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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