When he stopped using a false identity to write stories promoting his city, West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder felt he could quietly leave the "dumb thing" he had done in the past.
He stayed silent after learning Deseret Connect the freelance outlet that published some of his work as "Richard Burwash" didn't want its submitters to use false names. When Deseret Connect changed its policies to exclude elected officials, he defended his more recent submissions as mayor and again didn't mention the earlier work.
But last week Winder decided to come clean with Deseret Connect. One significant trigger was the death of his mother in a Sept. 11 car crash, a tragedy that he said made him feel he should get his priorities right.
"My conscience got to me," Winder said. "At the end of the day, I do believe in being open and honest and transparent."
Winder has said his motivation was ensuring balanced coverage of his city. His acknowledgement last week that he was the author behind the Burwash name and his apology to the tennis pro whose photo he misappropriated sparked news coverage from media in the western United States to The New York Times to the BBC.
City Council members expect to discuss the deception Tuesday at a study meeting.
Council members have said they do not support his tactic but believe Winder is doing his best to set things right. And they understand his desire for coverage of the positive aspects of West Valley, the state's second-largest city, with a population of 130,000.
"Being young, he's going to make some mistakes," Councilman Don Christensen said of the 35-year-old mayor. "He was trying to promote the city."
Councilman Corey Rushton said he's also frustrated by what he says is a slanted view of West Valley City presented in the media. He said the election of council members got little attention by major media outlets, despite the size of the city.
Winder, director of public affairs for the Summit Group, a public relations and lobbying firm, used the name "Richard Burwash" to submit 13 articles published in the Deseret News, KSL.com and Oquirrh Times, a newspaper serving West Valley City, Magna and Kearns, between Sept. 10, 2010, and May 27, 2011. He frequently quoted himself in the articles.
Winder said the Times' editor, Howard Stahle, knew he was the author; Stahle said Monday that he did not know.
Todd Wolfenbarger, president of The Summit Group, would not say explicitly Monday what Winder's future at the agency may be.
"We are definitely disappointed in him in this situation," Wolfenbarger said. "Mike has been a hard-working employee for two years. We are trying our best to keep that all under consideration."
Winder 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."
City Manager Wayne Pyle said Monday that the issue is political and needs to be handled by elected officials.
"On the staff side, we weren't involved in it or had knowledge that he was doing this," Pyle said.
To set up an account with Deseret Connect a venue for freelance writers to contribute to the Deseret News, KSL, the Mormon Times and LDS Church News Winder said he searched for the name "Burwash" on the Internet and uploaded a photo. The picture was of Peter Burwash, of Carmel Valley, Calif., head of a tennis management company and a motivational speaker.
The photo was used internally by Deseret Connect and never seen by the public, Winder said. "I didn't mean to do any harm but I feel bad about it," he said. "It was the wrong thing to do."
He apologized to Burwash on Saturday. Burwash said it was a "very pleasant conversation" and that Winder was "very apologetic, very remorseful."
"He realized he made a bad mistake and he's taken a heavy hit on this," Burwash said. "I was a lot more upset until I talked to him."
Instead of legal action, Burwash suggested settling the matter with a donation from Winder to a school in Vrndavan, India. His daughters, 21-year-old Kim and 16-year-old Skyler, have for years raised money to help feed and educate the students there.
Winder declined to reveal the amount of his donation. Burwash said it's enough to feed and educate three children for a year. The publicity also has prompted other donations, he said.
"I thought, how do we take a very unfortunate situation and turn it into a positive?" Burwash said.
Care for Vrindavan (which uses a variation of the town's name) is registered with the Internal Revenue Service to collect tax-deductible donations. The students at the school, which also has a mini-hospital with a full-time doctor, are mostly girls, with a few younger brothers attending with their sisters, according to Burwash.
Winder picked the name Burwash because he has ancestors from Burwash, England. So does Burwash. "Mike said we could very well be long-lost cousins," Burwash said.
Winder mentioned the death of his mother, Sherri Winder, last month in an email about an upcoming political fundraiser called the Mayor's Round Up. He said his mother, as chair of the planning committee, would have wanted the event to go on and asked supporters to spread the word about it.
Reporter Paul Beebe contributed to this article.
"Richard Burwash's" articles
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder used the name "Richard Burwash" to submit 13 articles published by the Deseret News, KSL.com and Oquirrh Times, a newspaper serving West Valley City, Magna and Kearns, between Sept. 10, 2010, and May 27, 2011. Previous stories have incorrectly set the total at 11.
Winder said he wrote three articles as "Burwash" that were published in the Deseret News about a new Buddhist temple in West Valley City; an update on TRAX construction; and the Taylorsville city budget. He said the budget story actually was written by his sister, Aimee Newton, who has since been hired as a spokeswoman for Taylorsville.Â
On May 1, KSL.com published an article by "Burwash" about Chris Hogan, a former UTOPIA executive who claims he was fired for expressing concerns about possible conflicts of interest at the consortium.
The Oquirrh Times published nine articles from "Burwash," including four about Proposition 3, a parks ballot issue that failed.
A photo of the St. George town square attributed to "R. Burwash" was published in The Salt Lake Tribune on Oct. 27, 2010. The Tribune was unaware of "Burwash's" identity and has removed the credit from the photo in its archives.