In the interest of keeping my job, I am getting back to writing an issue of the newsletter every day.

Margaret Hopkin: A model and mentor, but not too good for anyone

As I have interviewed people about Margaret Hopkin, there are a few things that strike me:

  • Everyone I’ve talked to loved her.
  • She paid deep and close attention to the people she worked with — kids and adults.
  • She learned from kids.
  • Many people feel she deserved to have the middle school named after her.
  • The last person to have a school named after them in Moab was Helen M. Knight, the first woman superintendent in the state. Fun fact: She was also part of the Taylor family.
  • A lot of people said that she was a model for how to live life broadly.

When I asked Taryn Kay (current superintendent and spouse of Hopkin at the time of her death) about what she learned from Hopkin that she now implements in leading the school district, she kind of waved the question away and said that it was really about the way that Margaret lived life. That’s what Kay learned from her.

She went on to give me a quote that I don’t have immediately off-hand about how, when a leader’s work is done, “the people will say” it happened naturally.

Kay seems to have this conception of Hopkin as a model for living life well. Part of living life for Hopkin was leading the school district, and she just… did that well.

She took a huge pay cut — by Jill Tatton’s (principal of Helen M. Knight Elementary School), she declined half of her salary — when the district was in financial straits under her watch. A teacher who worked for her when she was a principal said she was the best principal and superintendent she ever had.

Her mentee told me that she taught him how to focus in school, and his dad said that whenever his son came home from mentoring, he didn’t just have his school work done; he also came back with a story of something fun he did that day.

Hopkin engaged kids and engaged adults. She gave them her full attention. She thought about them. She held them as important and taught kids to understand that they were also important.

None of the interviews I conducted were a smash hit. Nobody had The Story about how she single-handedly saved the school district or a child or a family. They all had endless anecdotes about how she did the right thing consistently.

It’s like she was in the water, positively impacting the community she was tending to.

Sen. David Hinkins sponsors a bill to allow permit-less concealed carry

On a totally related note:

There’s a bill steadily working its way to becoming law that would allow Utah residents to carry a concealed gun legally without acquiring a permit. The county attorney said that the bill would eliminate background checks, but I haven’t seen that in any of the coverage, so I’m not sure that’s true.

Regardless, the senate sponsor of the bill is District 27’s own David Hinkins1, the sole state senator representing Grand County.

This bill is only directly relevant to Grand County insofar as Hinkins is the sponsor and state law implicates Grand County, but it’s not happening in the county council’s chambers nor the city council’s, and I don’t know of any efforts yet from local officials to… I don’t even know what they would do besides lobby against it.

I guess I’ll ask around to see if there are any efforts locally to stop this, but this is a train driving over the state, not Grand County, so I’ll let the good reporters at The Tribune do the work on details (even though I don’t think they’re examining the legislation as critically as they should be in their news coverage).

Oh, one other thing that makes it relevant to Grand: Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge said this week that it wouldn’t affect the safety of his officers. Doug said that he talked about it at the end of the Tuesday city council meeting, in response to a question from City Council Member Mike Duncan, but I haven’t watched the full comments yet.

I wouldn’t want to simply parrot them in coverage without seeing if they’re actually true, but it’s the nature of claims like Edge’s that are hard to examine because the federal government limts (bans?) the public funding of gun-related research and data collection, so we only have high-level numbers from administrative data that tell us how many people die from guns every year, not more detailed data about who owns guns and why and how they use them, etc.

Redistricting is further delayed by the U.S. Census Bureau

I need to dig deeper into the weeds on why the Census Bureau is taking so long to audit the data that it collected for the 2020 census, but until I do, I can at least say for sure that it’s creating delays to the release of data used for:

  1. Determining how many House seats each state gets, and
  2. Drawing boundaries for voting districts.

Grand County’s own Kevin Walker (the county commissioner) is leading the charge on ensuring that the county’s voting districts are drawn fairly this year, and I have talked previously about my critique of the existing state House and county districts, which in the first instance split up the valley for no good reason (and along the odd choice of boundary that is Highway 191) and in the second instance are pretty much illegal (because they are noncontiguous and do not adhere to the one-person-one-vote doctrine).

Regardless, Walker is bringing the energy to redistricting, and I will be interested to hear his thoughts on these delays. It will certainly impact the state’s process, but it doesn’t necessarily need to affect our process.

County Commission Administrator Chris Baird has argued that the boundaries the state draws in Grand County will matter to creating our own districts, but that is kind of silly. The effect that actually has is making the job of printing ballots easier; following state boundaries in drawing county boundaries just reduces the total number of unique ballots that the county needs to print out.

However, that just sets the county up to take gerrymandering (or simple bad districting) from the state and repeat those mistakes. It should probably matter more that our districts are drawn fairly than Quinn Hall (the County Clerk/Auditor, who is in charge of election administration locally) having an easier time with printing ballots. I know Walker feels the same way.

Which of the affordable housing recommendations by the University of Utah has the city and county implemented?

Researchers at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah released a paper2 late last year with recommendations on how localities can incentivize or build more affordable housing. I have not yet read it, but I skimmed to see that it is structured pretty logically, with sections for different kinds of recommendations.

What I want to do is use the paper as a framework for evaluating Grand’s and Moab’s housing policies to show which of the recommendations the municipalities have already adopted, which don’t make sense or are not eligible here (like certain tax incentive programs for urban areas), and which it could implement but hasn’t.

This is one way in which reporting on research is useful: It provides a framework to hold people with power accountable for adopting sound policy recommendations.

A conversation I had with Zacharia Levine (formerly the director of the county’s economic and community development department) recently re-established for me that the city is failing in its housing policy while the county has implemented helpful policies (though it could of course afford to do more).

It also made me think about how much it would suck if the city doesn’t fix its shit because it will just mean urban sprawl in Moab; apartments should be going up inside city limits faster than subdivisions are going up further out in the valley; we want our people to do less driving and live more central to the center of commerce in the valley.

But, like I was arguing on Twitter the other day, maybe Moab is just fake progressive like Asheville, less interested in housing the poor and more interested in saying it cares. I know that’s a snide perspective, but it just… feels honest. California is the same way, hence its housing problems.

Does Moab want to be a Zoom town?

Related to the U’s paper, Levine’s research group also has a paper out about Zoom towns. I will have to dig for the link, but the question has nexus with the county’s and city’s efforts toward economic diversification.

Do we just want people to work remotely here? Or do we want to attract businesses to Moab? Is one more likely to happen naturally than the other?

What other housing questions should I investigate?

I put out a list of research questions a few weeks ago about the housing questions that I want to investigate, as a way of organizing my approach to reporting on housing locally. I got some feedback that I have not yet revisited, so I want to do that and start chipping away at the list, with the first topic up being: Is Grand or Moab doing a better job creating and implementing housing policy? (It’s Grand.)

What I read today

It’s really easy for me to fall into paying attention to national and tech-related news, but those are not subjects on which I report, and they’re not always the news that I find most empowering to stay updated on. More on that in the next section. For now, here’s what I read today:

What we mean when we say ‘camping’ — Moab Sun News

It feels like they jacked the idea of a headline we had a few weeks ago that was something to the effect of “What even is a bypass?” but the story covers a topic that I neglected and is very thorough about it.

Woytek said the discussion highlights the need for more affordable housing options: not just single-family homes, but small rental units for seasonal residents or single people.

“The idea of some sort of middle ground,” said Woytek, “where there’s a formalized place where people could park and live long term, in a way that was acceptable to the health officials—it seems to me like a potential opportunity.”

Utah Legislature OKs base spending bills for higher ed, state employee pay — The Salt Lake Tribune

This one had a… weird quote. Emphasis added:

Most notably, lawmakers added $400 million in new funding to the public education base budget — a decision made even before the legislative session began. That spending boost included money to cover anticipated student growth and inflation, as well as one-time $1,500 bonuses for teachers and lesser amounts for many school staffers.

“It’s unprecedented for us to put growth in our education system in the base budget,” said Senate budget chairman Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton

The measure on staff compensation would allow 3% labor market pay increases for state employees, higher education workers and staff in the legislative and judicial branches. The bill would also offer health insurance benefit increases to state and higher education employees.

What is he trying to say? That Utah doesn’t usually increase education spending? I included the paragraph before and after for context, but it doesn’t help to me explain what Stevenson is saying.

Despite the pandemic, Utah ended 2020 with more jobs. How did that happen? — The Salt Lake Tribune

The other side of this is that ongoing unemployment claims are at four times the average level they were in 2019. The article doesn’t really explain that apparent contradiction.

Seven of the state’s 10 major industries added employment in December compared to the same month in 2019, with trade, transportation and utilities by far the largest gainers, up 14,000 jobs, followed by construction, up 6,900.

The biggest jobs loser last month was once again Utah’s leisure and hospitality sector, which, along with performance venues, has been among the most damaged by the crisis. It shed 20,900 positions for the month.

Utah will take over incoming COVID-19 vaccine doses that had been assigned to CVS and Walgreens for nursing homes — The Salt Lake Tribune

CVS and Walgreens keep saying they are not letting vaccine doses go unused, but the news around the subject keeps suggesting that they are.

The Utah Department of Health said in a statement that it — at the direction of Gov. Spencer Cox — is working with national pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens to shift the assignment of 28,275 doses to the health department, which will distribute them to other vaccine providers. … CVS and Walgreens will have enough vaccine on hand for all of their scheduled vaccination clinics at Utah’s long-term care facilities — and residents and staff at those centers will get their vaccinations as planned, the health department said Tuesday.

So, after reallocating doses away from long-term care facilities, CVS and Walgreens still have enough for all scheduled vaccinations at those facilities.

If this reallocation hadn’t happened, what would have happened to those doses? Is this the first time that this apparent over-allocation happened? Gov. Spencer Cox seemed to imply in the story that it’s not…

John Curtis says using tech to combat climate change should excite even fellow Republicans — The Salt Lake Tribune

Rep. John Curtis seems to really want to be on the right side of history with this climate change thing.

Curtis also warned that President Joe Biden is making a mistake by pushing steps against climate change through executive orders instead of working with Congress to pass permanent legislation. Such orders — including pausing new oil and gas leases on federal lands — have brought outcry from Utah GOP politicians.

“As a Republican that wants to jump in and make a difference and wants to make changes, my words [to Biden] are: Don’t leave us out of this. Your executive orders are leaving us out,” Curtis said.

Has science solved one of history’s greatest adventure mysteries? — National Geographic

Gaume nevertheless fears the explanation they presented today is too straightforward for much of the public to accept. “People don’t want it to be an avalanche,” he says. “It’s too normal.” That unyielding skepticism, along with the haunting nature of the Dyatlov Pass incident, will keep conspiracy theories alive well into the future.

What I need to get done

I’m back on the grind with the newsletter because I got a kick in the ass this morning about turning stories in late, which I was indeed doing.

You know when I wasn’t turning in stories late? The week that I was writing the newsletter.

It would be fun to have get the programming done to automate sending these out instead of just putting them on the website (I’ve switched to only putting it on because the extra step of sending the email through Substack seems superfluous), so I’ll work on that during my afternoons.

I also need to get the part of NewsBot done that sends me emails with all the stories that Zak Podmore and Kate Groetzinger and (on some occasions) Brian Maffly and others write. Oh and that other newspaper.

Getting that done will help me reallocate the focus I pay to the trending Twitter news to the Grand County or, at the least, rural Utah news that I report on and that is more directly within my purview as a local reporter. It’s not just my job to pay attention to that news; it feels… I don’t know, more empowering or something to be well-versed in the news of my immediate surroundings.

I can join the screaming about GameStop stock, or I can point out all the flaws in the City of Moab’s housing policy (and lack thereof). I’d rather do and know more about the latter.

Oh, and photos. I need to do that automated thing I wrote about a few weeks ago where I can easily select the photo that I want to use and do something like drag-and-drop it onto the window where I’m writing the story so that the formatting and all the rest happens automatically. I don’t want to spend time downsizing photos for quicker loading on the web; a computer can do that.

  1. The original link yields a bad SSL certificate, which means I can’t properly crawl it. I have provided an archived version of the page instead.