Payouts to departing elected officials reemerge as issue; Weber County leaders ax benefit

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Weber County commissioners on March 12, 2019, eliminated a controversial perk that had let elected officials get a monetary payout on leaving office. The commissioners, facing forward, are Jim Harvey, Scott Jenkins and Gage Froerer. In the foreground are, from left to right, Christopher Crockett, deputy Weber County attorney, and Lynn Taylor, chief deputy in the Weber County Clerk-Auditor’s Office. By Tim Vandenack

An issue that emerged last summer — payouts to elected Weber County officials equivalent to five years worth of health benefits — reemerged in February after two more people tapped it.

Weber County commissioners last August implemented change gradually phasing out the benefit through 2026, thinking it unfair. But when two officials who left office last January sought the benefit — James Ebert, a former county commissioner, and Terry Thompson, a former sheriff — commissioners gave it another look. The benefit is worth $50,000 to $65,000, roughly, and no one could ever precisely give a rationale for providing it.

Eventually, after weighing the issue, the officials axed it altogether, arguing, in part, that it was unfair to let elected officials get it but not other departing county employees. But it wasn’t before six elected officials dating back to creation of the benefit in 2014 could tap it. Here are the latest stories I wrote:

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Federal shutdown hits Ogden, Weber County, some scramble, others offer help

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A few of the signs from a rally of federal workers in Ogden on Jan. 10, 2019, during the partial federal government shutdown. By Tim Vandenack

The federal government shutdown in January (and part of December) had an outsized impact in Weber County, what with all the Internal Revenue Service workers here, 5,000 or so.

So of course we pounced on the story, tried to dig into it as we could, parse how it was impacting people and businesses here. I visited one of the local food pantries, local businesses. I attended a rally federal employees called to push for an end to the shutdown, visited a classroom of kids who gathered food for other students in need (some because of the shutdown) and much more.

Here’s some of the coverage:

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Weber Co. immigrants, Latinos on the wall, Venezuela, the World Cup

Sunday March 3, 2019

Ogden City Councilman Luis Lopez at a Weber County League of Women Voters discussion on immigration on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at the Weber County library in Ogden. Other panelists, from left to right, are Arlene Anderson, Azenett Garza and Jonathan Bachison. By Tim Vandenack

Given the sizable population of Latinos here, many of them immigrants, I always try to put a focus on immigration issues and what’s happening with the segment.

It can be hard work. Not many Latinos are embedded in the traditional power structure so they aren’t always as accessible. But the population merits coverage and I do what I can. Here are a few articles:

Ogden-area immigrants in growing fear as debate about border wall intensifies, Jan. 16, 2019: The talk about building the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is giving some in the Mexican, Mexican-American and immigrant communities in and around Ogden the jitters. Some are getting nervous.

“I think it’s worse,” said Luis Lopez, an Ogden City Council member. “It keeps getting worse and worse because there’s no hope.” Lopez and three others connected to the Latino population here spoke to the issue at a Weber County League of Women Voters gathering.

Venezuelans flee deteriorating nation, find new home in Utah, July 23, 2018: I’ve followed from afar the rising tension in Venezuela, rising concern with the authoritarian government there.

Then a naturalized U.S. citizen from Venezuela, now living in Ogden, called the Standard-Examiner, proposing an article about his dashed hopes of returning to Venezuela for a visit given the shaky situation there. He had wanted to attend the performance of a orchestral piece he composed. The call morphed into a story about the handful of Venezuelans in and around Ogden and Utah and their heartbreak over what’s happening in Venezuela.

Daniel Hernandez and wife Leanniz Chavez in their North Ogden home on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. They came to Utah from their native Venezuela in 2015, part of a growing number leaving the nation to escape increasing political and economic instability in the country. By Tim Vandenack

Centerville protestors target proposed Wyoming immigration jail serving Utah, July 13, 2018: Several protestors were arrested as they demonstrated outside the Centerville headquarters of a private company that runs three Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. I saw the headlines, which didn’t really delve into the rationale for the action, got curious and tracked down some of those arrested for more details.

Turns out they were demonstrating to press the Centerville company, Management & Training Corp., to abandon its proposal for another ICE immigration detention center in Evanston, Wyoming. The facility, just 80 miles or so from Ogden, would serve Utah, potentially boding for an uptick in enforcement action in the area.

Utah’s immigration judges tough on asylum seekers, many from Central America, Feb. 25, 2019: The three federal immigration judges serving Utah have been pretty tough on immigrants seeking asylum, many from Central America.

Numbers compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, show that. I learned of the database, thought it would make a relevant story as asylum-seekers are being debated nationally, and got some input from a pair of local immigration lawyers.

Ogden Mexicans, Mexican-Americans rooting for El Tri in World Cup play, July 1, 2018: The World Cup was held last summer and I thought it worth localizing. Mexico spectacularly defeated Germany, prompting a lot of excitement among the county’s backers, many in the Ogden area, and I turned it into a story about local Mexico fans and the attention they were paying to the tournament.

Ogden schools aiming to diversify staff to more closely reflect student body, Oct. 16, 2018: I was advised some locals active in the Latino community had arranged a meeting with Ogden Schools Superintendent Rich Nye to ask him about education. I jumped at the opportunity to attend.

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Taxes, taxes, taxes: Weber County’s valuations, property tax bills were fodder for a lot of coverage

March 1, 2019

Cyril Nopper at his Ogden home. The valuation on his home rose by more than a third in one year, and it got him concerned about rising property taxes, prompting him to probe valuations around his neighborhood. By Tim Vandenack

Taxes and death — the two certainties  of life.

Well, I focused a lot on taxes late last summer after property tax bills came out in Weber County and as a handful of locales considered property tax hikes. I jumped in, and, man, there were a lot of numbers to crunch. But then, I like numbers.

Here’s a look at some of the coverage:

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Brent Taylor’s death shocks North Ogden and Utah, prompts huge outpouring

Tuesday Feb. 26, 2019

A Patriot Guard rider at attention, awaiting the removal of Maj. Brent Taylor’s body from a hearse outside Myers Mortuary in Ogden on Nov. 14, 2018. By Tim Vandenack

The death of Brent Taylor, major in the Utah Army National Guard and mayor of North Ogden, came as a huge shock.

I was driving home from a Weber State football game. It was a Saturday afternoon. Then a text, the news and wow. I got to work, cobbling together the information I could. It was a whirlwind for the next two weeks. Sad, sad news for the family.

Here’s some of the coverage:

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A look back to Weber County’s busy, busy election season last fall

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019

On the campaign trail. Clockwise from top left, GOP U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, United Utah U.S. House hopeful Eric Eliason, Democratic U.S. House hopeful Lee Castillo (with family), Bishop and then-U.S. Senate hopeful (and eventual winner) Mitt Romney, Pam Harrison (a proponent of the medical marijuana proposal) and Green Party U.S. House hopeful Adam Davis. By Tim Vandenack

Weber County’s 2018 elections are in the history books and here are links to some of my coverage ahead of the Nov. 6, 2018, general election.

First, profiles of the four 1st District U.S. House hopefuls:

Here’s more:

There were more articles, profiles of all the varied races. Indeed, it was very busy heading up to the vote and in the aftermath. We used to have a few people who would help cover elections, but I did most of it this go-round. That’s how it is these days in newspapers with lower staffing. Even so, I like writing about politics, so no major complaints.

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GOP candidate selection process sows confusion in Weber Co. primaries

Wednesday, Dec. 5. 2018

Steve Waldrip, candidate for the District 8 Utah House seat, speaks at the Weber County Republican Party convention at Weber High School on April 14, 2018. By the Standard-Examiner

OGDEN — Election season is over, but here’s a look back at some of the highlights heading into the primary here in Weber County last June.

The rules governing how Republican candidates in Utah can secure a place on the primary ballot is a focus of sharp debate — petition or convention? — and the controversy reared its head here. Some GOPers don’t like the fact that candidates can get on the ballot via petition, bypassing scrutiny of GOP stalwarts at convention, making for some interesting guidelines.

Meanwhile, one race in particular generated a lot of heat — for a Weber County Commission post. Here are some highlights:

 

 

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Uninsured woman’s story, Central American package garner honors

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Nicky Stauffer at her Hooper, Utah, home. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — A story and a package I wrote for the Standard-Examiner garnered recognition.

That’s always nice.

In the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Top of the Rockies contest, a story I did on an uninsured mother of two with breast cancer searching frantically for care garnered second place in the health reporting category. Her husband had called me, describing their plight seeking health care, worried they wouldn’t be able to find help for her. Pretty wrenching situation:

A package of stories I did on Central American immigrants in northern Utah also garnered recognition. Photographer Ben Zack and I received second-place honors in the general reporting, series or package, category. I particularly enjoyed digging into these stories, finding the Central Americans living in the area:

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Congolese refugees in Utah adjust to life in new home — Ogden

Monday, May 7, 2018

Musambo Muhanuka, center, and two of his sons, Ishara Mombamango, 6, on the left, and Faustin Nfitemukiza, 14. The are among the Congolese refugee contingent living in Ogden. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — Sometimes stories take a while to germinate and materialize.

I first latched onto the idea of writing about the Congolese refugee contingent in Ogden several months back — last summer — after attending a meeting at the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership and learning of their presence here. I can’t even remember what drew me to the meeting, but there were several people from the Democratic Republic of Congo and it piqued my curiosity.

Amani Baraka, right, and wife Charlotte Bukeye with their two kids, Freddy, at right, and Britain. They are among the contingent of Congolese refugees living in Ogden. By TIm Vandenack

I made contact with several who volunteered with the refugees and last March started reaching out to them so I could meet with some of the refugees, who came from United Nations refugee camps, mainly in Uganda. Between other stories and responsibilities, I started meeting them, learning their stories, how adjustment is going and more about the Congo. Other Standard-Examiner reporters had written about them in 2016 when they first arrived, before my time here, and my idea was to write about their transition to life here thus far.

It was fascinating — they have gone through a lot in their country, beset by strife and violence, yet they carry on, maintaining an upbeat demeanor. One man who works with refugees called them “the lucky ones” because they are among the few who have found a way out of the tough conditions of their home country:

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ICE, political heat, development, beer and Romney — it’s been busy

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Utah U.S. Senate hopeful Mitt Romney poses with a well-wisher during a campaign visit to Weber State University in Ogden on March 13, 2018. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — Elections and politics have been my main focus of late, but not the only focus.

There ‘s been immigration, beer, U.S. Senate hopeful Mitt Romney’s visit and more about the investigation into Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson. Here are a few recent favorites:

Dusty Williams, co-owner of Talisman Brewing Co. in Ogden, in the new tavern area of the locale. By Tim Vandenack

Here’s some more:

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