Proofreading and Politics in Draper

Here’s a headline from yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune: “Draper to hire independent investigator to review councilwoman’s e-mails.”

Hmm. Sounds serious.

Here’s the story’s first paragraph: “The Draper City Council has authorized the city attorney to hire outside counsel to determine whether Councilwoman Michele Weeks violated any ethics rules or laws when she used a city employee to proofread emails unrelated to her official duties.”

They had me until I read the word “proofread.”

Draper City Councilwoman Michele Weeks
Draper City Councilwoman Michele Weeks

Now, here’s a paragraph in this blog post which ends with a link to that story. Yes, I’m well aware that is one of those nasty websites that treats you like a hostage when you go there, with its abusive marketing. So I’m giving you a link not to the regular version of the story, but to the print-friendly version. It’s old school. There’s no marketing there at all, just the story. Here’s the link.

You’re welcome.

What She Done. I Mean Did.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the story is accurate and relatively complete, and that they’re not investigating Councilwoman Weeks for something truly grave, such as owning a restaurant with no sign to advise the irredeemably daft that it’s not a bar. Or vice versa. Or for the iniquitous crime of holding public office in Utah while registered as a Democrat. Or for challenging an incumbent mayor in this year’s election.

The story notes that Councilwoman Weeks is dyslexic, which makes spelling a challenge.

She admits that she “made a mistake” by asking city staff to help her with e-mails “in which she organized and raised money for a teacher appreciation event she launched in 2016.”

Draper Mayor Troy Walker and her fellow city council members “also took issue with a letter Weeks wrote for the city’s newsletter that mentioned a Facebook page she created that she said helps residents easily track city government.”

Councilman Jeff Stenquist raised the stakes, saying city staff didn’t just proofread the emails. They helped draft them.

Where, pray tell, are my fainting couch and my smelling salts when I need them?

fainting couch
This vintage French-style fainting couch is . . . not in my collection.

Stenquist also says Councilman Weeks sent e-mails to the city prosecutor about “an apparent ordinance violation” involving one of her neighbors. Here on Planet Earth, it’s hard to imagine how that rises to the level of interfering with a prosecution, as he claims – since most code violations in cities are handled as administrative matters, not judicial matters, and since a city councilor has no formal control over judicial proceedings.

She also e-mailed someone for help getting in shape for “a pageant competition.” Did her accusers or the Trib include that just to embarrass her?

Reportedly, she sent all these e-mails from a personal e-mail address, not an official one.

Her Sentence for Good Sentences

I agree. She made a mistake, having city staff help her with something that wasn’t city business. If it were up to me, and based on the facts as reported, I’d dispose of the case this way:

  1. Accept her apology.
  2. Suggest that she find someone else to help her proofread in the future.
  3. Praise her effusively for caring about proofreading in the first place.
  4. Reflect on the blessed state of having someone on the city staff who is competent to proofread and even, per the story, to help with her writing.
  5. Insert a letter of commendation into the official file of the rogue editor, for Proofreading Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

Here’s what her city council did:

  1. They formally authorized the city attorney to hire an independent investigator to review her e-mails.
  2. They sent her e-mails to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Yes, thank you, you’re right. That first one is a lot like bringing in someone from the Utah National Guard to fire a howitzer at the pesky fly buzzing in the council chamber during a meeting. Most of us would just use a flyswatter.

Most of us probably wouldn’t leak her e-mails to the Salt Lake Tribune, for that matter. Then again, she’s not running against most of us.

Do the Math

Let’s make up some numbers (sort of) and do the math on this one, shall we? We’ll inflate the bad ones and deflate the good ones, just to be safe.

Let’s say there were ten e-mails of 300 words each in both of the threads which so offend her pious peers (on teacher appreciation and the pageant). I’m ignoring the code violation thing as just silly, in the absence of actual evidence of an actual crime, obstructing justice. And I’m tossing the Facebook page concern because it was informing constituents, and because she’d be hard pressed to monetize a Facebook page if she wanted to.

Let’s see . . . 10 times 300 times 2 . . . That’s 6,000 words. I can proofread that in an hour or less. I can do a light edit on it two hours or less. But I’m pretty fast at those things, usually. So let’s say that it took city staff four hours in all.

When people pay for my writing or editing, the fee is currently between $60 and $135 per hour. It’s extremely unlikely that the city staffers in question are paid so well. Let’s suppose that an hour of their time costs the taxpayer $50 – which would work out to about $100,000 per year in salary plus benefits. We really are exaggerating the bad numbers here.

In that scenario, Councilman Weeks’ mistake could have cost Draper taxpayers up to $200.

So here’s what I want to know.

  • The city attorney is probably the highest-paid person in this picture, or nearly so. Has his time in this matter cost more than $200 of the taxpayer’s money so far? If he’s embarrassingly underpaid, that would be what, four hours? Five?
  • How many more billable hours will he spend choosing an independent investigator?
  • How much will the investigator’s services cost in the end? Ten times $200? A hundred times?
  • Finally, will there be any typos in any of the associated documents?

I may have undersized my metaphor. Instead of a howitzer, it’s looking more like an M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, or perhaps an F-16.

When the dust settles and we can survey the crater, let’s make sure we find out how much this caper cost the Draper taxpayer, okay? Trib, are you there?

I have one more question.

Is it wrong to wonder whether the mayor or any of the four other city councilors are themselves preparing for pageants, or using social media to keep their constituents informed? Or if the mayor ever asked his secretary to make dinner reservations for his anniversary?

Partly Personal

Councilwoman Weeks, good luck in your mayoral campaign. If you’re not elected mayor of Draper this year, please consider moving to American Fork and running for city council in 2019. We need more prufreading in are town, not less.

If you like, I’ll watch for nice houses going on the market in my neighborhood.