West Valley City • West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder has resigned from The Summit Group, saying his use of a false identity to write news stories "has tarnished the reputation of the agency and its employees."
Speaking at the end of a City Council study meeting on Tuesday, Winder said, "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 said he also quit his job to give himself time to be a better public servant and to focus on writing and promoting his books. He earns $35,000 a year in the part-time mayor post.
The news broke last week that Winder had been writing articles about West Valley City issues under a fake identity. The mayor said he was frustrated that the Deseret News had drastically reduced its city government coverage after layoffs last year, but not its crime coverage, and he wanted to "try to restore balance."
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) condemned Winder's subterfuge on Tuesday. The PRSA Code of Ethics says it is unethical "for those who represent a business or organization to engage in deceptive online practices or misrepresent one's identity or professional affiliation," noted CEO Rosanna M. Fiske.
"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," she said.
Winder said The Summit Group knew nothing of his ruse until he told them last week. He had worked at the agency for more than two years, and his resignation is effective immediately, he said.
The mayor read from his resignation letter to CEO Bill Paulos and president Todd Wolfenbarger, partners and owners at The Summit Group.
"Mike did submit his resignation today and we accepted it," Wolfenbarger said. "He's doing the best he can to make the situation right and we wish him the best."
Wolfenbarger said he and Winder's other colleagues were surprised and deeply disappointed by what happened because "it doesn't reflect how we do business."
"We say who we are when we do our job," Wolfenbarger said, adding he met with employees Monday to re-emphasize the expectations of the firm.
He said The Summit Group will contact Winder's clients to make sure all their needs are met by other employees.
"The great thing about the agency is there are a lot of good people," Wolfenbarger said. "Hopefully we've built up relationships with clients" that will make the transition seamless.
Winder apologized to the council and said it had been "painful" to tell the Deseret News last week what he had done.
"I feel horrible about it. It's embarrassed our city, I know," he said.
Council members did not comment. At the end of his comments they moved into a private executive session to discuss unrelated litigation and personnel issues. Winder said he will have further private conversations with council members.
Winder was director of public affairs for The Summit Group, a public relations and lobbying firm, when he used the name "Richard Burwash" to submit 13 articles published in the Deseret News , KSL.com and the Oquirrh Times, a community newspaper.
He has said he stopped posing as Burwash this spring and voluntarily informed the Deseret News on Nov. 7 because "I do believe in transparency and openness."
Winder said it had been difficult to balance working full-time at the agency while serving as mayor. Winder's latest of nine books is When the White House Comes to Zion, an account of presidential visits to Utah written with co-author Ronald L. Fox.
He urged a handful of Boy Scouts attending the session to be honest and apologize for any mistakes they make.
The council later Tuesday resumed a regular meeting and during the public comment period, long-time West Valley City resident Gundi Jones said, "Apologies have been made. Let's march forward."
But Kevin Fayles, a longtime resident who is active in the community and Winder's opponent in the 2009 mayoral race, said before the meeting that the mayor's actions will cause embarrassment to West Valley residents for a long time.
"Mike Winder is a smart, hard-working guy," Fayles said. "He didn't need to engage in any of these behaviors. While some say what he did doesn't really matter, it does. People will not be as trusting of him. His actions tarnish the city's reputation as well."
Work by 'Richard Burwash'
The 13 articles written by West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder as Richard Burwash were published between Sept. 10, 2010, and May 27, 2011, in the Deseret News, KSL.com and the Oquirrh Times, a community newspaper.
The stories published by the Deseret News and KSL.com were submitted via Deseret Connect, a venue for freelance writers to contribute to those outlets, the Mormon Times and LDS Church News. Deseret Connect editors did not know he was Burwash until he told them last week, the mayor said.
The editor of the Oquirrh Times, Howard Stahle, knew he was the author, according to Winder; Stahle has said that he did not know.
A photo of the St. George town square attributed to "R. Burwash" was published in The Salt Lake Tribune on Oct. 27, 2010. The paper was unaware of "Burwash's" identity and has removed the credit from the photo in its archives.