Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ogden Administration Uses Tax Dollars to Deceive Citizens

Yet another commentary that the Standard-Examiner refused to print

By Dan Schroeder

This month marks the third anniversary of an audacious fraud carried out by the Ogden City administration, paid for by Ogden City taxpayers.

In July 2007, the administration published and mailed a utility bill insert with an article loudly proclaiming that The Junction was “a good investment”. That’s a matter of opinion, of course, but the article based its claim on a fraudulent statement of the facts.

The article said the city’s “original investment” in The Junction was merely the $6 million purchase price for the property, never mentioning the additional costs of tearing down the old mall, building the Salomon Center, and so on. In fact, the city had to borrow nearly $40 million to finance The Junction, and will eventually have to pay back all of that, plus interest.

The article also “projected” that The Junction would generate over $2 million in property tax during 2007, when in fact it generated less than $150,000. This factor-of-14 error was not mere over-optimism. By July 2007 the assessed values of all the Junction parcels were known, and the actual 2007 property tax could easily have been calculated.

Finally, the article projected more than $3.2 million in Junction property tax for 2010. The actual property tax this year will be very close to $1 million. Basically, the article’s unnamed author assumed that the two undeveloped parcels at The Junction would each end up being worth as much as all the rest of The Junction put together. Even in the best economic times, that never would have happened.

A similar article making some of the same outrageous claims was published as a taxpayer-funded advertisement in the Standard-Examiner on May 31, 2007.

Again, whether The Junction is actually a good investment is a matter of opinion. Perhaps it has increased the values of nearby properties, or perhaps its intangible benefits outweigh its high cost. But the numbers that the administration used to make its case were fraudulent.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of the administration’s use of publicly funded communications to deceive citizens.

Just two months later, in September 2007, the administration published a utility bill insert claiming that Ogden’s violent crime rate had decreased 43% between 1999 and 2006. The same claim appeared in a taxpayer-funded Standard-Examiner advertisement on August 30. When the state and federal governments later published statistics that were supposedly based on the same data, they showed no significant change in the violent crime rate.

We eventually learned the reasons for the discrepancy. First, the administration was inflating the 1999 crime rate by using an absurdly low population estimate, left over from the 1990 census. And second, the administration had inexplicably stopped including some categories of crimes in the statistics starting in 2005, even though those categories were included through 2004.

It can hardly be a coincidence that all of these dishonest communications appeared during Mayor Godfrey’s 2007 reelection campaign. And in fact, some of the same deceptions were copied directly into the mayor’s campaign mailings. Sadly, Americans have grown accustomed to politicians telling lies in campaign advertisements. But it’s a much bigger problem when they spend public tax dollars to broadcast those lies on the government’s behalf.

During the 2009 election season we saw more inappropriate uses of taxpayer-funded communications for electioneering. First the administration used the city’s public web site to prominently broadcast a verbal attack by the mayor on an incumbent City Council member who was running for reelection. Then the mayor’s office attempted to use Channel 17 to dictate the time, place, and format of a series of debates between City Council candidates.

State and local laws prohibit government officials from using public resources for political purposes. Whether these laws apply to the cases I’ve described, however, is probably open to interpretation. It’s up to the city attorney to interpret such laws, and the city attorney answers to the mayor. In fact, Ogden’s city attorney has repeatedly interpreted these very same laws to the mayor’s advantage, and to the disadvantage of his opponents.

Could the laws be clarified to reduce the city attorney’s discretion? Perhaps this type of abuse will eventually get the Utah Legislature’s attention, but I’m not holding my breath.

A better law at the local level might seem easier, but it may not be. Ogden’s City Council has adopted procedures that make it virtually impossible to pass an ordinance without the blessing of the city attorney. Again, the city attorney answers to the mayor.

The 2011 campaign season is now only a year away. If we want better laws, now is the time to pass them--before we know who the candidates will be. I hope the Ogden City Council will make this issue a priority and crack down on the unethical use of taxpayer-funded communications.

Addendum: This commentary was submitted to the Standard-Examiner earlier this month. A few days later I received a response from editorial page editor Doug Gibson indicating that it would not be published, but inviting me to submit a much shorter version as a letter to the editor. In response to a further inquiry, Mr. Gibson explained: “I don’t think the topic is fresh enough. It has been rehashed many times, including on your blog.”

How are we to interpret Mr. Gibson’s explanation? True, the topics in my commentary have been discussed many times here on Weber County Forum, and even mentioned in passing on my personal blog. But the majority of this content has never been mentioned at all in the Standard-Examiner. Are we to understand that thoroughly discussing a topic on a blog disqualifies that topic from being discussed in any detail in the local newspaper? That seems to be what Mr. Gibson is saying.

But I don’t think he’s telling the whole truth. Before 2007, the Standard-Examiner printed every guest commentary I submitted (I think there were about four). Yet during the last three years I’ve submitted seven guest commentaries, and they’ve rejected all but two. The two that they printed steered clear of any direct statements about Mayor Godfrey; the five that they rejected all pointed out facts about the mayor that the Standard-Examiner has downplayed or ignored.

Added Addendum: Now that the 2010 property assessments are available, here’s an updated version of the Junction property tax graph that I published last year:

24 comments:

OneWhoKnows said...

Dan.....are you saying that Godfrey is a dishonest politician and the Standard Examiner, Gary Williams, all his department heads and the City Council are in his back pocket? Yes, we know. I agree with you 100% and laws, rules and the truth must be brought out into the open before boy blunder is crowned again. Can you imagine what the next mayor will find once Godfrey is out?

Curmudgeon said...

The real question for me is: why the devil wasn't the Standard Examiner digging all this out at the time it happened? Where the hell was our home town paper when we needed it to ask uncomfortable questions of those in office?

Asleep at the switch, that's where.

Monotreme said...

Meanwhile, our esteemed Attorney General can't even put together a proper prosecution for polygamy.

Monotreme said...

And back on topic, it would be nice if someone other that Dan Schroeder -- for example, someone whose job it is, I dunno, maybe a newspaper reporter or something -- actually did the legwork to expose this kind of nonsense.

OgdenLover said...

Yes, but the bottom line is the almighty dollar, which is all that matters to the Sandusky Suits.
The SE is beholden to Godfrey because they moved from their old building to one at BDO, where the City is their landlord.
They are beholden to the Chamber of Commerce (a Godfrey supporter) for advertising revenue.
I have no idea if they are beholden to the LDS church, although I could see a Bishop taking an editor aside to voice displeasure at criticism of our wonderful Mayor.

I think they try to some extent, publishing editorials critical of malfeasance in other cities for actions that parallel Godfrey's, but it sure ain't enough.
God forbid that they should work on the old-fashioned premise of publishing hard-hitting expose's that would get people to actually purchase and read the paper.

Dan S. said...

I think part of the problem at the S-E might be that they want to be the sole gatekeeper who determines what is and isn't news here in Ogden. They don't like it when some amateur blogger does "their" job for them, and they make every effort to marginalize anyone who tries.

But I also think they've more or less blackballed Dan Schroeder. I know they got some backlash over a story in mid-2007 about the Sierra Club's "Godfrey environmental scorecard", and then a few weeks later they did a great job covering the embarrassing "secret gondola study" emails that we got through a GRAMA request. That probably generated even more backlash, and since then they've been bending over backwards to avoid any perception that I might be driving any of their news coverage. And I would speculate that they have a similar attitude toward Weber County Forum in general.

Incidentally, I don't fault Doug Gibson personally for any of this. I strongly suspect that these decisions are being made by Andy Howell or perhaps even Lee Carter. But I do wish Mr. Gibson had been more honest in his explanation of why my piece was rejected.

Curmudgeon said...

The SE seems, I think, to see its future as more a journal-and-website-of-opinion than newspaper. It's new web platform is becoming something of a public forum for discussion of a variety of topics, most of them opinion pieces themselves [letters to the editor, guest commentaries, top of Utah voices essays, staff blog sites, etc.] That's fine. Good thing --- so long as the suits who run the place don't forget that it is also their job, and I'd say their primary job, to provide their readers with the information via straight news stories that should fuel all that discussion on the web pages.

Interesting to me to note that the Dan S. piece lately refused [which he submitted as a "guest commentary" was not primarily a commentary at all. It included the kind of fact-checking of official publicity releases that the paper should be doing, day after day, as a matter of course. But isn't.

We live in a world driven often now by statistics, by numbers. The SE in order to do its job needs to have either on its staff or on call someone who is knowledgeable about statistics, and their use... and abuse. Someone who could have looked at the crime statistics Dan [and others] questioned at the time and could have done an independent analysis of them. Someone on staff who knows economic well enough to dig into numerical claims about projected tax revenues, and the like, and can either report him or herself, or brief a staff reporter to let the paper's readers know whether what's being claimed in this press release, that public-paid-for-ad or this public-paid-for-utilities-news-letter is accurate, doubtful or utter tripe.

That's one of the things, one of the most important things, an urban daily is for. The editors of the SE, sadly, don't seem to understand that.

When I win three Powerball lotteries in a row, and establish Curmudgeon's Ogden Daily Intelligencer & Price Current, I've decided to ask the following question of all news editors and reporters applying for jobs: "If you were interviewing an elected official and he told you the sun would rise in the east tomorrow morning, what's the first thing you'd do when the interview was over?" Whoever answered "I'd call the newsroom and tell them I'd need a compass by sunrise tomorrow," would be hired on the spot.

idea said...

Weber State University might start a Top Of Utah weekly, using student interns and underpaid faculty advisors.

Business dept does subscriptions, wring and journalism the paper, math the stats, communications the fact check. There may even be room for an analysis by the history department.

Waterboy said...

There are a couple of other widely read newspapers in Utah. It seems to me that everytime one of the other newspapers gets a "scoop" on Ogden then the Standard finally does some reporting regarding the mayor and the city dealings. This may be a silly question, but have you tried the other papers (Trib, D News)? I would imagine you had, but I am just throwing that out.

I wonder..... said...

I wonder what would happen at the SE if 15 or 20 letters to the editor were submitted all on the subject of WHY AREN'T YOU PUBLISHING THE COMMENTARY SUBMITTED BY DAN SCHROEDER??? or possibly, even better the same number of e-mails with follow up telephone calls.

I'm a firm believer in the value of the WCF but I think that if the SE received a more public outcry they would be more apt to act like an honest to God real live newspaper. Somthing to think about.

I wonder... said...

btw Dan, Your usual fantastic job and we should all get behind you and raise a little hell so that your excellent article is available to all Ogdenites.

ozboy said...

Thanks Dan, once again you have shined a light on mayor Cockroach and his sycophants at the Standard.

It is hard to understand how Gibson and the rest of the Standard Employees can look at themselves in the mirror. I think Gibson is basically a good guy, but he works for some very low class and evil people from Ohio who don't give a squat about Ogden. They are carpetbaggers who are only here for the money they can extract from the town. By sucking up to Godfrey and his morally bankrupt circle, they make more money than if they acted like a real newspaper with integrity. If you look at Godfrey's big financial supporters and the Standards advertisers, you will see a lot of the same names.

Bottom line is - the creeps from Sandusky will not bat an eye to selling the citizens of Ogden down the river for a few lousy pieces of silver. They have been doing it for several years now. They have known for a long time that the Godfreyites are ethically challenged and blatant law breakers, yet they completely stone wall that so as to not tick off Godfrey's financial backers. The Standard owners and managers are every bit as corrupt and disingenuous as the little prick. They all deserve the lousy pay the cheap bastards from Sandusky dole out. If they paid a decent wage they could most likely get a good city beat reporter, one with talent and curiosity, unlike the slug they have covering the beat these days.

Curmudgeon said...

Aw, c'mon Oz. Don't hold back. Tell us how you really feel. [grin]

Poole said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

BAT_girl said...

I interrupt this broadcast (no offense DAN S.) to alert Y'all that the VOTE CORROON office in O-TOWN is now OPEN for business:

Joel Freston
Regional Field Director
Corroon for Governor
C: 801-452-5730
(WCF does not take email addys)

VOTE CORROON
2444 Washington Blvd.
Ogden, UT 84405
HRS: Mon-Sat.

I am sure Joel will post the CORROON PLATFORM here soon.

For those who want it NOW, go to:
Corroon Campaign Official Statements
http://www.votecorroon.com/about/corroon-campaign-press-releases

Carp Sharp said...

I am curious to hear about anyone, at anytime, who has been contacted in person by any reporter regarding any investigative story being produced by the Standard Examiner.

We know they run wire stories, occasionally have a photographer at city sponsored events, allow inches of costly column for suspiciously optimistic Godfrey press releases in the name of local news, and employ google in an occasional fact check.
The question occurs, do they ever do any actual footwork, at all?

Curmudgeon said...

CS:

Contacted me for comment on the recent UTA bus route change w/o seeking public input story.

Card Sharp said...

Did they contact you in person, or just call/send you an e-mail?

Curmudgeon said...

Email.

Poole said...

There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil; news is something someone wants suppressed, everything else is just advertising.

Dan S. said...

CS: Yes, S-E reporters sometimes do considerable footwork. And when they do, I'm grateful for it. They just don't do it often enough.

For what it's worth, the S-E has rarely contacted me regarding Ogden City news since Mr. Schwebke took over the beat from John Wright, around the beginning of 2006. The first time Schwebke called me, he was doing a profile of Curt Geiger and wanted someone to say something negative about him. I said I wasn't going to play that game and I would rather discuss the issues. End of conversation. Since then I could count the number of times Schwebke has contacted me on one hand--and when he does contact me, he wants a single direct quote and no more. Other reporters will let you discuss a subject with them, maybe give them a little background, rather than just a quote. Not Schwebke. I talked more with John Wright during his seven months on the beat, or with Cathy McKitrick before that, than I've talked with Schwebke during the last four and a half years. And, I might add, my level of understanding of Ogden City Government is about ten times greater now than it was then. Come to think of it, that's probably why they don't want to talk to me. It's the Sergeant Schultz approach: "I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing!"

Dorrene Jeske said...

About twenty/twenty-five years ago, the SE did some very good investigative reporting when the Ogden School District could not or would not say what happened to bond money that was to repair roofs, libraries, auditoriums, etc. at a number of schools in the District and shortly after Superintendent Garner retired leaving the District with a reserve of $3 million dollars. That reserve was depleted, the District was $1 million in the hole and the bond money was spent with many of the repairs not done a few years after the new superintendent took over the leadership of the school district. It seems as though the new superintendent was teaching at the USU in the evenings and charging his travel expenses to BOTH the State and the Ogden School District. He was also holding some District meetings at his condo in St. George and charging the District the same as a hotel would have charged for space at their hotel. Due to citizen pressure, that superintendent retired when his contract came up for renewal.
There were several good reporters in the 80s on the SE staff and they diligently did a good job of investigative reporting, but that was before the Suits of Sandusky bought the SE.
As long as I can remember, the SE has felt it their duty and obligation to influence and control the political picture in the Top of Utah. As a long-time activist in Ogden, I have often run amuck of that well-greased political machine. My unfulfilled dream was to win the Reader’s Digest’s sweepstakes, and start another newspaper in Ogden that reported the unbiased FACTS and kept Ogden politicians honest.
I thought that I would just let those of you who didn’t live in Weber County years ago, know that the SE used to have some good investigative reporters. (Curm, the majority of Weber County citizens were Democrat s then.)
Keep up the good work Dan S. I plan to reveal some of these facts in my book about politics in Ogden that I’m in the process of writing now.

Curmudgeon said...

Dorrene:

You wrote: "Curm, the majority of Weber County citizens were Democrat s then."

Well, of course. That's why things were better then. [Grin].

Only thing I'd might disagree about a little is the extent to which some put most of the blame for the SE's shortcomings on its reporters. From what I've seen watching urban dailies in four mid-sized cities now, publishers and editors generally get the kind of reporting they want. If the SE's publisher and editors wanted aggressive investigative reporting of public affairs, if they insisted on fact-checking press releases and statements of elected officials [all parties, all levels, all the time], they'd get it.

Dorrene Jeske said...

Curm,

I don't think that I indicated whether the reporting or anything else about the SE was poor in the 80s, just that the editors and I didn't agree very often. I may have indicated that I resented someone else telling me how to think and vote, but then I still do -- haven't changed much that way.

Post a Comment

© 2005 - 2014 Weber County Forum™ -- All Rights Reserved