Quantcast

Winder resigns from Summit Group firm after writing news stories under fake name

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 8:14 p.m. MST

WEST VALLEY CITY — Mayor Mike Winder resigned his position as director of public affairs for The Summit Group on Tuesday, saying he "tarnished the reputation of the agency and its employees" by writing news articles under a fake name.

Winder, who serves as mayor of West Valley City, submitted his resignation to Summit Group founder and CEO Bill Paulos and President Todd Wolfenbarger on Tuesday afternoon. Winder later read the letter to the City Council during a work session at West Valley City Hall.

"I am hoping that my departure will demonstrate that The Summit Group is an agency that always strives for the highest ethical practices and open and forthright relationships with the media," Winder wrote in the letter.

The mayor also apologized for his actions to the City Council and city employees during the work session.

"I appreciate that people are disappointed," Winder said Tuesday night. "I'm disappointed in myself. I apologize. I had pure motives to begin with, but it was an effort that wasn't a good one.

"I feel bad and apologize to all the residents of our city and others who were betrayed by this," he said.

Winder said it was his decision to resign from The Summit Group, and that he wasn't forced out.

"That's an agency that deals with the public and the media," he said. "I put them in a very awkward position with this. In discussions with (Paulos and Wolfenbarger), we talked about different ways to resolve this. I volunteered me leaving as one of those. Under the circumstances, that seemed to be the best course of action."

Last week, Winder admitted to Deseret News editors that he created a false identity to write news stories about West Valley City. Seven of his stories first appeared in the Oquirrh Times under the fictional name of Richard Burwash. Burwash was also listed as a staff writer on the website of the Oquirrh Times, a weekly newspaper covering West Valley, Magna and Kearns.

Winder later submitted three articles that were published by the Deseret News and another that was posted on KSL.com. The Salt Lake Tribune also published a photo credited to Burwash.

Winder submitted the Deseret News and KSL articles through Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network through which stories are submitted to its media partners.

In addition to the fake name, Winder provided a false West Valley City address and used a photo he found through a Google image search to create his false Deseret Connect profile, which included a Facebook account. He communicated with Deseret Connect editors via email and even telephone, pretending to be Burwash.

"Since The Summit Group knew nothing about my pen name until last week, I feel that this is an important step to absolve the agency from any association with this issue," Winder wrote in his letter of resignation.

Winder did not discuss the Richard Burwash incident during the City Council meeting Tuesday night, except to respond to a question posed during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Kevin Fayles, who ran against Winder in 2009, said the mayor didn't help the city by pretending to be Burwash.

"I feel sorry for you, but I feel worse for the city, for the residents and for city staff and for council members," Fayles said.

He said if the mayor felt something needed to be done about media coverage of the city, he should have worked with city staff to better promote the city, meet with editorial boards of news organizations or hire a public relations consultant.

Fayles also encouraged Winder to stay out of the public eye "for a season," and allow City Council members to represent the city at public events.

Gundi Jones, the only other person who spoke about the issue during the public hearing, said she believes the story has been "blown out of proportion."

"This is a great city," Jones said. "Don't let anything like this hold up our progress. … Apologies have been made. Let's move forward."

Also Tuesday, national and local chapters of the Public Relations Society of America criticized Winder's actions in separate statements, saying he did a disservice to West Valley City residents.

Winder has said he is not a member of the society and doesn't consider himself a public relations professional. However, for more than two years, including during the time the articles were published, he was director of public affairs for The Summit Group, a Salt Lake City-based marketing and communications firm. On at least four occasions, Winder wrote about businesses or groups for which The Summit Group had done work.

"At a time of severely low public trust in government, it is imperative that politicians and public relations professionals represent themselves and those they serve in an ethical and transparent manner," said Rosanna M. Fiske, chairwoman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

Dennis Jolley, president-elect of the group's Greater Salt Lake Chapter, said Winder's actions not only damaged the mayor's reputation "but that of West Valley City, the city's elected representatives and communications professionals."

"We hope that Mayor Winder has learned from his experience that honest and transparent promotion of his city is far more effective than other means in the long run," Jolley said. "Certainly that is what the (residents) of West Valley City and the rest of Utah deserve."

Winder has grown progressively more apologetic about his deception since the Deseret News made it public last Thursday night. Initially, he refused to characterize his actions as dishonest or unethical. Instead, the mayor apologized only for wanting more "good news" reported about his city.

Winder even compared himself to Benjamin Franklin, who used several pen names to publish letters and articles about causes he supported in pamphlets and newspapers.

In his letter of resignation from The Summit Group, Winder offered a "sincere apology for using a pen name to write newspaper articles."

"It was the wrong thing to do," he wrote, "and I am working hard to make things right."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS