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WEST VALLEY CITY -- Mayor Mike Winder has admitted to creating a false identity to write news stories about the city he represents for Utah media outlets.
Using the name Richard Burwash, the West Valley mayor had more than a dozen stories published over a two-year period. His stories first appeared in the Oquirrh Times beginning in September of 2010. He later submitted three stories that were published in the Deseret News, and one that was posted on ksl.com. A photo taken by Winder also appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, credited to R. Burwash, in October 2010.
Winder even pretended to be the fictional Burwash when he spoke with editors over the phone and in emails.
Four stories were published through Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network through which stories are submitted to its media partners, including the Deseret News and KSL.
Winder claims he stopped using the pen name when he learned it was against Deseret Connect policy, and he informed Deseret News editors of his actions this week.
We remain highly concerned that someone would purposely misrepresent himself.
"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," said Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media. "We deeply regret that Mayor Winder would do this."
Winder admits to using a made-up name and address — as well as a photo he found through a Google image search — to create his false persona. He also communicated with Deseret Connect editors via an email account created for Richard Burwash and spoke to an editor over the phone on at least one occasion representing himself as Burwash.
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 and even provided the phone number of a library there as his new number.
There will be people who will be disappointed in me because of this, but there will also be people who respect me for putting my neck on the line to get good (news) coverage for our city.
Winder says he used the pen name to get more "good news" about West Valley City published.
"There will be people who will be disappointed in me because of this," Winder said, "but there will also be people who respect me for putting my neck on the line to get good (news) coverage for our city."
Winder said he's cares about the type of stories being published about his city "since there is a negative reputation we are working hard to turn around."
Winder said the pen name comes from his family history. Richard Winder lived in the 1500s in Burwash, Sussex, England.
The photo Winder used for his Deseret Connect profile actually is an image of Peter Burwash, a tennis player, coach and motivational speaker who was inducted into the U.S. Tennis Association Hall of Fame for northern California in 2010.
You can read more about this story and Mayor Winder's attempts to publish "good news" about his city on DeseretNews.com.