Fire department user fees: This is not how it’s supposed to work
Our Perspective • May 16, 2018
There was a time where if a person had a fire, accident or other emergency, they simply called 911 and the appropriate first responders would show up, remedy the situation, and return to their station. The victim of the accident or fire didn’t have to worry about receiving a bill in the mail that their insurance might, or might not cover. Those days are effectively over in Brigham City after the city approved rules last month allowing billing of insurance companies—and in some cases, self-insured businesses and residents directly—for responses to accidents, fires, or other calls for service. While the city has said they will not force residents to pay the charges out-of-pocket, there are plenty of questions that accompany the new policy, and a certain amount of unknowns—including, what is the possible impact on residents’ insurance rates?—all of which paint a picture of residents being caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between the fire department and insurance companies for their hard-earned money. This is not the way to fund emergency services. It lacks transparency and accountability and could amount to the fire department “double dipping,” depending on how you feel about the Free Public Services Doctrine. Prior to 20 years ago, there was rather broad adherence to the Free Public Services Doctrine, a common law doctrine stating that services to remedy public health or safety hazards are already paid for by taxpayer contributions. The second half of the doctrine provides a broad exception to the doctrine if a state has laws authorizing recovery of those costs. The practice of charging these fees is not consistent throughout the nation, with some states generally allowing the service fees, other states allowing only for hazardous material spills, and others outlawing billing non-residents. The idea of billing insurance companies for fire or emergency services is relatively new. According to a story in the Claims Journal, an insurance industry trade publication, fire departments started billing insurance about 20 years ago, but that was limited to major hazardous materials cleanups that required more man hours and equipment than a normal traffic accident or house fire. The U.S. Constitution, which lays out principles that should apply at the local as well as national level, talks about “providing for the common defense” and “protecting the general welfare.” It gives Congress the power to levy taxes to meet those goals. If you apply those ideas to the local level, Brigham City should maintain a fire department and ambulance services to provide for the common defense against fire and to protect the welfare of our residents. And the legislative body, the Brigham City Council, needs to step up and levy the taxes or impose a fee necessary to fulfill these basic government functions. The case that Brigham City residents are being “double-dipped” by the city for fire services gains some credibility when considering the city’s agreement to supply Perry City with fire and ambulance services. Perry City taxpayers fund a $19,000 “standby fee” to Brigham City (that cost will increase to $21,000 next year). In the event of a call for service, the user costs will be passed on to the resident, similar to the costs for which Brigham City will now bill residents’ insurance. Brigham City’s fire and ambulance budget for 2018-2019 is $2,456,802, and as indicated by Brigham City Finance Director Derek Oyler, those who pay taxes and for utilities in Brigham City cover the lion’s share of that amount. We find it offensive to the basic principals of America’s social contract to apply “personal accountability” philosophies to fire and other emergency situations. The idea behind police and fire services is that a community bands together and pools their resources to help each other in situations that are too big, or too much of a threat to public health and safety, for one individual, one family or one business to handle on it’s own. To be fair, Brigham City does have a significant jurisdiction that includes two major roadways—I-15 and 1100 South leading to Logan—and city crews have to respond to accidents on those roads that often involve people who do not live, or pay taxes, in Brigham City. Responding to those calls amounts to providing a service with no compensation. Billing insurance companies in those cases seems completely reasonable in order to recoup costs. We also think courts should have latitude to require restitution for malicious criminal activity. The way we see it is this: the city opted for a back-door, user-fee, approach to generate more funds rather than an unpopular tax increase. The current administration says the city will not go after residents for the costs if insurance won’t pay, but what happens in 10, 15, or 20 years, when the city is faced with the same problem? Will the administration at that time choose to abandon the city’s current position rather than increase taxes? If so, what kind of out-of-pocket costs would residents face? Under Utah law, the city has every right to go after residents for those fees. In cases where residents have challenged the fees, courts across the nation have always found in favor of the government, unless the government did not have proper statutory authority to charge the fees. In our opinion, it’s not a scenario worth testing. One way or another, residents—either individually or communally—will end up footing the bill, but by increasing taxes to fund the fire department, the process remains transparent and equal. The city should be accountable to the people to show why, and how much, is needed for a service that we all benefit from, even if not directly. And, in the future, if the city faces the same situation, the city should have to go to the citizens again and make its case. It’s how our system is supposed to work to fund these types of government services.
We are all different and might disagree, and that’s okay
Writer's Block • Nelson Phillips • April 18, 2018
At the News Journal we generally have a meeting on Thursday morning, where our small staff gets together to plan out what’s going to appear in the following Wednesday’s paper. As far as meetings go, it’s usually pretty interesting and informative. We discuss the issues of the day, what issues we feel need to be addressed, and how we’re going to fairly address them. Believe it or not, in our newsroom fairness actually matters. That doesn’t mean we don’t each have our own opinions on the news of the day, however. Journalists are people, with our own individual experiences, thoughts and feelings that combine to inform our opinions. In the meeting that happens after the Thursday meeting, opinions are often aired, sometimes passionately. As we all have different perspectives and opinions on numerous topics, I find myself agreeing with my coworkers on many things, but disagreeing with them on others. And that’s OK. Even during the heat of battle, I realize that my coworkers are intelligent, good people with good hearts, people who want the best for themselves, their families and friends, our community and our country. I believe they feel the same about me. People of good intellect, character and conscience can disagree on the issues, passionately and even heatedly, while remaining good people and good friends, still worthy of mutual love and respect. Besides, uniformity of thought is boring. When I write a news article, I try to deliver the relevant facts as I perceive them, often including expert testimony on a subject to add context that helps to better frame an issue. I strive very hard to be both accurate and fair in my news reporting, without editorializing. As we’re a small paper with limited resources, from time to time I also get to write an opinion piece. Sometimes that piece comes in the form of an editorial, expressing the combined thoughts of our staff on a given topic. Sometimes it comes in the form of a column, like this one, expressing my own thoughts and feelings. Opinion pieces aren’t meant to be news, even though they can present facts that could be considered newsworthy. Opinion pieces are meant to provoke thought and discussion, making people decide whether they agree or disagree with the writer. When I write an opinion column, I’m looking for a reaction. Tell me why I’m wrong, or tell me why you you think I’m right. Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or write a letter to the editor (email@example.com), and express your own thoughts. I’m a grown-up, and I can take dissenting views. I actually respect people willing to voice them—just ask my wife. What I don’t and cannot respect are when disagreements are aired in an uncivil manner, attacking the messenger instead of the message, or when attempts are made to censor the writer. Those two instances are, in my opinion, un-American.
Utah to seek fair payment for federally-controlled lands
Report from the Legislature • District 29 Representative Lee Perry • March 7, 2018
Members of both parties in the House and Senate are on the same page when it comes to calling on the federal government to honor promises made to Utahns regarding public lands in the state. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 allows the federal government to hold our public lands under federal control in perpetuity, which was a major policy shift at the time. With nearly 70 percent of Utah owned and controlled by the federal government, many communities, especially in rural areas, are deprived of tax revenue to fund schools and other essential government services. Recognizing the substantial burden placed on local governments and communities without the ability to levy property taxes, Congress established the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program as a substitute for that lost revenue. The payments, as defined by “in lieu,” should be of equal value; however, federal PILT payments to Utah are nowhere near the tax revenue the state and local communities would generate from the land. PILT is often referred to as pennies in lieu of taxes. Two months of state property tax on less than 30 percent of our land is the equivalent of about 20 years of PILT payments on 67 percent of our land. This tax break to the federal government is directly felt by Utahns to the tune of billions of dollars each year. It’s time for the federal government to honor its promise. HCR19: Regarding the Impact of Federal Lands on the State Education System, urges Congress to pass legislation requiring “PILT payments to be a fair and steady source of revenue.” Another bill, HB357: Evaluating Tax Revenue Foregone from Federally Controlled Lands, authorizes the Commission on Federalism to determine what property tax revenue would be on lands under federal control. The commission would then coordinate with Utah’s federal delegation to secure the full payment in lieu of taxes. The purpose of this bill is merely to make Utah’s counties, municipalities and school districts whole from lost tax revenue, as the federal government promised to do when it decided in 1976 to retain in perpetuity more than 66 percent of Utah’s lands. Both bills unanimously passed the House and Senate on Feb. 22 and await the governor’s signature.
Opioid warning labels The Legislature is considering HB399: Opioid Abuse Prevention and Treatment Amendments, that would require a warning label and informational pamphlet to be distributed when an opiate is prescribed. According to the bill’s sponsor, his son was prescribed opioids for pain relief after having his wisdom teeth removed. The bottle warned about the potential for the drug to cause upset stomach, but had nothing about the risks of dependence or addiction. The representative had his son take Tylenol instead, but patients may not be aware of how dangerous opioids are, which can lead to tragedy. According to the Utah Department of Health, 80 percent of people who are addicted to heroin nationwide first became hooked on a prescription drug. HB399 would require warning labels on the bottles that say, “Caution: Opioid. Risk of overdose and addiction,” as well as other language approved by the Department of Health. This bill would also require a brochure to be displayed that educates patients on the risk of dependency and addiction, methods of storage and disposal, alternative options for pain management, the benefits of and how to obtain naloxone and resources for the patient or family if they believe the patient has a substance abuse disorder.
Traffic amendments The House Transportation Committee passed HB416: Traffic Flow Amendments, which allows drivers on highways with a speed limit of 55 MPH or less to proceed through a red light if the driver comes to a complete stop and determines no other vehicles are near the intersection, and no pedestrians or bicyclists are attempting to cross the street. Numerous safety concerns have been expressed and we will try to look at those as this bill moves forward.
My bills HB229: Surviving Spouse Insurance Death Benefit Amendments passed the House and Senate. HB311, a retirement amendment bill designed to allow retired law enforcement officers to return to work in rural areas that are facing staffing shortages quicker than the current one-year rule, did not pass the Senate committee since they felt the fiscal impact was too high and agencies should just pay current officers more to retain them. HB373: Waste Management Amendments, is on hold to see if the funding needed for technology will be available. The bill would allow the Waste Management Division of the Department of Environmental Quality to implement technology to promote efficiency and transparency, and make sure every landfill is inspected more regularly. It is great hearing from the people of House District 29 and how I can best represent your needs. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or leeperryutah.com.
Suicide prevention remains a legislative priority in Utah
Report from the Legislature • District 29 Representative Lee Perry • February 28, 2018
Over the past seven years, the Utah Legislature has passed 15 bills addressing suicide and continues to make its prevention a priority. Lawmakers are currently considering several new measures to address the issue further, two of which—HB 41: Mental Health Crisis Line Amendments, and HB 42: Medicaid Waiver for Mental Health Crisis Services—have already passed the House. HB 41 creates a 24/7 state-wide crisis line staffed by specially trained first responders in mental and behavioral health. HB 42 seeks Medicaid waivers for certain mental health crisis resources, including intervention by a mobile crisis outreach team. On Feb. 20, the Suicide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by Rep. Steve Eliason and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, presented their recommendations to address the growing suicide crisis in Utah. These recommendations include improving crisis response, reducing risk factors and enhancing protective measures. A number of effective programs can be used and/or expanded to meet these goals, including mental health first aid training, peer-to-peer programs, public awareness messaging and the gun safety program, “Is Your Safety On,” which has distributed over 40,000 gun locks since 2017. They also noted that a crucial part of suicide prevention is ensuring children feel cared for and loved. While there is no single solution to this complex issue, the task force believes these steps are taking us in the right direction to help raise public awareness and, ultimately, reduce the number of suicides in our state. Those suffering, and who maybe having thought of self-harm can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Post-employment restrictions Utah is an employment-at-will state, where a worker can be fired or choose to leave employment for almost any reason. Under such circumstances, it makes little sense for employers to be permitted to compel their employees, especially those without access to proprietary information, to sign non-compete agreements as a condition of employment and limit their ability to work in the future. Two years ago, Rep. Mike Schultz attempted to ban these post-employment restrictions, and passed a bill that limited their length to one year. This year, he chose to focus on an industry where abuses seem to be most pervasive: the media. In a recent committee meeting, media employers stated that without non-competes, their employees would be considered simply “chattel” and “widgets” and many claimed credit for the talents and personalities of those who work for them. The bill sponsor has received over 75 documented stories of non-compete abuse from media employees who have asked for anonymity for fear of retribution. Some low-wage workers, even when let go from their contracts by the employer, have been held to non-compete clauses and forced to either move or work in a field outside of their training and expertise. This does nothing to create a stronger, more dynamic market and it places a significant, and unfair, burden on the worker. Interestingly, while the print media has covered this legislation, broadcast media has not. We have heard that they have been strongly discouraged from mentioning it in their newscasts. Print media seldom—if ever—uses non-competes, while those in broadcast media use them extensively, from on-camera talent to producers and cameramen. This brings up a serious First Amendment concern in what is meant to be the marketplace of ideas, and is evidence of the importance of not stifling media voices and allowing the free-flow of workers in the field. HB 241, Post-employment Restrictions Amendments, passed the Utah House of Representatives with 62 of 75 votes in favor, and now moves on to the Senate for consideration.
My legislation HB 229: Surviving Spouse Insurance Death Benefit Amendments has passed the House and Senate committee and is waiting to be passed by Senate The bill would equalize health insurance benefits for state officers’ widows and families with city and county law enforcement. HB 311 would allow rural law enforcement agencies to hire retired police officers prior to a year, as is currently the rule. This bill passed the House floor this week and is now in the Senate. HB 373: Waste Management Amendments, passed committee this week and will hopefully be heard on the house floor this week. This bill would require the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Waste Management to implement technology to promote efficiency and transparency and make sure every landfill is inspected more regularly.
Other activity I was honored on Friday by the Utah Firefighters Caucus along with two other legislators with Legislator of the Year Awards. I was chosen along with my Democratic House colleague, Carol Moss, and Senator Daniel Thatcher for our efforts in protecting firefighters on behalf of public safety. Also, on Feb. 16, the House of Representatives honored Utah’s fallen soldiers the entire House body stood and observed a moment of silence to commemorate the soldiers and the sacrifice they and their families have made for our country. With the end of the session quickly approaching we will continue to look at locking up the budget for the next year. Utah’s economy continues to grow. Revised consensus revenue estimates were released on Wednesday, Feb. 21, projecting a total of $508 million in new ongoing general fund and education fund revenues.
Citizens and government would benefit if candidates had to earn the office
Guest Perspective • Box Elder County Democratic Party Leadership • February 21, 2018
With the election filing period approaching, we want to express our right to the democratic process of electing our representatives, and also remind readers that there are many opportunities to serve in this community. There are few exceptions that would exclude an adult resident from running for office, and we would like to take the time to encourage more residents to consider running for elected positions to give voice to our citizens. As residents of Box Elder County, we would love to see a full slate of candidates for every open position on the ballot during the general election this fall. In order to make that happen, intent must be filed with the county clerk between March 9 and 15. Our current county leadership is exclusively made up of members of the Republican party, due in large part to the caucus-style primary system. We believe that unaffiliated, independent and Democratic Party members may feel excluded from the closed primary process espoused by the Republican Party, which requires registered voters to declare membership to that party in order to vote in the primary election. As such, many Republican candidates run unopposed by other parties for positions such as clerk, recorder, auditor or sheriff. There may be multiple would-be candidates within that party, but the outcome of their primary in an unopposed race becomes the person who ultimately lands the position. Meaning that only registered Republicans truly get to weigh in on who fills the seat unless they are opposed by candidates from other parties in the general election. In the spirit of the democratic process, we would like to encourage more options on that ballot. The duties of any of those positions are completely unrelated to party affiliation, but due to current county regulations, party affiliation is required. We feel as though these positions might be better served with a little competition to earn the position. On a national level, the interest in government service has surged to levels unseen in recent history, and we are hoping that election filing this year in Box Elder County reflects that desire to improve our local community. Brainstorming sessions and solutions to issues can often be found by looking outside the status quo and inviting new ideas and new voices. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in finding out more about the opportunities to serve in an elected position, the Box Elder Democrats would like to help. We hope that our priorities for improving the quality of life for all residents and the ability to exercise our freedom of choice will have strong representation in the general election, and the time to start those efforts is now. If these ideals and a desire for change and growth are on your mind, we encourage your participation. We will support you through the process, from filing through campaigning. We feel it’s our responsibility to urge good people to offer themselves as a choice for our new county leadership in 2018. Let’s give the citizens of Box Elder County a choice this November. Let us choose you. We would also like to invite registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters to join us on Tuesday, March 20, at 6 p.m. at the County Fairgrounds in the Museum Building for our 2018 caucus and convention. For more information or to contact us, send an email to BoxElderDemocrats@gmail.com.
State needs to hold opioid makers accountable for deaths in the name of profits
Report from the Legislature • District 29 Representative Lee Perry • January 31, 2018
One of the topics the legislature has been working on is a study of opioids in the wake of a deadly epidemic that has spread throughout the nation. The Utah Legislature is considering a resolution that calls upon the Attorney General to take legal action against prescription opioid manufacturers, based on allegations of deceptive marketing practices used by manufacturers and distributors. On average, 24-25 Utahns die each month from opioid overdoses. Utah ranked fourth in the nation for drug overdose deaths, an average of six per week in 2014. These horrid statistics are more than just numbers; they represent the loss of human lives. Measures are being taken in Utah to help combat the crisis, but we need to work to change the practices of companies that threaten the safety of our residents for their own financial gain. Sixteen states, dozens of local jurisdictions and Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and Weber counties have already filed separate lawsuits against prescription opioid manufacturers to seek damages for the public costs of the opioid crisis. However, joining a multi-state lawsuit with a myriad of other states does not allow us to adequately represent the needs and losses of Utah victims, and won’t necessarily lead to a change in business practices by these companies. A joint resolution of the House and Senate calls upon Utah’s attorney general’s office to file a separate lawsuit against companies whose practices and products have harmed Utahns. The goal is to change prescribing practices and put a stop to the rising rate of overdose deaths, maximize a settlement to help reimburse the state for expenses associated with opioid abuse, and hold accountable those whose actions created this destruction. As for bills I have sponsored, HB13: Peer Counseling for Fire, EMS and Police has passed the both the Senate and the House and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature to become law. The bill will help protect confidential counseling occurring between first responders and trained, certified peers about the horrors they often experience on the job. HB29: Surviving Spouse Insurance Death Benefit Amendments has passed the House and Senate committee and will hopefully pass the senate floor in the next week. The bill would equalize health insurance benefits for the widows and families of state officers with those of local law enforcement. HB311 would allow rural law enforcement agencies to hire retired police officers who feel like they can work in law enforcement for a few years in a more rural setting. It passed committee and is awaiting floor debate in the house. HB373, a bill that would require the waste management division of the department of environmental quality to implement technology to promote efficiencies and transparency. We want people to know that state dollars dedicated to education have grown at historic levels, since 2015. Education clearly is, and has been, a priority for the legislature, so much so that in the past three years, K-12 funding has increased by more than $800 million – nearly 20 percent. In addition, the past two years, education spending accounted for the most significant portion of new money appropriated by the legislature. This year is no exception; we will continue to prioritize education funding and aspire to do it without increasing taxes. Bill HB299 aims to dedicate approximately $700 million to public schools over the next 3-4 years, and do it in a way that directly and positively impacts teacher pay. This legislation would also prioritize funding for improved teacher training, metrics to ensure children meet reading standards by third grade and technology in the classroom. The legislature’s trauma-informed legislative workgroup is working on HB177, which would enable and assist victims of crime. Under the current system, victims are often re-traumatized by their experiences with the criminal justice system, and the goal is to reduce the likelihood of re-victimization, leading to fewer accumulative adverse childhood experiences, less behavioral risk-taking, fewer negative health impacts and a reduction in state spending on healthcare. All that increases the likelihood that victims will engage with the criminal justice system in the future and in turn, enables improved healing and coping skills by connecting victims with available resources. Please feel free to let me know how I can represent your interests during the next 15 days. My email is email@example.com or leeperryutah.com.
Mental health support measures pass house in first week
Report from the Legislature • District 29 Representative Lee Perry • January 31, 2018
Since last session, we have worked hard on a bill to help law enforcement, fire fighters and EMS workers meet with specially trained peers when they are involved in traumatic events to help process the experiences and deal with them. The bill, named Peer Counseling for First Responders, passed the Utah House on Monday with unanimous vote. It will be heard in the Senate and hopefully move to the governor’s desk. On Friday, the House passed HB 41: Mental Health Crisis Line Amendments, which creates a 24/7 state-wide crisis line staffed by trained responders for mental and behavioral health; and HB 42: Medicaid Waiver for Mental Health Crisis Services, which seeks a Medicaid waiver for certain mental health crisis resources, including intervention by a mobile crisis outreach team. Both bills will be a resource to everyone in Utah, but will hopefully have a greater impact in our community. Suicides are on the rise nationwide, and Utah is no exception. The legislature has made addressing suicide a priority, and we continue to strive to make resources available in every community across the state. Over the past seven years, the Legislature has worked on over 15 bills addressing suicide prevention. Among other things, the state has been highly successful with its SafeUT app. This app and other crisis services have enabled over 65,000 individuals in Utah to seek help in times of crisis over the past 18 months. The state also recently assembled a Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force comprised of stakeholders from business, education, local churches and healthcare, led by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Representative Steve Eliason. The task force has been assigned to bring a suicide prevention plan to the Legislature by February of this year. The Legislature will continue to work to ensure that those battling hopelessness don’t have to do it alone.
Committee assignments I continue to serve as the chairman of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee as well as on the Government Operations and Retirement and Independent Entities budget and standing committees. I will also continue to serve on the budget committee for Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality departments. During the Interim we dug deep into various areas of the departments’ budgets and have found some places to save tax payer dollars. I was assigned the Department of Environmental Quality director’s office and waste management, and we have found some ways to cut costs and improve operations, which we are working on this session.
Air Quality Air quality is an important issue in our state, especially along the Wasatch Front. Since 2014, the Utah Legislature has successfully passed almost 40 air quality bills, which is more than the previous 100 years combined. The impact of this work can be seen in the fact that year-over-year, our air is consistently cleaner, even while our population continues to grow. Ninety-five percent of the time our air quality is very good according to Bryce Bird, Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality; however, we are hit hard when natural inversions occur, trapping pollution in the valley. While we have worked diligently to institute policies that will help clean the air, vehicle emissions are by far the leading contributor, at nearly 50 percent. Industry accounts for only 13 percent of the pollutants in our valley, so the bulk of the problem will need to be solved by each of us, as individuals. The best way for us to help combat this problem is for each of us to choose to drive less when our valley is experiencing an inversion. We continue to make more progress on this issue every year and this year will be no exception. Stay connected The House of Representatives offers access to live and previous coverage of proceedings and committee hearings from the legislative website. You can view the current session, search the archive of past sessions, track bills, read proposed legislation and more at le.utah.gov. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay connected to what is happening, get a behind the scenes look and receive daily updates. You can also contact me at house.utah.gov. It is great hearing from the people of House District 29 as to what your concerns and issues are important to you and how I can best represent your needs as your State Representative. The pace picks up from here so please feel free to check the legislatures web site and let us know how we can represent your best interests during the next 38 days.
Crews, community deserve thanks for difficult recovery of missing plane
Guest Perspective • Sheriff Kevin Potter • January 24, 2018
As you may know, plane, N4395R, disappeared from radar on Dec. 29, 2017. The bodies were recovered after an extensive search and dive operations on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. The story of the search and recovery, and the role county employees, county volunteers and cooperating agencies played between those dates is something residents need to know. The search started with the Civil Air Patrol covering air space above 1000 feet and the state helicopter covering below 1,000. In addition, Box Elder Sheriff’s Office (BESO) Search and Rescue was conducting a ground search by foot, ATV or vehicle and State Park boats on the lake looking for debris. This was done for three straight days. Crew members celebrated News Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, several anniversaries and spouses birthdays, during the search. They never complained and put the feelings of the pilots’ family above their own. The missing pilots’ family and the club they flew with, searched every day with us. The pilot associations put over a dozen airplanes in the air every day, doing grid searches or following tips. In addition, the family put together information that lead us to believe the plane was in the lake. Understanding the entire north arm of the Great Salt Lake cannot be grid searched, they were able to pinpoint the most likely area; a family that should be in disarray and barely able to function was instead planning, organizing and searching. Their work paid off as the plane was found in that area. During the water operation, the expertise of the Box Elder Scuba team in side scan sonar and grid searching is the reason the airplane was found. However, the area was too large for BESO only, the Division of Natural Resources’ (DNR) helped out. DNR Lt. Eric Stucki, who had been with us since day one looking for surface debris, was asked to supply boats and operators for the grid search. Boats were pulled out of other state parks marinas, or winter storage, to help. Lt. Stucki made sure we had what we needed, no matter the consequences to DNR. The remoteness of the area—a three-hour round trip drive from Brigham City and 120-mile round trip for boats from the Great Salt Lake Marina—and no services meant everything had to be brought to the site. The harsh conditions of the north arm cannot be exaggerated; the cold and salinity levels in the north arm are hard on boats, motors and people. After only a few hours on the water, the boats have to be pulled and the motors flushed with fresh water. At least four motors went out completely. Divers who go in have to be decontaminated just like when dealing with hazardous materials. We simply could not have operated in the North Arm without the state boats and their expertise of the lake. A special thank you goes to Don’s Auto and Marina in Smithfield. The pontoon boat’s motor went out during the search on Friday, Jan. 5, at 4 p.m. It was badly needed to continue covering the grid the next day. Don’s Marina didn’t even get the boat until closing time but they worked all night to have a new engine installed and ready for the next morning. Also, making a major purchase on short notice is normally against county policy, except in an emergency like this. Sheriff’s secretary Barbara Hereford and County Auditor Tom Kotter jumped through all the hoops to make it happen. Knowing Weber County has a boat in Pineview, I called Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson to ask for help in the search. That one short phone call got me the lieutenant over Weber Search and Rescue, for as long as we needed him, as well as a boat, several deputies, the dive team and a variety of other volunteer help. The Weber team had amazing knowledge and ending up making the recovery dive when the plane was found. They practiced on a similar plane, learning the seatbelt and door latch operations and mastered them blindfolded and upside down. By now, a significant command post was needed to support the operation. Box Elder County Emergency Manager Mark Millett was in charge of organizing the command post and making sure the operation was done under proper incident command protocols. Fire Marshall Corey Barton and assistant Fire Marshal Tiffine wore multiple hats as they provided hot food every day, medical services, and fresh water to flush the boat motors and to decontaminate the divers. County road employee Curtis Packer brought fuel for the boats every day and assisted in keeping a command post trailer running and warm with fresh radios for those coming off the water. BESO detectives worked on the boats every day and are responsible for the body recovery and death investigation. I had multiple comments from the outside agencies that the command post was organized, well run and had the best food of anywhere they had been. On Jan. 13 the hard work of over a dozen agencies and hundreds of hours of searching, paid off when a Weber diver was able to recover the bodies. I had been briefing the families after each day’s operations and you have no idea how good it felt to make the call that we had recovered their loved ones. I thank everyone involved who made this recovery possible. It wouldn’t have happened without everyone doing their part. I especially want to thank those volunteers from both counties search and rescue and scuba teams. They aren’t just volunteering their time; they miss work, or close their business, to help us. With monthly trainings and meetings and buying most of their own equipment, it costs them money to be a volunteer. We are blessed to live in an area filled with these type of volunteers. Those volunteers and great partnerships with the state and Weber County, made this recovery possible.
Despite best efforts, justice sometimes prevails
Writer's Block • Nelson Phillips • September 6, 2017
First District Court Judge Brandon Maynard issued a ruling last week that, at least in one specific case, righted a wrong that’s been long-enshrined in U.S. immigration law. That wrong, which mandates the permanent deportation of legal resident aliens for specific felonies or crimes of “moral turpitude,” doesn’t allow for any discretion whatsoever from federal immigration judges. Circumstances of the cases can’t be taken into account. Family hardships can’t be taken into account. The rehabilitation and redemption of the defendants, many of whom have been here for decades, can’t be taken into account. The law as it stands is black and white, yes or no, leaving no room whatsoever for discretion or mercy. Without mercy, can there truly be any real justice? And if judges can’t use at least some discretion in applying the law, why do we have judges in the first place? Zero tolerance equals zero humanity, zero common sense. The saga of Wiltje (Wilfred) Kroeger, detailed in several stories in the News Journal over the past three months, brought these questions to the forefront in my mind, and in the minds of several others. Kroeger had immigrated to Brigham City from the Netherlands with his parents in the 80s. Arriving here when he was 10-years-old, he grew up in Brigham City, attended local schools, and was well known (and evidently well-liked) by his peers. When Kroeger was in his early 20s, as is the case with too many other young people, he made the mistake of getting involved with drugs. In 1997 during that “dark period” in his life, on two occasions Kroeger gave away a small portion of his personal stash to someone who had asked him for it. Unknown to him at the time, that person had been working with the police, and Kroeger was arrested and charged with two second-degree felony counts of distribution. A plea bargain was struck with prosecutor Jon Bunderson, and on the advice of his court-appointed lawyer, Kroeger pleaded guilty. He did his time in the Box Elder County Jail, being released early for good behavior. He faithfully completed three years of probation, paid his fines, and moved on with his life. He never again used drugs, and was never again in trouble with the law. In the years that followed, Kroeger built a career with ABC Construction, a national company with job sites all over America. He worked his way up from being a laborer to becoming one of only 10 superintendents with that company. He married, and became a father of two girls. He bought a home, went to soccer games, and took family vacations. It was returning home from one of those vacations, a 2015 family outing in Mexico, that started his world unraveling again. Because he was traveling on a Dutch passport, immigration officials at Salt Lake International Airport ran a background check when he re-entered the country. The two distribution convictions turned up, and Kroeger was detained. After several hearings he was eventually ordered to leave the country no later than Aug. 25 by Judge David Anderson, one of the Salt Lake District immigration judges for the U.S. Department of Justice. Anderson had no choice as the convictions were on record, and he had no discretion. Kroeger said he was not aware of the immigration consequences of taking the plea deal twenty years earlier, nor had his lawyer at the time made him aware. As I was covering the story, every single person I spoke with, from County Attorney Steve Hadfield to regular people on the street, thought that Kroeger’s imminent deportation was a travesty. Thousands of people signed a petition, both online and on paper, asking Hadfield to reduce the original charges so that Kroeger could stay. Hadfield said his office couldn’t make the charges go away, because they had happened, but agreed he would help in any way he could without misrepresenting the facts or compromising the integrity of his office. One day before Kroeger was scheduled to leave, First District Court Judge Brandon Maynard granted a motion by Kroeger attorney Adam Crayk to vacate Kroeger’s convictions on the grounds that he had “ineffective counsel” at the original trial. Judge Maynard cited a 2017 Supreme Court precedent for his decision, Lee vs. United States, which held that a defendant must be made aware of any immigration consequences of a guilty plea. True to his word, in court Hadfield did not actively oppose the motion, in my opinion giving Kroeger’s team tacit support to fight something he had earlier called an “injustice.” It should also be noted that, according to Kroeger, Maynard himself researched and found the precedent he relied upon to vacate Kroeger’s conviction. When we released the news that Kroeger would get to stay in Brigham City on the News Journal’s Facebook page, we soon had thousands of hits on the story, just under 29,000 as of this writing, with hundreds of people leaving comments. Not a single one was negative. Justice had prevailed, forgiveness and redemption had ruled the day. Kroeger, his family and friends were elated, as was a sizable chunk of Box Elder County. Although I was personally happy to see a positive resolution to the problem facing this local family, as was everyone else in our newsroom, I couldn’t help but wonder about the other people in similar situations whose stories haven’t turned out so well. Just recently in July, Plain City residents Bill and Suzanne Whitlock, owners of Roylie’s Cafe, were sent back to England over a technical mistake on their visa application. In August West Valley City resident Aufanua Manusina, a husband and father of four children, was deported back to Samoa over a misdemeanor charge from 2007. There are countless other stories of lives being turned upside down, and families being separated, because our immigration laws seem to value cold mechanical technicalities over people. In America, we want good, honest, hardworking people to stay and help make our communities better places. Yes, we believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that laws need to be just, and their application tempered with mercy and compassion for those who deserve it. The land of someone’s birth should make no difference in that, whether it be Utah, Great Britain, Samoa, the Netherlands or Mexico. Immigration judges, and all judges, really, need to be able to use discretion when deciding on cases that can rip apart families. It’s time the Congress of the United States reformed the law, giving them that power.
The only way politicians can truly represent ‘the people’
From the Desk of the Editor • August 9, 2017
The election year is in full swing, with a meet the candidates event last week in Brigham City for a hotly-contested mayoral race, and primary elections just around the corner for many municipalities. To be honest, covering politics is not my favorite thing. I understand its importance to our system of government, and that the people’s power almost completely resides in their ability to cast a ballot and elect someone they think will best represent them and do what’s right for their communities. That brings me to the real point of this: Politicians, for the love of all that’s good and right in this world, please—no, PLEASE!—stop saying that you are running to represent “the people” as though all citizens agree on every one of your platform planks. Because, as any election will show, “the people” is a diverse group that encompasses myriad philosophies, priorities, hopes, and needs. If that wasn’t the case, if “the people” was a single group lock-step in their thinking, elections would always be decided by landslide victories for that candidate who truly represents “the people.” For example, some of “the people” believe that the proper role of government is whatever we, “the people,” decide it should be, while others may believe that the U.S. Constitution strictly prohibits government from involving itself with certain things. Some of “the people” believe that taxes should only be used for very specific public needs, while others believe that—within reason—“the people” can decide to put some of that money to projects or amenities that will benefit the community at large, even if it’s not necessarily every single citizen. There are always going to be competing philosophies, needs and beliefs in a diverse society, and so, rather than saying “the people,” those running for office should let us know which of “the people” they are going to represent. Is it Tea Party extremists for whom obstructionism is the standard operating procedure, or is it liberal progressives who have never seen a community project they didn’t like and think was worth almost any increase in taxes? Is it the poor, or those on fixed incomes, for whom any increase in taxes would create very real and significant issues? Is it business interests and those who would benefit from economic development projects? For my money, I will unfailingly bet on any candidate who understands that “the people” represents a diverse group of competing interests, and that the job of government is to find solutions to issues that best meets everyone’s needs. For those who may have put this particular word in their personal dictionary of “Swears and Other Vulgar Terms,” it’s called “compromise,” and nothing will ever get done without it. The problem with compromise is that no one is ever really happy; that’s the very nature of it. In journalism, there’s a well-known idea that any reporter has done his job right when neither side of a story is happy. It generally indicates objectivity and fairness to both sides, which is usually seen as a personal attack to anyone passionate about their agenda. Similarly, I feel a successful elected official will always feel some measure of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” or being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I also think citizens try to be respectful toward those elected officials who try to represent “the people” by finding solutions in the highly elusive middle ground, regardless of how they may feel about the ultimate outcome. Now, I’m not generally a person to identify a problem without offering some type of solution, so I have a sentence that citizens can practice and file away for use whenever discussing any issue with any elected official:
“I don’t like the way [insert issue, project, etc., here] turned out, but I understand that you did your best to find compromise between the competing needs of a diverse community. Thank you, for that.”
Hopefully, we can begin to realize that despite our differing views, we’re all in this together, and recognize that as long as our elected officials deliberate carefully on issues, seek compromise and make fairness and equal treatment as important as any other consideration, they are doing their best to represent “the people.” And yes, I do mean all of us.
Feeling uninformed? The local newspaper is just what the doctor ordered
Our Perspective • August 9, 2017
Over the past couple of years, as different proposals and projects have created controversy within Brigham City, we’ve become increasingly concerned with the number of times we’ve heard residents complain “I’ve never heard about this,” when the buzz about an issue got loud enough that no one could ignore it. Even at a recent Meet the Candidates event in Brigham City, several hopefuls for elected office expressed similar refrains about the city’s lack of communication, or inability to get in front of an issue. To anyone who might feel that way, all we can say is: Read your local newspaper. As early as July of last year, the News Journal had a front page story on the city’s discussion about a location for the splash pad. Prior to that, the paper published numerous smaller stories, or photos, related to fundraising efforts for the project by the city’s Rotary Club, dating back to at least November of 2015. Another controversial issue was the proposed general obligation bond for a recreation and senior center and to complete the city’s sports complex. Things didn’t really get heated until late summer or early fall on that issue—the time the buzz became too loud to ignore—but the News Journal had published a front page story on the issue in April of 2016, following the first city council meeting where the subject was addressed. Granted, the stories that grace the pages of the News Journal are not as intriguing as those that might be found in larger circulation dailies, or on the web pages of national or international media outlets. We understand that our brand of no-nonsense, just-the-facts, “he said, she said,” style of reporting may not engage those looking for a more nuanced—or biased—brand of journalism. We understand that slogging through a story about approving a bond for an electrical substation, or the county’s annual audit, is about as much fun as sitting through the meeting so we can report on it. But we also understand that it’s important. Inside the walls of a city council chamber or county commission meeting is where the rubber meets the road for local citizens, and we will be there. We report what happens, so you can attend to your own life, yet still be aware of what’s going on in your local governments and communities; to give you the essential information so you can decide for yourself whether or not an issue is important enough to you to get involved. While major news outlets might take a look at Box Elder County when something major happens, such as a sensational fatal accident or political scandal, there’s only one place to get news every week that is strictly focused on where you live: The Box Elder News Journal. We are working every week to improve what we do and how we do it—including recently updating our website for better functionality and one that’s accessible with mobile devices—to make sure residents can get the information they need when it’s best for them. We take pride in our constitutionally-protected duty to keep the public informed about their government, and do so in an unbiased way that considers all sides of a story, and will strive continually to be a consistent, reliable source for the information you need.
Splash pad is example of community involvement that provides world-class quality of life
Our Perspective • June 14, 2017
Soon, the Brigham City Council will decide the fate of an embattled and beleaguered proposal to build a splash pad within the city. Somehow, the issue has become contentious, with some speaking loudly against the frivolous use of taxpayer money for such an amenity, while others continue to debate the location, preferring one city park over another. Those discussions have, for the largest part, remained civil, however, it’s difficult to understand why there is any debate at all beyond the city council deciding whether or not to spend surplus city funds to complete the project. We feel the council’s decision was informally made when in July of last year, councilmembers pushed for a more elaborate facility than the simple concrete slab and fountains that the Brigham City Rotary Club envisioned. The Brigham City Rotary Club began fundraising efforts to build a splash pad a couple of years ago. The plan at the time was that Rotary would provide all the funds necessary for a splash pad, which at that point was basic, and have the city provide the space and cover costs to run utilities and maintain it. However, in the meeting in July 2016, councilmember Tom Peterson was quoted as saying, “We’ve been around to a lot of these splash pads. “I’ve been to Tremonton’s, and we won’t be going back to Tremonton’s.” There was a discussion about what the difference in cost might be between the proposed bare bones version, and something with above-ground water features. At some point the city council decided to look at funding a more elaborate splash pad, and the 2017-2018 budget proposal from Mayor Tyler Vincent includes money for the splash pad to the tune of $156,000. Of that, $70,000 is the contribution from the Rotary Club, leaving the city to cover $86,000 to construct the facility. The $86,000 will be drawn from the city’s general fund overrun, which has to be drawn down in order to comply with state law. Debate has gone on in some circles regarding what is perceived as an addition to the project. The mayor’s budget proposal included an individual line item that would fund construction of bathroom facilities and a bowery at Playground Park, the preferred location for the splash pad based on analysis of all the city’s parks by a task force established to identify the best location for the facility. The park has neither a bathroom or bowery, and the mayor’s budget includes $140,000 to build those. This perceived additional cost to the splash pad project has led to a debate about location, with some people identifying Constitution Park as a better choice since it already has bathroom facilities and a bowery, and could therefore eliminate the need for those items from the project cost. Based on information from the city we don’t believe a discussion about bathrooms or boweries belongs in the same discussion with the splash pad. First of all, city officials say that regardless of whether or not Playground park gets a splash pad, it is open, public park with amenities and needs bathroom facilities (it is the city’s only park without bathrooms). We agree with that and that those facilities should be considered a normal capital project that would be built no matter what, officials say, and should not be associated with the splash pad. The $90,000 for the bathrooms will be funded through the city’s general fund overrun. The bowery at Playground Park was only budgeted due to a promised contribution from an anonymous donor. If the donation doesn’t materialize, neither will the bowery at Playground Park. However, since taxpayer money will fund costs for the splash pad beyond what Rotary Club has raised, we believe that the city should only consider the location that will save the most taxpayer money, and that location is, unequivocally, Playground Park. According to Brigham City Public Works, the city would have to run 90 feet of utilities to the splash pad at Playground Park, versus approximately 450 feet—five times longer—at Constitution Park. In addition to the cost associated with putting the utilities in, is the cost of fixing roads, parking lots, or lawn that will have to be dug up to run the utilities, all of which will cost five times as much at Constitution Park than at Playground Park. We understand the principles and philosophy of those opposed to spending any taxpayer money on projects such as the splash pad, and, generally, we advocate for fiscal responsibility that will save taxpayers every possible dime. However, this city has a legacy of private contributions creating facilities that benefit numerous segments of our population, and generally makes quality of life in Brigham City top-notch. Certainly, without that legacy, this city would not have an extensive system of parks, a skate park, or pickleball courts. The courts are drawing praise from across the nation and hosting numerous tournaments that inject our community with tourism money. We feel it would be an affront to all those projects that started with citizen initiative—and now which benefit Brigham City generally—to not offer the same consideration to the splash pad project and support its construction using the city’s general fund surplus.
Academy Center: Look for solutions to financial losses, not scapegoats
Guest Perspective • David Walker• May 24, 2017
Financial losses reported at the Academy Conference Center in last week’s edition of the Box Elder News Journal were disappointing and will likely generate some public lamentation. We should be concerned, but we should also look carefully for solutions, rather than scapegoats. Convention center profitability studies are numerous, ranging from the Federal Reserve to the travel industry and it’s easy to get lost in statistics. I like a summation by Mary Bujold at Maxfield & Associates who said “weighing all the pros and cons—economically and otherwise—is much more complicated than cities typically undertake, and much of it cannot be easily boiled down to dollar terms.” Miscalculations in renovation costs, the appropriateness of public involvement, moral hazards included in the management contract, and operational deficiencies are all legitimate beefs (and ones we’ve heard about in one form or another); but, miss the point. The Academy Conference Center is unprofitable because it is underutilized. Improving utilization is going to take a community effort, and that begins with each of us. The Academy Conference Center is a beautiful facility, infused with light, tastefully decorated, and versatile. Its history has shaped much of our community’s story. It was worth preserving and it is worthy of using. The next time you leave Brigham City for an evening of entertainment, book a meeting in another facility, plan a conference in another destination, or use the “free space” at your local church, consider how your choice might make a difference in next year’s annual report. Historic Downtown Brigham City commits significant resources to promote this amazing venue. We believe it holds great promise for Main Street and our community. A spectacular example is the annual Academy Center Art Show, held this weekend, where the region’s best fine artists will display their works. Admission is free, so come see what the Academy Conference Center has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
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