Fired Tooele Transcript Columnist Wrote about Common Ground

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A Tooele Transcript Bulletin columnist who was recently fired after butting heads with the publication’s editor over a piece that criticized EnergySolutions has revealed that his boss also declined to run a column that praised the Common Ground Initiative.

Freelance columnist Bob Henline spoke to Salt Lake Tribune blogger Glen Warchol on May 27 about the first column, which criticized the corporation, which houses a nuclear waste storage facility in Tooele County, for using duct tape to fix a leak in a truck carrying toxic waste. The leak, which was discovered at a weigh station in Price, cost the company fines by the Carbon County sheriff’s office and the State’s Division of Radiation Control, as well as plenty of public embarrassment.

On May 28, Henline told Warchol that editor Jeff Barrus had fired him for violating workplace confidentiality by discussing the column with another paper — although Henline had said nothing of the column until Warchol approached him. Barrus told Warchol that he rejected the column because he wanted “more variety” from Henline.

“There are some confidences in the workplace that need to be respected,” Barrus told Warchol.

Shortly after his firing, Henline told radio station KCPW that Barrus had previously rejected a column Henline wrote in favor of the Common Ground Initiative — four bills by statewide gay rights group Equality Utah that sought basic legal protections for gay and transgender people during this year’s legislative session.

“As Common Ground started to heat up, especially when the Sutherland [Institute] folks and the Eagle Forum guys decided to do that Sacred Ground nonsense, I thought it would be an appropriate column,” Henline told QSaltLake, noting that he had blogged against Proposition 8 previously.

But Barrus declined to run the column. In an email dated Feb. 6 (and supplied to QSaltLake by Henline), he explained: “It makes excellent points and the topic is worthy of thought, but this simply is not a top-of-mind issue in Tooele County right now. The reason for having a local op-ed columnist is to stimulate public discussion on topics in the news here.” Among such topics, Barrus listed “deteriorating air quality,” Tooele City mayor Patrick Dunlavy’s recent State of the City address and a proposal to dig into the Stockton Bar, a geological landmark in Tooele County.

Barrus said he had no comment on the column, but thanked QSaltLake for giving the paper the opportunity to address the issue.

“He didn’t think it was an issue that Tooele County readers were concerned about,” said Henline. “Which to me … labels [that] group as provincial if you ask me, because civil rights impact us all.”

Henline said he felt the decision was a slap in the face to gay and transgender people living in the county.

“It’s like, we’re our nice little conserve community and those people don’t matter, so we’re not going to write about their issues. Again that’s kind of the nature of what we’re dealing with out there,” he said.

Henline said that he didn’t contest Barrus’ decision at the time because he considered it par for the course of being a freelance writer.

“As a freelancer, you get to the point where some things they’ll pick up, some they won’t,” he said. “But in light of more recent events, it just came out that it’s more how they really view the community and not how the community happens to be, which is what we learned form the EnergySolutions debacle.”

Although Henline identifies as straight, he said he will continue to blog about the Common Ground Initiative and other issues effecting gay and transgender people.

“It’s the tyranny of the majority,” he said. “If we can isolate a group of people on any characteristic and then strip them of basic civil rights, it is that proverbial slippery slope. Where does that stop? Is freedom of speech next? Is freedom of expression? We don’t like the way you look so you can’t get together and protest? It boils down for me to the issue of civil liberties, and civil liberties have to do with basic human decency. We’re all part of the same group, and we all deserve the same rights and the same respect.”

Henline’s full column can be seen in this issue of QSaltLake.

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