WEST VALLEY CITY — Peter Burwash says he "doesn't want to be a jerk about it," but he believes West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder owes him an apology.
"The apology should be very sincere. He should have picked up the phone by now. He's got to do something to sort of rectify this," he said.
Burwash, who lives in California, said Friday that his phone had been ringing all day from friends after news broke that the mayor used Burwash's picture without his knowledge to falsely present himself to Deseret Connect as writer Richard Burwash.
Using the fake name, the West Valley mayor has had more than a dozen stories published over a nine-month period in the Oquirrh Times, Deseret News and KSL.com. A photo credited to Burwash also appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Winder also pretended to be the fictional Burwash when he communicated over the phone and in emails with editors of Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network through which stories are submitted to its media partners, including the Deseret News and KSL.
Winder's Burwash picture was never printed with any of his articles, but it was available to view for those with access to the list of Deseret Connect contributors.
The picture that he used when applying for the contributor job with Deseret Connect is actually that of Peter Burwash, a motivational speaker and former pro tennis player who has run a successful company for more than 30 years. He has also published at least 10 books during that time and has a strong presence on the Internet.
Burwash said what Winder did is equivalent to identity theft.
"I'm not surprised. It's hard to find an honest politician these days," he said. "He's got some problems on his hands here. I'm very disappointed someone would do that. I'm not a famous person, but I'm on the Internet a lot, I have a very large international company. This is very serious."
Winder said he was just trying to bring balance to the news coverage because he felt there wasn't enough positive articles about West Valley City in the newspaper. He also wrote about UTOPIA, a former client from his days at the Summit Group marketing company.
As of Friday, Peter Burwash said he had not received a call from Winder. When asked whether he would consider legal action against Winder, he said Friday he didn't know but it was something he would likely be discussing with his lawyers.
"I understand he's trying to do good for the city, but you do it ethically. The thing that concerns me most is the picture. People recognize my picture," he said.
The Deseret News talked to several local attorneys Friday. None of them believe Winder could be charged criminally for what he did.
I understand he's trying to do good for the city, but you do it ethically.
–- Peter Burwash
Burwash said with the spread of social media and the Internet, this type of theft is dangerous.
"What's interesting is I just finished working through a scenario where someone set up a Facebook page under my name. I don't know if it's the same. I'm pursuing that as well," he said.
Winder also listed a Facebook account in the name of Richard Burwash as part of his Deseret Connect contributor profile.
Peter Burwash said Winder also needs to find out if there really is a Richard Burwash and apologize to him as well. As an elected politician, he believes Winder has to be a role model for his citizens and be held to a higher standard.
"I'll gladly talk to him about this. This won't go away. I'm disturbed," he said.
Winder said he found Peter Burwash's picture through a Google image search. After learning about Deseret Connect's policy regarding pen names, Winder stopped writing under the alias and told editors that Burwash had moved to London.
The Salt Lake County Democratic Party issued a statement Friday calling Winder's actions "just one more incident in a string of ethically-questionable judgments by this would-be candidate" for Salt Lake County mayor.
Party chairwoman Mary Bishop said that his latest misbehavior shows that he needs to take a class in ethics before he runs for another office. The good citizens of West Valley deserve better. The citizens of Salt Lake County demand it.
“Winder's actions show a lack of good sense and a deficiency of judgment that is mind boggling. He has abused not only the trust of West Valley citizens but every person who reads the Deseret News,” Bishop said.