The mayor of Utah’s second-largest city is making headlines across the country, but not for the reasons he originally hoped.
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder, a graduate of the University of Utah and long time political activist, admitted Friday to writing positive stories for his city under under a false name.
The Salt Lake City native said he began writing for Deseret Connect as a freelance contributor under the alias Richard Burwash, a name he said he found while doing a Google search. Winder said he wrote the articles to counteract the large amount of crime coverage his city had received from major media outlets in Utah.
“My motives were pure,” Winder said in an interview with media members in Utah. “Many in my city share my frustration. I was just trying to bring balance to the conversation.”
Winder said he felt he was defending a city that needed some help in the media.
“I thought about all the people just reading about crime in our city and nothing better,” Winder said. “I’m trying to stand up for us because we do get the short end of the stick — negative stories.”
Winder’s stories have since been removed from Deseret Connects’ various affiliate websites and Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News/ Deseret Digital Media, said publicly he disapproves of Winder’s reporting under a false name.
“While we appreciate that Mayor Winder would, of his own accord, quit writing under the assumed name and then detail the error to us, we remain highly concerned that someone would purposely misrepresent himself,” he said in a statement.
Winder’s actions have also raised legal and ethical questions. The Public Relations Society of America, a professional organization that advocates ethics in communications practices, released a statement condemning Winder’s communications practices. His actions were also condemned by writers at U.S. News and the New Yorker magazine.
“The Society’s Code of Ethics calls for communicators to be ‘honest and accurate in all communications’ and to ‘avoid deceptive practices,'” said Rosanna M. Fisk, CEO of PRSA. “Clearly, Mr. Winder’s actions failed in both regards, which is a disservice to both the public he serves and the media he tried to influence.”
Facing these concerns, Winder chose West Valley City’s Tuesday City Council work session to announce his resignation as the director of public affairs for The Summit Group, a public relations firm based in Salt Lake City.
“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 in his resignation letter.