Packer Punch 

E-billboards! Liquor! Mayhem! Mark Shurtleff! Luckily, Lynn Packer's on the case.

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Sometimes I read something that causes me to break into laughter. I was reading The Salt Lake Tribune (which recently stole the throne from the Deseret News as my favorite local newspaper when the Deseret News decided to get rid of everyone except Brad Rock) when I saw a story about the latest plague to strike Salt Lake City residents: e-billboards. You know, those signs with messages that change every eight seconds that are cropping up everywhere. Some say they’re distracting; I’m too busy texting to notice, though. Just a few years ago there was only one such annoying billboard. Now there are six, and you can imagine the toxic consequence on hypnotized tweeters. So we have to act fast.

At least Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker thinks we do. And Ralph should. If Ralph didn’t, we’d have to ask if he caught the flu, because if Ralph Becker is anything at all, he’s an advocate of eliminating nearly anything that could conceivably cause harm to a fellow citizen. When Ralph sees a banana, he doesn’t see a healthy package of potassium, he sees a banana peel on the sidewalk—an accident waiting to happen. So when Ralph drives north along Interstate 15 and exits on 900 South, he sees an electronic sign anxious to divert his attention long enough for him to miss the short curve ahead and ram full on into the retaining wall, or worse, into a Kessimakis Produce truck full of bananas. Oh, the mayhem.

Despite what the story said, that single sign is the only rotating electronic (e, for short) billboard I know of in all of Salt Lake County, let alone Salt Lake City. But I’m sure the award-winning Salt Lake Tribune (did you read about all its big journalism wins in the Utah Press Association awards? Not bad for basically competing against itself) gets all of its facts straight (not counting circulation numbers posted by its fat daddy, MediaOne), and there are indeed five more such signs somewhere within the city limits. I can see why Ralph is panicked. If we don’t watch out, e-billboards will be the kudzu of Salt Lake City, taking over our very lives and lacking natural enemies—except for people like Ralph.

It could be worse. E-billboards could become the wild hogs of Salt Lake City. All those big-ass pigs running wild through the South? Yep, started with just eight little runaway pigs in Florida, so yeah, we have to stop the “E-Billboard Six” right now.

Truth is, I think we should stop all billboards, but that’s another tale, one that has nothing to do with safety. The greater truth is that there is perhaps no industry that has so bought and paid for the Utah Legislature like the billboard industry. I don’t know anyone from YESCO, the local do-gooder billboard firm that also lights up many of the bosom billboards in Las Vegas. I have met a couple folks at Reagan Advertising, though, who are actually really nice. So, it’s not personal in either case. I just don’t like billboards, and yes, it goes back to a traumatic episode in my youth. So get me a shrink before I go into detail about naked Barbie dolls, broken glass, a book of matches, Blackjack chewing gum and a faint waft of dog urine.

But that’s not the point. What is the point, is that I came across something funny in that story, but it had nothing to do with the above, or about Ralph Becker. It was a quote from Sen. Michael Waddoups, the Taylorsville Republican who is the go-to guy when it comes to legislative high crimes, larceny and hypocrisy. Expressing his ever-present concern for John Q. Public (if John Q. is LDS, that is, or if Jane Q. flashes him a sawbuck), Waddoups told the Tribune that this might become a legislative issue in 2012, and tipping his hand as to what may result, he continued with, “We hate to do things that stifle business.” That’s what made me laugh. What a crock, Mr. Waddoups!

Waddoups is one of the primary persons behind the closure of profitable Utah State liquor stores and has consistently sided against liquor-business interests, including stifling the number of liquor licenses available. Waddoups is Mr. Stifle Business with a capital slurred S.

Besides alleging that many legislators benefit from billboard-industry contributions, the article named Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff as the recipient of nearly $65,000 from Reagan Advertising signs during the past decade. Derek P. Jensen, the story’s author, terms Shurtleff a “fan” of e-billboards. I’ll take Derek at his word—and that’s more than I could ever say about Mark Shurtleff. Off topic a bit—oh, well, why not?—but Shurtleff’s office is about to get its ass kicked anyway by the best hound dog in Utah, Lynn Packer. Packer, probably the most respected investigative reporter Utah has seen in 50 years (including many pieces for this newspaper, famously the Bonneville Pacific series of the 1990s), has filed a motion against the Attorney General’s Office for misusing the AG office’s investigative powers during a Weber State University bid process for some legal instructional software that Packer was involved in.

I’m not going into detail here, except to say Packer believes he was wronged and that’s good enough for me. If the world were measured on honesty and ethics, Packer would be the yardstick. But, it’s measured in money. Since Shurtleff is in the e-billboard business, maybe he’ll flash this sign every eight seconds: “Yo, Packer. You can bite me all day long. $65K buys a lot of Band-Aids.”

Between Shurtleff and Waddoups, Johnson & Johnson stock will continue to rise. 

Click here to read the messages to legislators City Weekly staffers would like to put on their billboards

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