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Today's word on journalism

March 17, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1863-2009

"Can Seattle's oldest newspaper be successfully transformed into a child of the information age? The Northwest is a land of big dreams. With the demise of the Soviet Union, one quipster noted that Puget Sound is now home to three empires still bent on global dominion: Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbuck's. If the stars align properly and with a quality product, Seattle will show the way to a new model for journalism of the written word."

--Joel Connelly, columnist, in today's final print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Editorial Comment: And when the newspapers die. . . .

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Amid uncertainty over executive session, county attorney hopefuls tout experience

By Gideon Oakes

February 9, 2009 | LOGAN -- When the dust settles after the Cache County Council's regular meeting Tuesday evening, one pressing question will be answered others might not.

As two candidates vie for the council's appointment to the office of county attorney, the topic of just how that process will happen has taken over much of the discussion surrounding the race. At its Jan. 27 meeting, the council announced its intention to hold discussion of the two candidates during a closed executive session at its Feb. 7 meeting. That decision has ruffled more than a few feathers with local and state media outlets.

The Herald Journal, KVNU radio and The Salt Lake Tribune jointly wrote an open letter to the council earlier this week, asking the council to either discuss the matter openly or to allow media to cover the executive session.

State law allows government bodies to discuss certain issues behind closed doors, including the "character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of an individual." Council chairman H. Craig Petersen wrote in an e-mail response to (and subsequently published in part by) The Herald Journal that precedent has been set in similar circumstances to hold such discussions in executive session.

Under the council's bylaws, a two-thirds majority vote is needed to open an executive session a vote which some members of the media hope will fall short.

Tyler Riggs, former city editor of The Herald Journal and current host of KVNU's "For the People" program, wrote in a letter to the editor of the paper, "With the position of county attorney being an elected position carrying great power and responsibility, the voting public of this community are owed the privilege of knowing the rationale behind the eventual appointment."

Interim County Attorney James Swink, who would normally advise the council on such a matter, has opted to refer the matter to a specialist within the Utah Attorney General's office rather than discussing the matter which directly involves his race. "I've stayed out of that because of my candidacy," Swink said.

Both Swink and his opponent, Joe Chambers, who received the official recommendation of the Cache County Republican Central Committee Wednesday night, are opting to focus on their qualifications for the job.

Despite narrowly losing the central committee recommendation by a vote of 90-88, Swink said he is pleased with the outcome.

"I think it shows two things: one, in three weeks I was able to garner a great deal of support and not having had any contact with these delegates before, it was a positive thing; and two, I'm confident I can run a general campaign, either in the primary or in a general election and fare well," he said. "Of course you would like to have the majority, but it's really a 50 percent split."

Chambers, on the other hand, said the close proximity of the vote won't ultimately nullify or weaken the central committee's decision to recommend him to the council.

"I think my opponent would love it to, but I don't think it will," Chambers said. "There has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. There are close races, but had that been the final vote, I'd still have the office and he wouldn't, so I don't know how you can nullify it."

Chambers said his 29 years of experience both in and out of government qualifies him for the job over his competitor, who has barely half that time under his belt. In addition to his private practice, Chambers served as Hyde Park city attorney from 1997 until 2004, and as Rich county deputy attorney twice, from 1982 to 1998 and currently since 2002.

Chambers graduated from Weber State College in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in accounting. He earned his law degree in 1979 from Brigham Young University, and in 1980 earned a post-doctoral master of law degree from New York University.

Swink said his own record of public service has encompassed his entire career, including his time in law school at BYU. During his studies, he worked for Springville city and did research for an area law firm. After law school, he clerked for a judge in Idaho, researching both civil and criminal cases. He also worked for a time as a prosecutor in Weber county.

As a 1993 graduate of Utah State University in economics, Swink jumped on an opportunity to return to Cache county in 1999 to serve as deputy county attorney, the position he currently holds.

Swink said having only three weeks into the campaign, he feels fortunate to have as much support as he does, adding that he hopes to continue serving the people of the county as county attorney.

"I count it a great privilege, and I also count it as a great responsibility," he said.

Chambers said there are a multitude of issues the county attorney must face beyond criminal prosecution, and that his real-world experience in both the government and private sectors makes him the best candidate for the job. He likened those problems to a Rubik's Cube, as each has many different ways to be solved.

"Those problems require solutions," he said. "If you have been employed all your life as a government deputy county attorney and haven't been exposed to other ways of looking at the cube, just turning it and looking at it, you're always coming at it from one approach. You're going to put the same old solutions to it."

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