I’ve been doing The Zephyr for 27 years now and one of the problems with running a small independent publication like this is that, as publisher, I’m required to wear many hats, even when I don’t want to.
It’s not as complicated as it used to be, in its ‘paper heyday,’ when I made a Zephyr press run every eight weeks. As press day approached, I’d carry my cut and paste layout boards with me, in the old ’86 GMC truck,and take the back way around Salt Lake to Tooele, to the printers at the Transcript. Usually I slept out the night before, on that long empty stretch of State Hwy 36, and get to the Transcript office at dawn the next morning. The guys there were great–the Tooele paper was and still is locally owned, by the Dunn Family— and they’d have all 15,000 copies printed by noon. We’d load them into the truck and I’d head for Moab. Then came subscriptions and distribution, most of which was performed admirably by my friends like Linda Vaughan and Jose’ Churampi.
But those were logistical issues that were physically exhausting and time-consuming, but pleasant in other ways. Loading and unloading and re-loading a couple tons of newsprint kept me in shape, I saw many good friends during the whole production process, and I always enjoyed the drive through the West Desert.
More challenging for me, and frustrating at times, has been trying to separate my various editorial caps when assembling content for The Zephyr, to the satisfaction of my readers. Over the years, I’ve been blessed by the participation of many talented writers who have contributed to the quality of this publication in immeasurable ways. But ultimately, the choice of content falls on me.
My own contributions have varied in style and purpose; I’ve certainly never hesitated to express an opinion in these pages, and political humor, in print or via my doodles, has been a staple of this rag, but I’ve also invested a lot of time and effort researching and writing investigative reports. This kind of journalism is the most difficult.
Of the countless stories I’ve done in over 25 years, let me cite three articles that especially come to mind— the 1997 story on the police shooting of a Moabite, “The Death of John Dinsmore,” the 10,000 word expose’ from 2008 called ‘The Greening of Wilderne$$,” and my “Bike Borg Moves South” article from 2013. There are many more, and most of the time, I kept my politics out of the articles and deposited them on the ‘Take it Or Leave it” page.
Some will argue that I didn’t and don’t succeed in separating fact and opinion, but for the most part, I disagree. The “Greening” piece generated some really awful comments from organizations like the Grand Canyon Trust, who took the unusual step of writing letters to my readers, and calling me “mean-spirited” and “malicious.” Yet, there wasn’t an undocumented fact in the article. What I’d done was to quote people accurately and get my facts right.
Likewise, the ‘Bike Borg‘ story raised the ire of a few Moabites who thought I’d given at least one of the principals in the article a “bad rap.” My ”rap,” in fact, was to transcribe taped testimony and print long excerpts, so that I couldn’t be accused of taking comments out of context. To paraphrase Harry Truman, “I didn’t give her Hell, I printed the truth and she thought it was Hell.” There’s a difference.
Still, the argument continues—critics claim that whether I kept my own opinion out of the story or not, “Everybody knows where you stand.” Well…okay. But does anybody think Glenn Greenwald loves the CIA? Did anyone think Woodward and Bernstein were Nixon fans? The bottom line is: The facts must substantiate the story. That’s what I strive to do.
And finally, when it comes to writing Moab political pieces, there’s the argument that I don’t live in Moab anymore; therefore I have no right to express an opinion or present the facts. In October 2014, during the heated election campaign, City Councilman Bailey’s wife, Carrie, made that very point. But that’s like saying Ed Abbey shouldn’t have been allowed to write “Desert Solitaire,” because he no longer lived at Arches. The Zephyr continues to be a publication about Southeast Utah, and we continue to cover the issues that are of greatest interest.
Now, with regard to the massive article in this issue, “What’s Past is Prologue,” my desire to get involved in the story reminds me of the WC Fields quote, who once said, “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
For me, even Philly sounded better than getting mixed up in this controversy. It’s true I knew both dismissed men and I used to see Ken Davey regularly, before I left Moab a decade ago. Now our contacts are limited to a few shared coffees every summer and the occasional exchanged barbs on facebook. Over the years and decades, Ken and I have argued about almost everything. But I have always admired and respected his intelligence and decency as a man.
As for David Olsen I’ve hardly seen Dave in 20 years. Anyone who knows me, knows that creating Trail Mix and helping to build 150 miles of bicycle singletrack trails—both accomplishments by Olsen— have never been high on my priority list. But those differences had nothing to do with the way I view him as a man. Despite our differences, I never doubted his integrity or his passion for Moab. I know how much he loves his family and, to trump everything, he had one of the most amazing dogs I’ve ever met. I knew David Olsen to be, like Ken, a good and honorable fellow.
Still I didn’t see myself getting involved and I was under the impression that at least one and maybe both of
the Moab weeklies might further investigate the details of the dismissals and pursue the story of the city manager’s time in Kemmerer and Timnath. But, as far as I can tell, it didn’t happen.
Then I started hearing from citizens in Kemmerer and in Moab, frustrated people who wanted to know more but didn’t know how. In one case, some interesting information had been gathered, by a family in Moab, but they didn’t know what to do with the revelations they’d made. So they gave it to me.
In Kemmerer, some of the rhetoric that I found, on a related facebook page, was full of anger and threats and accusations, from both sides of the battle lines and eventually, I rejected the comments from almost everyone who reached out to The Zephyr from that page. But sometimes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire and eventually, sifting through the highly charged emotions, I found some solid voices. From there, I pursued hard information via Wyoming Sunshine Laws and the Utah Government Records Access laws (GRAMA), as well as court documents from Timnath and FOIA requests with the City of Kemmerer.
From all that information, I’ve spent the past month trying to put it into a story that makes sense, to you and to me. The result is the 14,000 word article that appears elsewhere in this issue. Also, on January 11, I sent 15 questions to the Moab city administrator, Rebecca Davidson, with copies to the Moab mayor and council members, hoping she could clarify or resolve issues raised by this investigation. As of posting time, February 1, 2016, time, we have not heard directly from Ms. Davidson. The City Attorney’s response is discussed in the main story. A copy of the questions is included elsewhere in this issue.
Finally, I realize that no matter how well documented and fact-driven this article is, there will still be those individuals who will dispute the contents of the story, who will accuse me of bias, or “shoddy journalism,” or that I’m “just trying to stir things up,” or that I’m “trying to get the Zephyr in the news” (all of which are public comments posted about The Zephyr in the past months and year). Or most absurdly, that I’d “do anything to make more money.” THAT comment is especially ridiculous, since almost all of my commentary these past few years has caused my ads to shrink, not grow. With a few exceptions,The Zephyr now relies on the support of individuals, via The Backbone.
But I accept these kinds of uninformed and emotional rants, because I know the information in this story doesn’t fit some Moabites’ preconceived notions. In a nutshell, the facts don’t fit their biases. I realize that part of the problem for those people will be the conflicted and contradictory loyalties that will arise from this story. They’ll find themselves at odds with others, and with their own core beliefs. Those sympathetic to the dismissed employees will also have to scrutinize the conduct of the city officials who were responsible for these events occurring in the first place. Somewhere along the way, those divided loyalties must be resolved.
Ultimately, the reason I wrote this story, like so many others I’ve produced over the past 27 years, is because I’m trying to do my job. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free… all is safe.”
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.