New DUI law: More than just bad policy, it forces cultural divide wider
Writer's Block • Nelson Phillips• March 22, 2017
There is no wider chasm in Utah than the great cultural divide separating members of The Church of Jesus Christ from those not of the LDS faith. And there is no greater example of this great divide than Utah’s peculiar—some would say hostile—alcohol laws.
And it seems that every year, our representatives in the legislature try to make that chasm even wider.
Both Mormons and non-Mormons in our state agree that inebriated people should not be driving on Utah roads. Both want safety and reasonable security for our people. But that’s where the common ground ends. Where one group sees a normal, and normalized, part of adulthood, the other sees, for lack of a better word, sin.
And that’s the rub; people who aren’t experienced with adult beverages, and who are taught from birth that imbibing, and those who imbibe, are, well, let’s say misguided, are making laws based on their own prejudices of something they know very little about. People from the other side then resent being infantilized, controlled and, yes, judged for what feels like the crime of not being LDS, and they begin to lash out. Resentments on both sides build, and the cycle keeps turning, more and more, like a spring being wound tighter and tighter.
As a non-LDS person who was raised in this culture, I understand both sides. This column is my attempt to help both sides understand each other, something which I’m sure I’ll get in trouble for attempting. But hey, YOLO (you only live once).
If there were three things I could make my LDS friends understand on this issue, they would be that (1) consuming alcohol isn’t inherently sinful; (2) it can be done responsibly; and (3) having a little alcohol in your system doesn’t cause you to lose all control, judgment and/or motor skills.
If there were three things I could make my non-LDS friends understand, it’s that (1) LDS people really believe they are helping; (2) they really do care about their and your safety; and (3) mostly, they really just don’t understand you.
Which brings me back to the original intent of this article, my thoughts on the new Utah DUI limit.
For years and years, responsible drinkers (which are the vast majority, by the way) have kept track of how much they’ve consumed on social occasions, and know when enough is enough. A legal alcohol blood level of .08 allowed for both being responsible and enjoying the in their opinion good things in life, so to speak. It was a good system, especially considering that people between .05 and .08 BAC (Blood Alcohol Content), which this new law directly targets, aren’t the people causing trouble on Utah roads.
According to figures from the Utah Department of Public Safety, the average BAC of someone arrested for drunk driving in Utah is .15—nearly twice the old limit—and three times the new limit. Of the 10,755 people arrested for DUI in 2016, only 3.1 percent had a BAC below the old legal limit of .08.
Yes, that’s right, Utah law already allowed for arresting those special few, the 3.1 percent, that are below .08 percent BAC, if they show impairment. The legal limit of .08, now .05, is known as “per se intoxicated,” which means there’s no other evidence necessary to prove a driver’s impairment.
So, shouldn’t we, as a state, be going after those that are actually impaired, rather than simply blowing some arbitrarily small number on a roadside test? If police and prosecutors can already charge someone who is impaired at any limit, why the need for the new law?
Utah is criminalizing responsible behavior. The state, and by proxy the LDS church, is squashing an important aspect of many people’s social lives.
At .05 BAC, a wife meeting her husband for dinner can be arrested and jailed for driving after just a single glass of wine. That’s just nuts, and would be funny if the consequences weren’t so serious. If the woman is impaired—she should know herself and her limits—and went overboard anyway, haul her to jail. But if she’s not impaired, and was pulled over for a broken tail light, or some other minor infraction, an overzealous police officer can ruin her life. Ruin. It.
And that’s just not right. Before anyone might say that would never happen, please Google Lisa Steed.
So what the new law does is simply strike fear into the hearts of those who drink responsibly. Instead of going out, people will stay in. Instead of socializing with loved ones and enjoying life, people will isolate themselves and stay home. The drunks, however, will still be on the road.
I heard Senator Norm Thurston, the sponsor of the bill, say that “people don’t come to Utah to drink.” He’s right, they don’t come to Utah for the purpose of drinking. But people do come to Utah on vacation, and many of those people drink on vacation. For many people it’s a normal thing to do.
And they’ll choose to vacation elsewhere if coming on vacation means leaving on probation. A recent internet meme depicts a “Thank you” note from Colorado to Utah, since the law will almost assuredly lead to a decline in tourism dollars as people choose to visit our neighbor to the east.
That’s why the ski industry, hotel industry, restaurant industry, and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving are asking Governor Herbert to veto this awful, divisive legislation.
No disrespect was intended, but plenty
was assumed over fatal accident photo
From the desk of the editor • Sean Hales • March 1, 2017
It took me until Monday, at noon, to fully wrap my head around the events of Thursday, Feb. 23.
The day started with news of a fatal accident on I-15 that took the life of Austin Taylor, a well-known and much-liked former volunteer for the Brigham City Fire Department. He was a husband and father of two, who had a goal of becoming a law enforcement officer, a career that, by all accounts, fit perfectly with his history of service to community.
Accompanying the story on our Facebook page was a photo of the accident scene supplied to us by the Utah Highway Patrol. Publishing such a photo is a widespread practice among news outlets. The Tremonton Leader, Logan Herald Journal, Ogden Standard Examiner and Fox 13, among others, all disseminated the photo on websites, in their newspapers or on a news broadcast.
But when the photo hit our Facebook page, it triggered a firestorm. We are accustomed to receiving requests not to publish a certain item. But the volume of telephone calls and Facebook comments—some reasonable and polite and others less so—effectively shut down our office. Reporter Nelson Phillips received a voice mail with a veiled threat that we had better pull down the photo or “you’ll have something coming at ya.”
While this was going on, I was in Salt Lake City covering the Box Elder High School girls’ basketball team at the state tournament. Since I was wrapped up in something else and not there to evaluate or deal the situation, I decided to pull the photo.
Beyond what was said on Facebook or on the phone, I can’t pretend to know the motivations for wanting that photo removed. I do understand how grief can make otherwise reasonable people act irrationally and how fiercely people will protect those they love during times of hardship. On that account, I hold no ill will against the callers and those who commented on Facebook.
But here are some things I do know: Our hearts drop when we hear the word “echo” over the police scanner, a word that indicates someone has died; we have all shed tears while writing stories about people who are suffering through disease, illness or the loss of a loved one; we deliberate long and thoughtfully when faced with a difficult decision; and we constantly strive to learn from our mistakes and do our jobs better.
But publishing the photo was neither a difficult decision nor a mistake, and had I been in the office at the time, it never would have been pulled down.
Despite what people might want to believe, reporting on tragic events, truthfully, isn’t a matter of being insensitive, disrespectful or lacking compassion.
As a newspaper, our job is to serve the public—all of it—by providing information that will improve public safety and contribute to the welfare of the community. Of course, we must balance that with the personal interests of the people directly impacted by the news, but newspapers always will—and should—give precedence to serving the greater public good.
Some questioned what good could come from publishing such a photo. To them, the photo only caused distress for loved ones. But in fact, publication of an accident photo benefits the public significantly. Why does the Utah Highway Patrol take and release photos of serious accidents? Why are students in driver education classes are shown graphic images and films of accidents? The answer is that such images make a searing impression.
If such an image inspires even one person to drive a little more slowly, or be a little more aware, and if by so doing saves even one life, publication of the photo is justified.
I do understand that as the “hometown” newspaper, we have a special obligation to cover things sensitively. So we have adopted a new policy reflecting that obligation. In the case of any accident, we will continue to publish photos of accident scenes on our Facebook page. In today’s fast-paced information age, there is no way to be timely and sensitive at the same time. Also, no one has to look at our Facebook feed. By logging on to a site a viewer is familiar with, the person essentially consents to view whatever appears there.
Viewing our newspaper can be a little less voluntary. A person may encounter it by chance while out in the community. So we will not publish accident scenes on the front page. Rather, we will illustrate such stories with portrait shots or family photos. We will, however, continue to publish photos of accident scenes accompanying any portion of the story that jumps to an inside page, space permitting.
As we learned last week, a photo is worth a thousand words, and if a photo is more effective than words to remind even one person to slow down, drive more carefully, buckle up and avoid distractions, and thereby, perhaps, save a life, we’ve done our job as community journalists by publishing it.
And although I didn’t know Austin personally, based on the accounts I’ve heard since Thursday, as a former firefighter and an aspiring law enforcement officer—a man who consistently put others’ welfare ahead of his own—I like to think that he would support that viewpoint.
Ending public comment was wrong decision
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips • February 22, 2017
In a decision made outside of the public eye last week, the Box Elder County Commission announced on Wednesday that it had eliminated the open public comment period from the current and future agendas of public meetings. The decision was made by agreement between the commissioners, was not debated in the open, nor was any opportunity given to the public to weigh in on the issue prior to the decision.
The only input into the decision, as far as I know, was from Johnnie Miller, the loss prevention specialist from the county’s insurer (who has been pushing the issue for years), and a legal review by County Attorney Steve Hadfield.
The commissioners had every legal right to do what they did. There is no requirement in state statute or county code that requires an open public comment period, and it’s the commission that gets to decide who and what is placed on that agenda.
Publicly, the commissioners stated that there were legal concerns about allowing un-noticed speech that may attack people or businesses, who in turn may sue for libel. And even though every legal expert we have spoken to have all said that’s not really a concern, I can understand the fear of liability in the sue-happy modern era. The commission also expressed that they felt the public comment period was redundant, with the ability available to get on the agenda or speak to a commissioner privately. But in my opinion, liability and redundancy weren’t the sole deciding factors.
A big part of me understands the main reason why I believe they made the decision, and so does everyone else who regularly attends commission meetings. In my opinion our commissioners were just sick and tired of being constantly bullied, brow-beaten and personally attacked by a very small, albeit extremely vocal minority—one person in particular—who abuse the open comment period, using it as their personal public platform to berate others who don’t agree with their 1970s survivalist brand of conspiracy-laden doomsday conservatism.
I would imagine that being constantly, and publicly, told you are “breaking your oaths,” acting treasonous toward your country and even dishonoring your religion could get real old real fast, especially when you are legally constrained from responding during the meeting. The previous system was a bully’s paradise, where those inclined could attack their targets mercilessly without any consequences.
By eliminating the comment period itself, all the stressors outlined above have been removed, and in fact last Wednesday’s meeting was one of the most peaceful in recent memory. But also eliminated were opportunities to publicly state for the record any problems that the ordinary, fully-sane citizens of the county might be experiencing, while being noticed by the media in attendance at those meetings. Also eliminated were opportunities to participate in the current process, by giving timely thoughts on items that were brought up during that meeting. Items being considered by commissioners could use timely input before final decisions are made, and someone in attendance at a meeting just might have a point that’s worth considering.
In my post-decision interview with commission chairman Jeff Hadfield last week, part of the justification he used for the decision was that people who wanted to be involved in the process were being chased away by the distasteful rhetoric used by certain public commenters—one in particular. However, if people can now attend a peaceful meeting, but aren’t allowed to speak, what really is the point of attending in the first place? How are they involved in the process? There’s a big difference between being an active participant and a mere spectator.
Sure, citizens could download a form from the county website and apply to be put on the next agenda, but by then two or more weeks will have gone by, and being approved for the agenda isn’t guaranteed. Now I don’t believe that any of the current commissioners would deny someone the right to appear on the agenda because of differences of opinion or any personal issues. I have every belief that they would also entertain private communications on matters important to constituents. But these guys won’t hold those seats forever. Who’s to say we won’t elect a jerk to office someday? That situation is not without precedent.
I was raised with the principle that the best answer to speech I don’t like isn’t found in taking away opportunities for others to speak, but found in my ability and willingness to use my own voice to counter it.
Well, I’m using it. I personally find some of the “free speech” used during public comment to be uncouth, unhinged, grossly disrespectful and otherwise appalling. But ultimately they’re just words, being spoken by people who ruin their own credibility with boorish behavior.
Even though I understand the motivations, I firmly believe that eliminating public comment is the wrong decision. Commissioners should instead encourage other people to participate in the process, and counter the ravings that have become a dark part of these meetings. Chairman Hadfield has a gavel, and should use it when commenters stray from civil discourse, or wander into areas outside the county commission’s purview. If the commenter won’t comply, the sheriff or chief deputy is usually in attendance and would be fully capable of handling the situation.
Taking away the public’s opportunity to speak is never the right answer.
Choosing accuracy, responsibility and compassion over ‘being first’
From the Desk of the Editor • December 7, 2016
At a recent editorial staff meeting there was some lamenting—although, not really lamenting, as we soon shall see—that we were “scooped” on Friday, Nov. 18, the night Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Ellsworth was struck by a car. Several outlets got the story and posted it to their websites and social media long before we did.
The discussion that took place at that staff meeting is just one more example of the rather philosophical questions facing media in this new, digital world, with advances in technology that has not only changed how information is gathered and reported, but even altered the expectations of consumers of when to expect news.
Traditionally, news outlets have been in a race to get news first; to “scoop” others with a story. With the advent of the internet, and more recently, significant improvements to mobile connectivity, gone are the days of a 24-hour news cycle. News is as soon as it happens, and so the tendency of media outlets to be first has grown exponentially.
However, there are significant questions about accuracy and responsibility in this new, high-speed world, and while those issues can be considered separately, they are also linked.
Remember the nearly constant coverage following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 on outlets like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others? In efforts to be the first with new information, it seemed outlets were reduced to reporting on innuendo and rumors that were often inaccurate. It seemed, as the manhunt for the suspects continued, these outlets spent as much time broadcasting corrections to previous reports as they spent reporting new—and likely erroneous—developments.
It’s not so bad, necessarily, that errors were made; even with a sharp focus on accuracy, it’s nearly impossible to be 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time. But rather, the mistakes seemed to be almost willful in an effort to have new information first. Worse of all, how many people didn’t hear the corrections, and were spreading misinformation among family, friends and co-workers in conversations or on social media?
At the Box Elder News Journal, we have prioritized accuracy. We’d rather be late to the game with as much correct information as can be had, than distributing false information. That sometimes comes with a cost that might seem terminal in this world of “now, now, now,” but as we explore the foundational values of news, we always come to the conclusion that accuracy should be the primary consideration nearly every time, and that our most important job is to be accurate, with timeliness coming in a very close second.
But the reason the News Journal was later than other outlets in publishing the story about Trooper Ellsworth wasn’t so much about accuracy—the salient facts were clear early on—but rather about responsibility and compassion. For several hours after the incident, Ellsworth’s name was not released to the media. It’s a common practice with a legitimate purpose to not release names in such cases until next of kin have been notified.
Normally, we would report on such an incident before the names had been released. There are numerous reasons to do so, and it is an unquestioned prerogative of media.
In this case, however, the victim was a law enforcement officer, who, in the line of duty protecting drivers, was critically injured. In this case, the victim worked in a profession that any time they leave their house for work, their loved ones might not be sure if they’ll be coming home at the end of their shift.
It was compassion for those people that prompted us to wait until the name of the trooper had been released. We decided it was irresponsible—but not unethical—to potentially cause panic and worry among UHP families with a report that an unnamed Utah Highway Patrol officer had been critically injured after being struck by a car in Box Elder County.
So, sure. We were “scooped” on the story. That is something that always grates on journalists; however in this case, we were okay with it because at least we had something we could hang our hat on—so to speak—and that is the fact that we were not only accurate, but responsible and compassionate.
And we’ll take that over being first any time.
G.O. bond is a good investment, but residents deserve to see return
Our Perspective • October 19, 2016
It is with few reservations that we support Brigham City’s proposed general obligation bond that would fund a new combination senior center and recreation facility, create a new, better space for both of the cities museums, and complete softball fields at the city’s sports complex.
Largely, our support of the bond stems from the potential wide-spread economic impact that could accompany the fields at the sports complex. The city has already fielded numerous inquiries from groups hoping to host tournaments at the complex, not to mention the increased tournaments and tournament sizes the city could host. Like St. George has made a name for itself as the softball/baseball/soccer winter sports capital of Utah, Brigham City could be similar during those months when St. George weather is too inhospitable for such activities. Estimates established using national and statewide data put the potential economic impact at about $6 million per year.
Given Box Elder county’s economic woes over the last 15 years or so, we feel it would serve the community well to diversify our economic base, and believe it would be a worthwhile investment.
However, investment is the key word. As with any investment, the investors have every right to expect some sort of return on that investment, which is where we find ourselves feeling reserved about the proposal.
Since the end of the Great Recession, many taxing entities in the area have either raised taxes, or are looking at it, and many cities have, or are looking at, increases for some fees for services. At this point, those on fixed incomes or low-income families who might happen to own homes, would certainly feel an additional $20 a month in property taxes, especially when considering the rapidly increasing disparity between the cost of goods and services, and wages, which have largely remained stagnant for nearly 20 years, with a few recent, modest gains.
It is our feeling that if the community chooses to invest in this project, everyone should share directly in the benefit, not just those business owners who might stand to see increased profits. As soon as possible, we would hope that the city would parlay increased tax revenue resulting from the new facilities, into a reduced financial burden of its citizens.
The possibility exists to decrease residents’ property taxes in response to an improved economy, but the key is going to be measuring how much, if any, economic impact is realized from the completion of the sports complex. We would urge the city council to take the necessary steps to track and measure that.
If the city can’t, or is unwilling, to return some of that benefit back to the residents, it would certainly sap some of our enthusiasm; there needs to come a point where being a resident of Brigham City means more than simply being a reliable revenue stream for capital improvement projects or public employees’ salaries.
We recognize that the city has been responsible so far in its development of the sports complex, with little or no cost to taxpayers. That is laudable and appreciated, however, that does little to ease what has become an ever-growing burden of government costs.
As for the senior center /recreation complex, support for it, or opposition to it, can be distilled down largely into an argument of “wants” vs. “needs.”
It is easy to see how some might see the project as a “want,” especially for those who might not participate in the city’s senior or recreation programs. Certainly, the city currently has an adequate space to host it’s senior programs—with the exception of indoor pickleball courts, for which there is increasing demand—and between all the city’s parks and the school district’s gyms, the recreation department has been able to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate.
However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that what might be a want now, could become a need before the proposed bond would expire. As of the 2010 census, 2,957 residents (17 percent of total population) were age 60 or older. In that same data, there were 3,016 residents age 40-55, or 22 percent of the total population. While the senior center might be adequate for the current population, there are legitimate questions as to whether it could support a 5 percent increase.
The scenario is the same for recreation programing, where space is already limited and any unexpected population increase could force the city to start turning people away.
There is also the question as to whether the city should be beholden to another entity in order to run its recreation programming. Approximately 10,000 residents (more than half of the city’s nearly 18,000 population) participate in the city’s recreation programs annually. It is our feeling that the time has come for the city to be accountable for the programs it offers, and that, ultimately means that residents need to pony up for facilities they use.
Reflecting on 9/11
Missing the united U.S.A.
Writers Block by Nelson Phillips 09/14/16I was 34 then, an operations director for a satellite TV company, with a young wife and three small children living at home in Perry. It was early, sometime after 6 a.m. on a bright and sunny September morning. I remember it being a little chilly—but not cold—as I drove south on I-15, heading to Salt Lake City to meet with management, office staff and technicians. Somewhere near Ogden I got the call.
“Are you listening to the radio?” asked my wife. “A plane crashed into a skyscraper in New York.”
As was my habit, I had actually been listening to a mix CD in my truck (some Journey jumbled in with some AC/DC, Kiss and Garth Brooks), and hadn’t heard the news. We both thought the crash was odd, and spoke for a little while about it. I continued my drive, hoping that the damage and loss of life wouldn’t be great. A few minutes later my wife called me back, telling me a second plane had hit the other skyscraper of the World Trade Center. This wasn’t an accident. Someone was attacking the United States. I can still clearly remember the fear in her voice as we spoke.
When I got to the office, everyone was crowded around the television. People were nervous, unsure of what was happening, and fearful of what would happen next. We all sat there, 30 or so of us, transfixed at the images of the burning towers, feeling horrified and helpless at the spectre of people jumping to their deaths to avoid being burned alive. When the third plane hit the Pentagon, I made the decision to send everyone home. At that point no one knew how big the attack was going to be or where it would end, and I wanted my employees to be with their families. I wanted to be with my family too.
In the days and weeks that followed that horrible day, however, something miraculous happened. I watched as a wounded nation pulled together. At least for a time, gone were the petty partisan attacks over elections and politics. George Bush was hugging Nancy Pelosi on national television. Chinese workers were sewing night and day to make American flags, and nearly every home had one. Broncos and Raiders fans were getting along, as were hippies and bikers, even gang-bangers and police, or so it seemed. And the New York police and fire departments were rightly respected as heroes.
For the first time that I could remember in my life, being American mattered more than any hyphen or subset, color or creed. What united us far outweighed anything that divided us. At least for a time.
Now, 15 years later, on most levels that’s all gone. Civil discourse between the national parties, and often within the parties, is now more the exception than the rule. Even in Box Elder County, where I’ve been proud of how the majority of our people somehow find a way to come together, officials are still continually criticized by an overly vocal minority as having “broken their oaths,” or even of “siding with evil” in city council and county commission meetings.
It makes me sad. People that disagree with us on politics, religion, the problem “du jour” or its solution are not automatically bad or wicked, nor are they always wrong. It’s a tragedy that it takes a traumatic event to make some realize that, and more tragic still that some never will.
I miss the days following 9/11, when what you believed was still important, but not as important as family, friends, neighbors, community and country. I miss the civility, when how you said something was as equally important as you had to say.
And I miss having national leaders who could demonstrate those values in public life.
Perry land dispute: Both sides share responsibility for current situation
Our Perspective 08/03/16
Amid accusations of intimidation, and counter accusations of vandalism and intransigence, the City of Perry is yet again embroiled in a controversy, this time over a half-acre piece of land that someone else thought was theirs for over 30 years.
This is the history of the issue: In 1985, due to rising water and ice levels, Perry City needed to upgrade the 3100 South access road running from the frontage west of I-15 to the city’s then sewer ponds on the west side of town. Needing more property for the road in order to properly grade it, the leaders of the city went to property owner Norman (Norm) Nelson, who, together with the Young family, had donated the original land for the road back in the 70s, when the sewer ponds were first constructed.
According to the Nelson family, in 1985 an agreement was reached where the city would give him a half-acre triangular piece of land on his property’s southwest corner in exchange for an additional 1.5 acres of land needed along 3100 South. The city provided a property description of the land to be traded, along with plat map to Nelson showing the new configuration, and he thought it was a done deal.
And for the next 30 years, it was a done deal. Nelson fenced in his property, his cattle grazed there, his children played there.
Unfortunately, it was later discovered that the land traded to Nelson was part of a land patent grant from the state of Utah to Perry City for its sewer ponds. Regardless of whether it was willful disregard or ignorance, the city could never legally transfer the land to a private citizen.
There is some dispute regarding how the city came to investigate the property’s ownership.
In 2012, after the sewer ponds had moved to Willard, Perry City needed to show public use of the land or the state of Utah would reclaim ownership, since the original land for the ponds had been received through a land patent grant from the state. The city chose to open the Three Mile Creek Shooting Sports Complex on the property. By 2015 the gun range was up and running and hosting events.
The Nelsons claim that the city was only interested in the property so they could offer camping at the range. Perry City has already been offering overnight camping on the disputed parcel during an NRA sponsored black powder shooting event slated for September.
“Dry camping is available east of the parking lot,” the brochure for the September event reads on Perry City’s website.
Regardless, Perry officials discovered that the land transfer of the half acre from Perry City to Norm Nelson had never been recorded. The 1 1/2 acre land transfer from Norm Nelson to the city had been recorded, though. Curiously, Perry City only had internal records of the land they received, not the land they gave.
The city approached the Nelson family to try to work out a solution, as the city stood to lose the entire 80-acre patent grant if the land was not returned to public use. The Nelsons, feeling the city was reneging on a deal 30 years after the fact, said, “Fine, give us back our land and you can have yours.”
While the emotions that drove the Nelsons’ reaction is understandable, the response was unreasonable.
However, the city continued to approach the Nelsons to work out a resolution, asking for a legitimate proposal from them to settle the situation. Despite the repeated attempts to get an offer from the Nelsons, which, according to the city, date back at least to early spring, the Nelsons failed to engage the city in good faith negotiations.
The Nelsons claim they didn’t understand the urgency with which the city was moving, and considered it bullying, until they found out that the city was already advertising camping on the property they still considered theirs. Soon after learning about that, someone from the Nelson family took a tractor and built up a “dirt bike” track near the southeast corner of the parcel. The city considered the act vandalism.
According to the Nelsons, they had been actively discussing an offer to make to the city, but they needed more time since as Len Nelson, Norm’s other son, was away, and they wanted him to be party to any agreement. It was at this time they received a registered letter from Perry City Attorney Craig Hall giving them 72 hours to accept or counter an offer of $1,900 to drop any claim to the property, return the land to its original condition, and accept any future financial responsibility for any possible wetland designations of the property, which could cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Nelsons say they were prepared to make a counter offer at the following week’s city council meeting. The city attorney knew this, but instead of waiting a few more days the city filed a $400,000 lawsuit against Norm and Willie Nelson on July 13, asking for $300,000 in actual damages, and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages, which is where it stands now. According to City Attorney Hall, the $300,000 is to protect the city from remediation costs in case the Army Corp of Engineers declares the corner a wetland, the Nelsons being culpable because they altered the topography of the land.
In our opinion, the city’s escalation to a lawsuit seeking damages that could potentially bankrupt an upstanding member of the community is just as unreasonable as the Nelson family’s initial combative reaction to the situation—a situation that is just as much beyond the control of the city as it is the Nelsons.
We believe the city was operating in good faith up to the lawsuit, as they asked repeatedly for an offer to resolve the problem. The fact that the city already had planned use for the land is not sinister, since the property legally belong to the city, and maximizing any use of it which would benefit the city is not a breach of faith. However, it has been 30 years, and the land isn’t going anywhere, perhaps one more season without a city-owned camping area next to the gun range isn’t such a terrible sacrifice.
Perry City needs to recognize its own culpability. We speak of “the city” here to mean the government without consideration of administration. While it might be tempting for a current mayor to disregard the actions of a former mayor, agreements need to be honored. It was the city that made the 1985 offer, accepted Nelson’s land, and acted like everything was fine for 30 years. Whether by choice or forced from its own error, it was the city that ultimately reneged on a deal. The Nelson family has just cause to be angry about that.
Now that the truth of the land deal being invalid is known, Perry City has no choice but to reclaim that land and return it to public use. However, it is unreasonable to shift any burden for possible future wetland remediation costs onto the Nelson family. The responsibility for any wetland remediation belongs to the landowner, which has always been Perry City. It is our contention that the city needs to be accountable for its mistakes, and without the mistake made in 1985—whether it was willful or ignorant—the city would not be in the situation its in.
The bottom line is that Perry City has a responsibility to live up to the obligations it made to the Nelson family 31 years ago, and to make them whole, even if that means giving them a little more time without the threat of a lawsuit.
And the Nelson family needs to let the city do that.
Robbery of iconic ice dispensary is symptom of a larger problem
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 07/20/16
For many people in the Brigham City area, the last stop before a summer camping trip, picnic or day at Willard Bay was at a vintage machine on West Forest Street to fill up a cooler with ice.
Bob’s Ice, with its no-nonsense name and less than retail price, has been a local icon for years. If you don’t mind grabbing a few extra quarters at the grocery store, you can save nearly a dollar a bag.
But Bob’s Ice was recently the target of thieves and vandals, and the venerable old machine is, at least temporarily, out of commission.
“Bob’s Ice will be closed for the foreseeable future. If you have any information contact the Brigham City Police Department,” wrote the owner on a social media page.
The crime happened sometime during the night of July 9 and 10, when thieves broke the light over the door, then pried the door off and got inside. I haven’t been able to make contact with the owner to get specific details, but I’m sure the damage is very expensive, and parts for a vintage machine like that can’t be easy to find.
More than that, though, is the unnerving sense that Brigham City is changing, with a growing criminal element challenging the small-town security that most of us have clung to, rightly or wrongly.
In a story regarding crime in Brigham City earlier this year, Assistant Chief of Police Dennis Vincent said, “We’re no longer living in an environment where you can leave your cars unlocked, or your houses unlocked.”
As painful as it might be to admit, Vincent had a point. He wasn’t saying that Brigham City is unsafe, and compared to the rest of the country we’re all actually quite safe. But it’s time to face the fact that Mayberry was a fictional town set in the 1960s, and we don’t live there.
Brigham City, and Tremonton too, for that matter, have a drug problem which has turned into a crime problem. Addicts become thieves who break into cars, or storage sheds, or homes, or stores, or ice machines, so that they can scrape enough money or valuables together to trade for their next high. Often they turn to dealing drugs themselves to feed their habit, recruiting more addicts in the process, and the cycle replicates exponentially. In almost every single story I’ve covered for the News Journal that involves lives unraveling, petty crimes, and even major crimes, the common thread that binds nearly all of them together is addiction.
We’ve been fighting the “War on Drugs” for nearly 40 years now, but I don’t think we’re winning it. The people in Mexico living with cartel violence certainly don’t think we’re winning. For every dealer our police take off the street, like the mythical Hydra, two more seem to take their place. Maybe it’s time we tried something different, like focusing on the problem from a healthcare perspective rather than a criminal one. Maybe if we made it easier for people to get help without the fear of being jailed, more people would seek help.
I was heartened to see Bob’s Ice open last Saturday morning, the owners having trucked in a temporary machine to the location, if only for a few hours. They’re not giving up and accepting things the way they are. Neither should we.
Sports complex: We know cost, but what are the benefits?
Guest Perspective by Brigham City Parks & Recreation Commission 06/29/16
There has been much discussion about the cost of completing Brigham City’s sports complex, but little talk of the potential benefits that could impact all residents, both directly and indirectly.
The 65-acre complex will include two 4-plex tournament-style softball complexes, three additional combination softball/baseball fields and two multi-use fields that can host soccer, football or lacrosse. There will also be concession stands, three family pavilions, extensive walking trails, playground facilities and more than 900 parking stalls.
Softball is an incredibly popular sports tourism vehicle, and it is estimated that upon completion of the complex, the city could eventually host as many as 20 tournaments from March-October. The facility could host a complete spectrum of tournaments from men’s and women’s slow pitch and youth fast pitch to college fast pitch. That does not include other potential tournaments for baseball, soccer, football and lacrosse.
When considering the economic impact that this type of park can generate we must keep in mind that these players and their guests stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, fill up at our convenience stores and frequent a broad range of retail stores while staying in Brigham City.
Softball teams—each with 12-15 players—also bring along a significant number of additional guests with them. Youth events average four additional visitors per player. These visitors have plenty of time during their stay to shift from spectators to consumers. Adult tournaments average one additional guest per player. Tournaments could host up to 60 teams per two-day event.
Simple math shows that a youth tournament hosting 60 teams would bring 3,840 visitors to Brigham City (14 players + 2 coaches x 4 guests per player x 60 teams)
A study done of an ASA tournament in 2000 by Brian McCall estimated that all those visitors will infuse a local economy with $13,000 per youth team over the course of a two-day tournament, while teams in adult tournaments spend $5,000 per team. The estimated economic impact for a two-day tournament weekend is $780,000. It is estimated that leisure expenditures account for $1 of every $8 spent by American consumers.
Using just the tournaments Brigham City currently hosts, but estimating an increase in the number of teams that can play due to the addition of the new fields, the city could see an annual economic impact of more than $6 million. That represents a significant expansion of the city’s tax base that can be used to enhance or expand infrastructure, facilities, programs and services to the community.
And there is no reason to believe that people will stop traveling to play softball at any level, be it youth, collegiate or adult. According to the World Tourism and Travel Council, travel and tourism is a high-growth industry forecasted to double in size over the next decade. Along with telecommunications and information technology, travel and tourism is posed to be one of the three key components of the service-led economy in the 21st century.
But it’s not just about tournaments that bring visitors and their money. Brigham City’s recreation programs are already busting at the seams of available space, while youth sports programs regularly have to have waiting lists or add teams to accommodate those who want to participate.
The 4-plexes at the complex will be primarily used Mondays-Thursdays, from May-September for local league play. Brigham City’s local softball leagues are currently filled to capacity at the Pioneer Park facility. Then on weekends, the focus will shift to tournament action.
Having the ability to expand local recreation programming will also have broad impacts as a study done by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress indicated that “A city’s quality of life is more important than purely business related factors when it comes to attracting new businesses, particularly in the rapidly growing service industries.”
By completing the complex, Brigham City is paving the way for significant tourism money to come into the community, for business attraction and retention, for increased tax revenues, and increased property values.
All of which is a benefit to local citizens.
The value of farmers’ markets: human interaction and local impact
Guest Perspective by David Walker 06/22/16
Are we missing something when everything we consume is ordered online or purchased from the largest retailer at the cheapest price? Are we short-changed when the very act of paying for our goods is a machine interaction? We just might be.
This Saturday, Historic Downtown Brigham City is sponsoring a farmers’ market for the summer growing season and we believe there is great value in what we are doing.
Public markets have been in existence for millennia. They represent the very essence of free enterprise and entrepreneurial activity. Whenever and wherever individuals, families, and clans have had excess to share and with wants they desire to meet, public markets have and do exist.
But public markets have a much greater impact on a small community than the distribution of goods and services. They can, in fact, help build a community, and we believe that is a good thing for Brigham City, particularly as we attempt to revitalize the historic district.
The consumption of locally-sourced and organically-raised produce is one such benefit, but there are others. There is the very real economic development activity of a small cottage industry testing the market for new products, which can ultimately lead to a full-fledged business. There are artists and entertainers that gain exposure to audiences. And there are social service and education opportunities that may reach those in need as in no other way.
Perhaps most important is the opportunity, as human beings, to be human. To interact face to face, to share a freshly prepared meal, to meet budding artists, and to admire the next generation of talent, or to learn the latest about healthcare or healthy living. Indeed, to relax and interact with one another as friends and neighbors.
Please support the Brigham City Farmers Market this summer, conveniently located in the Box Elder County Courthouse parking lot from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. each Saturday through September.
Brigham City Farmers Market: Eat well, live happy, and love life.
National Police Week: In Utah, relationship between law enforcement and public is mutually supportive
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 05/18/16
This week you’ve probably been seeing a lot of blue across your social media accounts, especially if you have friends or family members in law enforcement as I do.
Although these online observances are a relatively new phenomenon, the reason behind them has been going on for 53 years now. Established by a joint resolution of Congress in October of 1962, every May 15 has been set aside as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week that contains it as National Police Week.
“Whereas the police officers of America have worked devotedly and selflessly in behalf of the people of this Nation, regardless of the peril or hazard to themselves; and Whereas these officers have safeguarded the lives and property of their fellow Americans; and Whereas by the enforcement of our laws, these same officers have given our country internal freedom from fear of the violence and civil disorder that is presently affecting other nations; Whereas these men and women by their patriotic service and their dedicated efforts have earned the gratitude of the Republic” reads the resolution.
But with all of the political and social unrest in recent years, after Ferguson and Baltimore, after dozens of YouTube videos showing cops doing and saying bad things, does the American public still agree with the resolution passed in 1962? It would seem the answer to that question depends on where you live.
Box Elder County Sheriff Kevin Potter says that his deputies feel great warmth and support from our local communities.
“There are a lot of places in this country where the relationship of the police and the people they serve is terrible,” said Potter. “We’re lucky in that we don’t have that where we live. People are happy to see us, even if they’re having a bad day, even if arrests are being made they still support us, still stand behind us.”
Potter gave examples of people lining the streets for the funeral of Sheriff Yeates last year, or more recently for the funeral of West Valley City officer Doug Barney, who was killed in the line of duty in January. “There was a NYPD officer at the Barney funeral who said ‘We’ve got you beat, we can put 20,000 cops along the parade when one of ours is slain. But we don’t get the citizens lining the streets like you do in Utah.’ And it really struck me what amazing support we have here in Utah, and especially in Box Elder County,” said Potter. “I want the people to know how much that means to us.”
Potter’s praise also extended beyond the public to the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.
“Our deputies and employees give tremendous service. They’re there in the middle of the night when you call 9-1-1, they’re missing their kid’s birthdays and Christmases, they’re sweating and bleeding and getting hurt” all because they want to serve, he said.
Chief Mike Nelsen of the Brigham City Police Department echoed many of the Sheriff’s sentiments.
“For generations, the brave women and men of law enforcement have answered the call to serve and protect our communities. They often work long shifts in dangerous and unpredictable circumstances, but yet the officers show the courage and honor that represent the best of America. They give up precious time away from their own families so that we can be safe and sleep well at nights,” said Nelsen. “During Police Week, we express our gratitude for these public servants who wear the badge and put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. We also remember those who lost their lives in the line of duty.”
Nelsen went on to thank the people of Brigham City and Box Elder County for the support shown to law enforcement, and asked that the public show their support a little more openly for the next few days.
“If you see an officer this week, tell them you appreciate them. They would put their life on the line for you,” said the Chief.
We live in a world of instant communication, where a bad deed by a law enforcement officer somewhere can spread like wildfire across the country, and it can color our view of the entire profession. As a journalist and as a citizen, I’ve had contacts with many in the profession, a couple of which I’d just as soon forget, but many, many more that were very positive experiences. Law enforcement officers are people, and subject to the same weaknesses and frailties as any of us. They have bad days, they have struggles in their lives, they worry about their children, they worry about money and their future, and sometimes have to worry about their own safety. But they also worry about the public, about you and me, our safety, and our kids and our communities. That’s a noble calling.
When I’m listening to the scanner during a major event, it still amazes me how dedicated these men and women truly are, to the public and to each other. They actually do rush in when others run away, whether it’s an overturned propane tanker near the Brigham City Airport threatening to explode, or a (luckily false) rash of bank robberies in Tremonton.
Although I wouldn’t shy away from a story of police wrongdoing, which is a necessary check on the tremendous amount of trust and power bestowed upon those who wear a badge, I also don’t shy away from giving credit where credit is due.
This week, and most weeks for that matter, my view of the law enforcement profession is colored by what I see, and in Box Elder County that color is true blue.
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
Guest Perspective by David Walker 01/13/16
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.”
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.