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WEST VALLEY CITY — Mayor Mike Winder resigned his position as director of public affairs for The Summit Group on Tuesday, saying he "tarnished the reputation of the agency and its employees" by writing news articles under a fake name.
Winder, who serves as mayor of West Valley City, submitted his resignation to Summit Group founder and CEO Bill Paulos and President Todd Wolfenbarger on Tuesday afternoon. Winder later read the letter to the City Council during a work session at West Valley City Hall.
"I am hoping that my departure will demonstrate that The Summit Group is an agency that always strives for the highest ethical practices and open and forthright relationships with the media," Winder wrote in the letter.
I am hoping that my departure will demonstrate that The Summit Group is an agency that always strives for the highest ethical practices and open and forthright relationships with the media.
–Mayor Mike Winder
The mayor also apologized for his actions to the City Council and city employees during the work session.
"I appreciate that people are disappointed," Winder said Tuesday night. "I'm disappointed in myself. I apologize. I had pure motives to begin with, but it was an effort that wasn't a good one.
"I feel bad and apologize to all the residents of our city and others who were betrayed by this," he said.
Last week, Winder admitted to Deseret News editors that he created a false identity to write news stories about West Valley City. Seven of his stories first appeared in the Oquirrh Times under the fictional name of Richard Burwash. Burwash was also listed as a staff writer on the website of the Oquirrh Times, a weekly newspaper covering West Valley, Magna and Kearns.
Winder later submitted three articles that were published by the Deseret News and another that was posted on ksl.com. The Salt Lake Tribune also published a photo credited to Burwash.
Winder submitted the Deseret News and KSL articles through Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network through which stories are submitted to its media partners.
In addition to the fake name, Winder provided a false West Valley City address and used a photo he found through a Google image search to create his false Deseret Connect profile. He communicated with Deseret Connect editors via email and even telephone, pretending to be Burwash.
We hope that Mayor Winder has learned from his experience that honest and transparent promotion of his city is far more effective than other means in the long run.
–Dennis Jolley, Public Relations Society of America
"Since The Summit Group knew nothing about my pen name until last week, I feel that this is an important step to absolve the agency from any association with this issue," Winder wrote.
Also Tuesday, national and local chapters of the Public Relations Society of America criticized Winder's actions in separate statements, saying he did a disservice to West Valley City residents.
Winder has said he is not a member of the society and doesn't consider himself a public relations professional. However, for more than two years, including during the time the articles were published, he was director of public affairs for The Summit Group, a Salt Lake City-based marketing and communications firm. On at least four occasions, Winder wrote about businesses or groups for which The Summit Group had done work.
Dennis Jolley, president-elect of the Greater Salt Lake Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, said Winder's actions not only damaged the mayor's reputation "but that of West Valley City, the city's elected representatives and communications professionals."
"We hope that Mayor Winder has learned from his experience that honest and transparent promotion of his city is far more effective than other means in the long run," Jolley said. "Certainly that is what the (residents) of West Valley City and the rest of Utah deserve."