I concluded from these imaginings—fueled by no small exaggeration of observation—that the story from the Daily Mail was not that far off. I decided to take a quick refresher in post-a-salt-alyptic survival with a screening of “Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome,” after which, I gathered the wife and kids to go find some fashionable, yet functional, metal-studded leatherwear and a pair of sturdy boots to kick in the teeth of lawless marauders. Also, some extra food and water. Especially water. I figured water is a very important commodity to a person buried in salt and sand in a desert.
As I was driving to gather the provisions, I noticed a broken down Camaro in a yard. I silently thanked the owner for not ever having removed it and made a mental note of its location in the event I needed parts to beef up my road warrior-style conveyance. (Thanks for keeping the dream alive, whoever you are.)
However, during my travels, I also noticed water. A lot of water. Sometimes, the water was just sitting out in the middle of nowhere for anyone to dunk in or drink from, if they felt so inclined. In fact, in addition to being home to more than its share of salt-encrusted desolation, Box Elder County is also home to the wetlands that make up the nation’s largest migratory bird refuge.
I also noticed people. Some of those people were building a new restaurant adjacent to the recently completed Hampton Inn in downtown Brigham City. Others were building a new classroom and administration building for Utah State University Brigham City. I thought about advising the workers to end their futility; however, I figured the longer they continued in their blissful ignorance, the fewer competitors there would be for scarce resources when the desert swallowed us up.
The thought didn’t occur to me until more recently that perhaps the Daily Mail piece was just shoddy—if not completely inventive—reporting, and they ignored the obviously growing communities in Box Elder County that are positioning themselves to thrive in the coming years, all for the sake of a story.
In truth, there are places in Box Elder County that have been swallowed up—if not literally by sand, then at least by time—in the West Desert and salt flats. But to characterize the entire county that way would be akin to photographing a toe of the Daily Mail reporters and using it as evidence that they are nothing more than big, stinky feet.
In any case, I did eventually come to the conclusion that the towns and communities in Box Elder County are in no immediate danger of being swallowed up by the sea of sand and salt stretching to the west, but not until it was too late. Now I’m shopping around for a motorbike. I can’t let my new leatherwear and boots go to waste, after all.
A link to the story from the Daily Mail can be found on the News Journal’s Facebook page.
Burn ban, public hearings are high-level shams
On the Level by Mike Nelson 01/28/15
I have a hunch, one that I’m willing to express at the risk of jinxing the whole thing with hopes that I’m not wrong: I think the proposed wood burning ban and the subsequent public hearings are all for show.
Honestly, does Gov. Gary Herbert seriously think citizens—especially in rural communities—will just roll over on this and give up their supplemental heat sources? If he does think as much, he certainly wasn’t at the public hearing in Brigham City last week. Brutal.
The hearing, held to address the proposal to ban solid fuel burning in areas of seven counties in the state during winter months, was greatly attended by Box Elder County residents. Not a one of them voiced support for such a ban.
“God, guns and fireplaces!” I can hear being chanted by the crowd.
And why wouldn’t residents be fired up over this? When was the last time, even in local government, that a “proposal” was anything less than a done deal? The successful outcome of such proposals certainly outweigh the non-successful or those not adopted into fruition.
Even if this is just a discussion or a measure to gauge public support, the people know that verbiage for such a ban is already drafted and ready to implement. And that scared them enough to show up en masse at the public hearing.
Local lawmakers are also shaking their heads wondering how any such law could bypass the house and the senate. It must be awful for them to feel as though their voices—and those of their constituents—may not be taken into account as well.
Maybe I’m just cynical but I look at the ongoing public hearings organized by the Utah Air Quality Board as nothing but a way to check the box. “Yeah, we showed up to Brigham City and Ogden, we went to Tooele and Provo and we survived the onslaught of comments from the heated public,” I can hear board members say.
Certainly something must be done about pollution in the greater Salt Lake Valley, it’s out of control. At its worst in Salt Lake City, one can not only see the pollutants in the air, but can taste it on their tongues, as well. It’s a thoroughly disgusting experience that is not recommended.
Personally, I am all for acknowledging the responsibility we all share to protect our environment and thereby our own health and livelihood. The burn restrictions which are already in place should be heeded by those who choose to burn solid fuel. We could all do well to try, at every opportunity, to carpool or maybe use an alternate means of transportation. Admittedly, these things are probably not enough. But taking away an individual’s rights completely, from my standpoint, is absolutely out of the question.
Here I am ranting about this without offering a solution. I don’t pretend to know what that solution is but I believe there are bigger fish to fry on that stove and our government definitely knows it.
I don’t have an iron in the fire—I don’t have a wood-burning stove, but I know a guy who does. Shouldn’t he expect to have the freedom to supplement his household heat or even just enjoy the ambience of a crackling fire on a cold winter day?
Again, I hope I’m right in thinking that this whole act is just for show, maybe something to appease the Environmental Protection Agency (no, I’m not wearing my tinfoil hat). “Yeah, we polled our state, the people don’t like it at all.” But if I’m wrong, and this ban—which has not even passed a committee of the house or senate—is approved, what’s next?
In the words of President George H.W. Bush as immortalized in the cult classic film, “The Big Lebowski,” “This aggression will not stand, man.”
Rose sentence a ‘slap on the wrist’ but was judge swayed to leniancy?
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 12/10/14
To date, the Jeremy Rose story has been my most difficult assignment since I started writing for the News Journal just over 18 months ago. A local police officer stalking and preying on a teenage girl, creating fake email personas, pretending he was a pornography producer, enticing, grooming and manipulating the girl into sending him explicit photos of herself over a two-year period, and then threatening to expose her in an effort to get her to continue when she decided to stop.
Evidence shows Rose hacked her phone and planted cameras in her bedroom. Court records indicate he tried to hide or destroy evidence; he even blamed his own wife, the teen girl herself, or the teen girl’s young boyfriend when all the pieces to the puzzle starting coming together for an investigator.
The story became even more difficult when Second District Judge Scott Hadley sentenced Rose, who was facing a possible 30 years in prison, to just 270 days in the Weber County Jail with work and treatment release, and three years of probation.
Everyone that I spoke to about the sentence—everyone—was either livid, disgusted, or confused, left scratching their heads at the seemingly inexplicable light sentence.
A bailiff at the Second District Court in Ogden shook his head, saying, “this is the sort of thing that gives all of us in law enforcement a bad name.” The Weber County Deputy wasn’t only speaking of Rose’s crimes, but of the sentence as well.
“You get more time than that for bouncing a check,” a Christmas shopper in Brigham City told me.
People all over Box Elder County were outraged, but especially those in Tremonton, where Rose worked as a trusted and respected police officer, someone who made and sold Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-themed art prints of temples and inspirational quotes. He was “one of us.” The authority figure, the crime fighter, a pillar of the community. While an officer, Rose himself had been instrumental in helping put sexual predators in prison, often serving lengthy sentences, for the same types of crimes he himself committed.
The punishment—considered by many to be a “slap on the wrist”—issued by the court raises the question of whether or not there is a different set of rules for police officers than for the rest of us. It left many questioning whether our justice system is broken.
I wish I had something reassuring to tell them. I’ve pondered those same questions myself from time to time, especially lately. But while I can’t reassure, perhaps I can offer at least a partial explanation, or my own reasoned guess at a partial explanation.
After the sentence was handed down I tried to get statements from the judge as to why he had been so lenient, as well as reaction from both the prosecution and the defense. Judge Hadley’s office told me that he couldn’t comment on an ongoing case, as there were still things that may need to be sorted out, and there remained the possibility of appeals (Unlikely, I thought, as people generally don’t appeal when they win the lottery).
Missy Larsen from the State Attorney General’s office, the prosecutors in the case, called me and said they wouldn’t be making a statement, at least not on the record. And Camille Neider, Rose’s defense attorney, simply didn’t return my calls. So without any official explanations, or even informed opinions, I’m left to infer from the proceeding itself what happened.
Some facts of this case, some things that were said or testified to we’ve purposefully chosen not to report in an effort to protect the victim, who was a minor child when this was all happening to her. At the sentencing hearing an attorney representing the victim was also allowed to speak, although I didn’t include that in the story for the above mentioned reason. But I think I can say this: the victim’s attorney shared with the court that her client was a remarkable young woman, “possibly the most selfless person I’ve ever known,” she said. When the victim heard that prison time would preclude Rose from work release, causing a financial hardship to his family, she told her attorney that she’d be OK with Rose not going to prison, as long as he stayed away from her and received the treatment he needs.
I’m just guessing here, but I think perhaps that’s what swayed the judge toward leniency. And though that thought does little to reassure me about the criminal justice system in general, for me at least, it does wonders for my opinion of humanity.
Concerning Perry City government and the idea of a professional mayor by Esther Montgomery 12/03/14
Recently there have been several articles in area papers regarding Perry Mayor, Karen Cronin, and a proposed ordinance that, if passed, would offer monetary compensation for the newly defined position of “Professional Mayor.”
It is an unprecedented idea for Perry, and therefore controversial, but a certain amount of misinformation has been circulating among residents about the ordinance.
Before I get into that, however, there is one point I’d like to address first, which has to do with the separation of powers. The ideas that Mayor Cronin is seeking more power, or that she will embody more power than any one person should be allowed, or that the checks and balances will be ineffective if she maintains her full elected authority, are incorrect.
The mayor has been exercising her fully-appointed authority ever since she took office. There is no more power to be had. Compensation does not increase authority. Also, those who believe that a city administrator is essential in city government need to know that city employees have nothing to do with keeping powers separate. The necessary checks and balances are embedded within the two distinct branches of government represented by the governing body. The legislators have authority to make policy, and the mayor, as chief executive officer, is legally obligated to enact them. The mayor may make recommendations for the council to consider, but the mayor can’t even vote, except in certain circumstances. The checks and balances are intact.
It is my hope in writing this article that, with some information on the true nature of our form of government and the origin of this particular ordinance, the public be better equipped to form their own fact-based opinions on these subjects.
Utah law allows for numerous forms of municipal government. Perry City has a six member council form of government, where all six members serve as elected legislators, but the mayor is the chief executive officer. State code defines all the duties and powers of both branches of the government but, essentially, all of the executive and administrative powers, authority, and duties pertaining to the city are vested in the mayor.
If a mayor is not able to officiate all of those duties, that mayor, with the consent of the city council, may delegate some of the executive and administrative authority to a city administrator. Once appointed, the administrator receives a professional salary, which —in theory— is worth the expense, but ultimately represents a significant cost to the tax payers. Our previous administrator, calculating his wage and benefits together, cost the city approximately $116,000 a year.
That is the situation Perry residents are used to, but it is not a required position.
On Jan. 6, 2014, Karen Cronin was sworn to perform those executive and administrative duties for the city. She has officiated admirably on a full-time basis, averaging well over 30 hours per week. She has represented Perry’s interests through many complex projects, including, but not limited to, UTOPIA and serving as a negotiator concerning the Macquarie proposal, economic development at Point Perry involving the Army Corps of Engineers, and serving on several state and county committees, including the Wasatch Front Regional Council Board, which is comprised exclusively of elected officials, and has given our city a voice in forums where Perry has not been represented before. Many of such committees are not open to city administrators.
Her careful attention to detail has increased efficiency city-wide and resulted in savings amounting to thousands of dollars a month. Furthermore, she’s done it all without a city administrator, which has saved the city another small fortune. All of these savings will eventually be given back to the citizens in the form of infrastructure—roads, parks, trails, etc.—but here comes the punch line: for everything she has done, Karen Cronin, as the Mayor, has received $300 a month.
But what is this we’ve been reading about in the newspapers? “Perry residents fear consolidation of power”? There’s a “tyrant” in the Perry City Mayor’s office? How did that come about?
In September, after nine months of full-time service, the concept of a Professional Mayor came to the table when the mayor requested that the city council consider compensation. Mayor Cronin suggested a method that would hold the mayor accountable to the citizens and at a rate significantly lower than would be deemed acceptable by any professional standard (an hourly wage, after 20 hours worked per week and capped at $20,000 per year), but that would offer token recognition for the work being done. The mayor asked the members to base their decision on three points. 1) Is there value added? 2) Is there budget to support it? and 3) Is it something we should do?
As an individual on the city council, I took her request very seriously. This is something Perry has never seen before, which I knew could possibly provoke opposition, but I do see value in the contributions the mayor is making. I do not see any reason to discourage any elected official from performing the duties he/she is elected to do, and I agree that Mayor Cronin should be compensated, within reason.
An amendment to the current city ordinance has been drafted addressing many points the opposition has expressed. It defines a professional mayor as a mayor who averages 30-40 hours worked per week. It describes the method and amount of compensation ($23,660), and touches on the precedent that may be set for future mayors. The ordinance assumes an incoming mayor will not serve as a professional mayor, and if a new mayor desires to serve as a professional mayor, he/she must declare their intent to work as such and fulfill the duties and responsibilities for a period of six months before the city council may consider the appointment and accompanying compensation.
The amount of $23,660 was proposed because it is the minimum wage required to qualify for an executive exempt salary, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is slightly more than Mayor Cronin first proposed, but an executive exempt wage effectively caps the salary, does not require benefits to be paid, and will allow the mayor to do what needs to be done, without having to clock in. Another reason for the low proposed wage is to safeguard the sanctity of the position of mayor. I feel elected officials should run for office with the desire to serve the community, not for the want of a pay check. The wage proposed, based on the hours required to qualify for the compensation, would not be an attractive prospect for those who didn’t have the city’s best interests at heart.
That is the essence of the proposed ordinance. It does also propose an increase to the mayor’s and city council members’ base wages, as they have not been updated since 2008. Although that hasn’t stirred much public outcry, it is something the citizens should be aware of. The amended ordinance was tabled at our November council meeting—so it is still on the table—and I don’t know when it will be on the agenda again, but when it is, hopefully, the public will know what it’s all about.
Interestingly, only a few days after articles appeared that questioned whether or not Mayor Cronin had “tyrant” intentions, North Ogden’s mayor, Brent Taylor, was given hero status for stepping forward to fulfill the administrative duties of that city after their city administrator position was vacated. Mayor Taylor will receive a salary of $70,000 to be their “full-time mayor.”
It’s something to think about.
uneventful Election Day approaches...but what’s new? On the Level by Mike Nelson 10/29/14An October which has been less than exciting for local politics is winding to an end with Election Day right around the corner. I find myself, for the first time in my adult life, questioning whether or not I even want to cast a ballot and whether or not it would make any difference if I did. This is in stark contrast to my position prior to the primary election in June, when I registered Republican for all of three minutes in order to vote.
If I were a betting man—which it just so happens I am—I would place odds on how the local ballot will turn out on Tuesday. And you know what? I’d probably be pretty close, if not right on the money. (Speaking of money, it occurs to me that if you follow the money, you, too, can predict the turn out.)
The county elections are sewed up with every race being unopposed, save the third district seat for the school board. The state senate and house races are fairly predictable and even though Democrat Donna McAleer is running a tight race in other areas of the district, incumbent Republican Rob Bishop will likely be sent back to continue his career in Washington.
“Vote for me, I’ve got a plan to make real change,” they say. “Vote for me, I have your best interest in mind.”
It takes a special kind of person to put themselves out there in the political arena, and any one of them who says there is no amount of self-interest are either lying to you or to themselves.
However, I applaud those not of a major political party who stuck their necks out to play the game this go round. Without a significant state or national campaign fund to draw from, and living with the realization that they likely didn’t stand a chance, they believed strongly enough in democracy and their own values and ideas that they decided to throw their hats in the ring.
I consider it unfortunate that those candidates stand no chance. Utah’s traditionally abysmal voter turnout is due to the fact that in all but a few districts and counties, the outcome is known well in advance of November. Hell, not only could I likely predict the outcome of Tuesday’s election, but I could likely predict the party that will possess any given elected office in the state five years down the road. All one needs do is look at the number of straight party tickets cast in any given year in Utah.
That attitude likely carries the day in our state, where many forego the hassle of voting because, ultimately, the die is already cast; they either let others vote for them by proxy, or they know their second- or third-party vote will carry little weight in this, the most Republican of states.
In my time writing for the News Journal, voter turnout has dwindled more and more with every election. Sadly, it seems some folks truly are more comfortable eating the scraps off the table of major party politicians than eating nothing at all.
Well not this guy. I’ll cast my ballot and not in some lazy straight party fashion. I’ll vote for the candidate and not the party. But make no mistake, the odds still favor the house.
Sheriff answers calls for ‘demilitarization’ of law enforcement
Guest Editorial by Sheriff J. Lynn Yeates- 09/03/14
In light of recent tragic events in Utah and elsewhere across the country, a debate has been engaged regarding the militarization of law enforcement, and questioning the need for local police forces to obtain such items as grenade launchers, armored trucks and military rifles. I want to make sure, and feel that it’s only fair, that Box Elder taxpayers hear both sides of the story.
The Department of Defense Excess Property Program, or 1033 Program, allows law enforcement to purchase surplus military equipment for a small handling fee, usually 1-2 percent of the cost of the item. So rather than purchase a new AR-15 rifle from a vendor for $1,200, we receive a used military M-16 for the cost of shipping. I think most taxpayers see the wisdom in using this system. We have used the system to purchase backpacks and portable shelters for our Search and Rescue. We also purchased rifles, a gas canister launcher—such items have been identified as “grenade launchers”—and an armored vehicle. The Box Elder County Sheriff’s Department is indeed in possession of such items, and I would like to discuss why they were purchased.
I make no apologies for my department carrying rifles. The tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999 changed law enforcement tactics and procedures nationwide. When innocent lives are being taken by an active shooter, there is no time for a SWAT response. Patrol officers are now trained to stop the shooting and a rifle, that can be easily carried with lots of ammunition, and no bolt or lever to work between shots, is the best tool for that job.
Most departments are using the semiautomatic AR-15 or something similar. This is a commercial semiautomatic rifle available to the public. The M-16 is the military’s version of the AR-15 and the ones we use on patrol have been converted to semiautomatic. Before using the military surplus program, we purchased our AR-15s from a public vendor. Those are excellent rifles but they are very expensive and so we supplemented them with M-16s from the 1033 Program.
If the surplus program goes away, we are back to buying commercial rifles. If we buy the commercial AR-15 rifles from a local store and pay full price, is that be considered a military rifle?
BESO does not have grenades or a grenade launcher, we have gas canisters. Only the SWAT team is certified in the use of gas canisters, which are used mainly to get a suspect out of a barricaded position when negotiations have failed.
The launcher is useful in that it allows police to shoot the canister into the house from farther away and while behind cover so that no one has to unnecessarily expose themselves to the suspect. This is a common piece of equipment in all SWAT teams and is commercially available, so is it better to get it nearly for free from military surplus, or pay full price commercially?
These are for the SWAT team and are used to provide cover from rifle fire. A police bullet resistant vest is not meant to stop rifle rounds and neither will a police car.
An armored vehicle allows police to approach and maneuver to a suspect armed with a rifle. Armored vehicles are often called “tanks” but they have no weapons mounted on them. They simply drive the SWAT team to the desired location and are used for cover if necessary. A commercial model would easily cost more than $100,000.
In regards to police adopting a “military look and style” in terms of uniforms and gear, I believe it is detrimental to public relations to wear that style of uniform for day to day police work, but I am not aware of any department that does so.
I trust the public understands that some of the surplus military items are for the SWAT team who will be handling worst case scenarios and would never be used on patrol. I wouldn’t be doing my job as Sheriff if I didn’t recognize and prepare for those occasions. If this nearly free military equipment helps SWAT officers do their job a little more safely, it is a “win” for everyone.
I hope taxpayers see the wisdom in getting items that we would purchase in any case, for almost nothing.
Hope and change
Ever since I was little, all I’ve ever really wanted to be was a reporter. Yes, I flirted with the idea of being a fighter pilot, and for a brief time I thought about becoming a rock star, but journalism was the only constant. I saw reporters as “warriors for truth,” brave, hat-wearing, notepad-holding heroes standing up to the bad guys and shining a disinfecting light onto their nefarious activities… Yeah, that was cool.
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips- 07/01/14
Things didn’t quite work out the way I had envisioned, though. Although I wrote for my high school paper and studied journalism in college, I eventually went into the telecommunications field, building a career at TCI, Primestar and DirecTV. I probably installed satellite equipment for many of you, and if I didn’t, odds are good I either trained those that did, or trained those that trained them. But satellite TV was never my passion, it just kind of happened that way.
In June of last year, after discussions with my wife and several Facebook friends, I answered an ad I saw in the News Journal looking for a reporter. In decades past I probably wouldn’t have considered working for this paper, as it was more about telling vacation stories and documenting ward parties and visiting relatives than it was hard news. Over the last couple of years, though, I noticed something happening with the News Journal that intrigued me. It was actually reporting news, printing stories that weren’t dictated by City Hall or powerful institutions. When I heard a few local politicians complaining about coverage, I realized that the News Journal had gone from being a mild-mannered weekly newsletter to being an actual newspaper, unafraid to print the whole story. That was something I could get excited about. Now, a year later, I still feel that way.
Even as the News Journal has changed, being a reporter has changed me just as much. I used to suspect that most politicians were self-serving borderline sociopaths with a bad case of narcissism, out to make contacts and side deals that would benefit them personally both during and after their time in office. While I still remain skeptical of politicians and their motives in general, I’ve realized that many, I’d even say most, of our local politicians have shown themselves to be good people who are trying to serve their communities as best they can.
Watching the Willard Mayor and City Council struggle with finding ways to fund their sewer deficit without hurting their citizens was an eye-opener for me, as was sitting down with former Rep. Ronda Menlove, and hearing her speak from her heart about people she had tried to help during her time with the legislature. Seeing Brigham City and Box Elder County officials handle accusations of oath-breaking and fiscal mismanagement with smiles and grace raised my level of respect for these public servants. When you make decisions, you are absolutely going to anger those who disagree with you, and you’ll find that some will disagree with you no matter what position you take.
I’ve gone from being pessimistic about local government to giving our hometown politicians the benefit of the doubt. I don’t always agree with their priorities or decisions; as a matter of fact, sometimes I’m left scratching my head in disbelief, but I’m thankful that they are willing to serve. In my reporting I try to keep my personal opinions and editorializing out in order to present an accurate story, which is something I will continue to do. I’ll also continue to be skeptical, unafraid to bring you the whole story.
The free press is the constitutionally protected watchdog of government and industry, and I’m happy to be able to report that this newspaper takes that responsibility seriously.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
Primary duty: Voting for the candidate, not the party
On the Level by Mike Nelson - 07/01/14
If you were among the 4,102 Box Elder County residents who turned out to vote in the Republican primary election last week, your vote helped to all but decide the very close race between candidates for county commission seat A as well as the hotly contested run for county sheriff.
There was no Democratic Party primary election, and it isn’t a rare phenomenon in Box Elder County by any means, but with so much at stake for the roughly 50,000 citizens of Box Elder County (of which nearly half are registered as Republican or unaffiliated), why such a low turn-out in such a decisive race?
My reply is simple and to the point: voter apathy.
“We’re in Republican-dominated Box Elder County in the equally right-leaning State of Utah,” I have heard so many young voters say. “What difference does it make if I vote or not?”
My answer to that is equally simple and to the point: it makes a lot of difference in our county when you are, for all intents and purposes, voting for the candidate and not the party.
Earlier this year, during the legislative session, in an installment of On the Level titled “Caucuses vs. Primaries,” I lamented over the fact that independent voters have no voice during the caucuses. At this time, the Count My Vote initiative was in full swing and hadn’t yet reached a compromise in the legislature.
For one politically active individual, the answer to my conundrum was simple: “Just register as a Republican if you want to become involved in the process.”
But with my “think for yourself” mentality, which does not necessarily subscribe to either political ideology and considers each issue and candidate on their own merits, I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
That is, until the second week in June after early voting opened in the county clerk’s office.
I consulted myself briefly and determined that I could probably stand to pawn my soul to the Republican Party (or any party for that matter) for the time it would take to cast my ballot for commissioner and sheriff. It was hard to ignore the importance of this election and the impact it might have in the county.
With that, I walked over to the old county courthouse to strike a deal. The poll workers didn’t know me from Adam but Marla Young, Box Elder County Clerk, knew I was up to something devious.
“Just doing my civic duty,” I told her as I filled out my affiliation documents, asking Deputy Clerk Diane Fuhriman to ready my registration papers so I might quickly unaffiliate once I had completed my task.
My plan worked flawlessly, even though I realize I stand the chance of receiving letters that amount to little more than panhandling-by-mail from a Republican candidate seeking funds to make a go at a state or federal office.
Moments later, with my soul back in my possession, I swaggered out of the office with one of those “I Voted” stickers on my shirt, just to let everyone know that even a guy like me can figure it out and play the game.
I would submit that the hoops I had to jump through in order to cast my vote, however unnecessary and laughable, were well worth it so that I might exercise my right as an American to vote. As broken as the two party system is in this country, I hope this rant can help illustrate how meaningless partisan politics can be at the local level.
UTOPIA: Getting past ideological hang-ups and moving forward
On the Level by Mike Nelson - 05/28/14
I was never a fan of the management of UTOPIA and, I daresay, was vehemently opposed to the proposed deal by Australian investment firm, Macquarie Capital, to come to Utah—and the three UTOPIA member cities in our county in particular—to save the day.
The firm’s proposal to invest $300 million to complete the build-out of the network and connect an estimated 160,000 structures in the 11 member cities is founded upon a required utility fee for all residents and property owners—regardless of their age, need, or ability to pay—to carry the cost in addition to whatever debt each city has already incurred.
In my mind, there is something fundamentally wrong with making someone, anyone, pay for something they do not want or will not use. This has been an ideological hang-up that has been difficult to overcome. However, last week, at the second of two meetings put together by Brigham City regarding the proposal, my perspective changed quite a bit, even if my ideological principles have not.
I was going to write a column after the first meeting two weeks ago. It was going to start something like, “Brigham City’s Financial Director Jason Roberts must have been sweating bullets as he took the Box Elder Middle School stage for what he likely expected to be a bloodbath.” But I decided I’d wait until after the second meeting, which was to be geared more toward getting questions answered from the proverbial horse’s mouth, and see where it went from there.
As a reporter, I have been frustrated with UTOPIA, cringing every time I heard the acronym—even though I know that Brigham City, the city in the best shape of all member cities, is more than 93 percent built-out. Sometimes begrudgingly, I have shouldered the task of covering the story and have followed it as it has developed to where we are today, with Macquarie looking to swoop in as a savior for UTOPIA member cities and to rid them of the ill-managed UTOPIA enterprise, even planning to offer a clever name change to ease the pain.
Listening to Roberts’ first presentation in March, followed by discussions and conversations that ensued, I found it increasingly difficult to get past my own ideological hang-up of forcing every resident and business into paying the utility fee to fund the project. I was—and remain—convinced that an opt-out clause, for limited and well-defined circumstances, should be part of any plan moving forward.
At the second meeting I learned that a utility fee for every resident was not absolute. Under the proposal, Macquarie would require the city to pay a lump sum based on an established fee per resident. The city could theoretically provide relief through an opt-out program, even though the city would still be responsible to pay the fee for those residents who opted out. That effectively leaves the possibility and details of any opt-out clause in the hands of city officials, and would not kill the deal.
There, I’m past the ideological hang-up; problem solved, right? Not so fast.
While I’m not convinced that the Macquarie option is the only viable one, it seems to be the only deal presently on the table that makes any sense at all. I’m not completely sold on the idea of the Australian firm coming in as the savior of UTOPIA, but that has more to do with my general distaste for large, global corporations, and nothing at all to do with the fact that they’re not an American company.
A good question was raised by several citizens during the first meeting: Why not present this for a citizen vote? Unfortunately, the time for that has long passed. Such a vote should have taken place in 2008 before the project went to bid. Furthermore, such questions lead to arguments and discussions about how we got to this point, which has no bearing on the current problem of how we move forward.
Now the burden of the decision rests on the shoulders of presently elected municipal leaders—in Perry, Brigham City and Tremonton—who will have to decide whether or not to commit the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to participate in Macquarie’s second milestone.
I, for one, do not envy their task.
Caucuses vs. Primaries
On the Level by Mike Nelson - 02/26/14
I am not a Republican. There, I said it. But guess what, I’m not a Democrat either. See, I like to think of my political views as an amalgam of ideas and philosophies that transcend party lines. What’s more, I’d like to think there are more people out there like me. Scary thought, I know.
Think for yourself. Address each issue individually. Give each item careful consideration before making a determination. Don’t just accept a party’s stance on the issue as definite.
These are all great ideals for any voter or politician to consider when selecting a candidate or deciding on legislation. Unfortunately, it seems, the label of one political party or another almost tattoos a list of prescribed doctrine onto the backs of each elected leader.
Obviously, as a state-stamped unaffiliated voter (I prefer the tag “independent”), my voice is limited to nil in the state when it comes to nominating candidates. By refusing to add political affiliation to my collection of tattoos, I relegate myself to waiting until the parties—the Republican Party in particular—have decided who I’ll be allowed to vote for.
The Count My Vote initiative—backed by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt with nods from the likes of Mitt Romney—is a petition-driven effort to let the people decide by taking the question to the November ballot. With Sen. Curtis Bramble’s SB 54 potentially threatening the constitutional right of the people to redress the government through petition, Gov. Gary Herbert has said he would veto the bill should it pass. And rightfully so.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with or even like the petition. The citizen-driven process has begun and the heavy hand of the government should not stand in the way of the people. It is my position that the question should be asked of the voters and not skated around by politicians before the people’s voice can even be heard.
Bramble’s bill, as circumventing as it may be, would provide at least some measurable compromise but it would come at the cost of the people’s right to redress through petitioning the government. If the bill did in fact allow for unaffiliated voters such as myself to participate in the electoral process I would be happy, but still I question whether legislators need to become involved in such an endeavor.
Everyone should be able to actively participate regardless of their political affiliation. But it is tough to ignore the Utah GOP’s stance which is to maintain total control and power in the state at every level they are able. Aside from the current caucus-convention system issue, by taking a look at the redistricting two years ago, it is obvious to see what the party’s motivations are.
The way I see it, there are certainly issues with the caucus system as it stands and there would also be considerable issues with a direct primary. The caucus is highly exclusionary of voters, such as myself, who do not pledge in blood absolute fealty to partisan politics. But what’s more, it is also exclusionary of even those die-hard partisan voters who are unable to participate in a caucus because they are out of town for whatever reason. On the flip-side, a direct primary could levy a significantly higher financial burden on candidates who would run for office limiting that number to a stereotypical lot of rich, old white men.
Neither system is perfect by any means. The question I ask is, how do we effectively reform and how do we make the process better? A good start might be for the caucuses themselves to open the candidate selection process up to all voters. No? I didn’t think so.
How terrible it would be to hear from people with a little bit different point of view. It must be nice to be able to elect someone whose political views exactly mirror their own. I’ve never had that luxury and have had to make serious compromises when selecting a candidate. Compromise, then, is the only way to truly address that whole “lesser of two evils” thing.
Change of pace in BC council chambers
On the level by Mike Nelson - 01/22/14
The last two years—and especially the past 15 months or so—it has been difficult to cover Brigham City council meetings. There has been an atmosphere of tense negativity and the feeling that an all-out brawl was just one misspoken word away.
But I left last Thursday’s meeting with a profoundly positive feeling as surprisingly good vibes emanated from the council chambers.
The first meeting of the new council saw a somewhat nervous but very upbeat Mayor Tyler Vincent at the helm with a couple of new council members joining him and the veteran council members at the table. There was an excitement among the citizens in the crowd assembled and city employees were noticeably...happy.
Maybe it had to do with a fresh start. But perhaps it was something else entirely.
There was one familiar face conspicuously absent from the table: the city’s former mayor, who some say ruled by fear, and with a level of micromanagement never before seen from the seat of the city’s highest office.
Employees and other city officials have not confirmed—on the record—that Fife controlled nearly every aspect of the internal goings-on of the city over the last four years; It would really serve no purpose. But certainly, those sources know the extent to which the man was willing to go to accomplish his goals.
In addition, the former mayor’s admission of an affair and criminal assault charges lent to the climate of the chambers.
However, despite any faults or character flaws—be they real or perceived—the former mayor’s tenacity did leave the city in relatively good condition following a very difficult financial downturn as the gavel was passed to his successor. The city is sound and moving forward and residents continue to enjoy all the services provided by the city.
From my perspective as a journalist, under the former mayor’s reign it was difficult to obtain full disclosure on almost any topic—no matter how innocuous—from not only the mayor’s office, but from city departments. Fife continued a disturbing trend over the last several years where Brigham City moved toward less transparency, and any comments or information meant for public consumption had to be approved through the proper channels. That stranglehold began to loosen last year when the former mayor was stripped of his administrative powers. More recently, the relationship between the city and media outlets has seen marked improvements.
Looking ahead, Mayor Vincent has assured a level of transparency from both the city and his office that has not been enjoyed in the past, and an early analysis of Vincent’s administration seems to indicate that will be the case. And it’s vitally important; without that transparency, and with only PR-positive information being released, citizens remain uninformed as to what is really going on in their city.
The purpose of any newspaper is not only to be that “community newsletter,” covering the lives of its citizens, but its most important charge is to keep a watchful eye on government. It is important to note that a watchful eye is different than a suspicious one. The former is the natural and expected role of the media in our country, the latter is the result of a lack of transparency, be it real or perceived.
When I first set foot in the Brigham City council chambers to cover a meeting two years ago, I did so with no expectation and without preconceived notions of what I might find. After this last meeting, I feel like that same journalist again and truly hope this is a fresh start for Brigham City.