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Pleasing results
From the desk of the editor - Sean Hales 04/22/15

I hate Facebook.
Hate. It.
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
Box Elder
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 10/29/14

An 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.
Military rifles
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?
Grenade launcher
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?
Armored vehicles
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
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips- 07/01/14

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.
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.

 

 


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