Just before the start of the New Year, the Transcript’s editorial staff sat down together to discuss the stories we’d covered in 2010, vote on a Top 10 — a list that appeared in last Thursday’s paper — and choose a Tooele County Person of the Year for 2011. Our eight-member team has done this annually for the past three years, and the choice is never a foregone consensus.
For one thing, reporters cover beats, meaning they know much more about their sources within that beat than outside it. That can mean they lobby for someone they cover or try to dissuade the rest of us for voting for that person. We try to set aside any personal connections and biases, for or against, and select someone solely on their newsworthy actions. That process involves compromise.
Our criteria are simple: We look for single-year accomplishments, as opposed to longer-term achievement. This is largely because our mandate as journalists is to cover recent news, and other organizations exist within the community that recognize career or lifetime achievements. We also weigh up the impact or potential impact of the person’s accomplishments. How many people will benefit from their work? Did they solve a long-standing problem or introduce a progressive new concept? By these yardsticks, I believe our past award winners — Tooele City Mayor Patrick Dunlavy, for launching an economic revitalization of downtown Tooele, and Stansbury High School principal Kendall Topham, for opening the largest high school in the county — have been thoroughly deserving.
This year, as in past years, each member of the editorial staff presented their own nominations for Person of the Year. Many of those overlapped. After the first round of discussion, we were left with a shortlist of four: Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park, community activists Kaye and Brad Pratt, Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall and restaurateur Spiros Makris.
Many of us liked Park for his tireless crusade to address a politically unpopular issue, namely building a new jail to relieve overcrowding at the Tooele County Detention Center. We thought that, plus his handing of the sensitive search for missing homemaker Susan Powell and his claim to be the last Democrat standing in Tooele County after last fall’s elections, showed what an uncommon and remarkable leader he is.
We liked the Pratts, who would have been our first People of the Year, for a similar courage. Even though their protracted fight to keep power lines off Tooele’s southeast bench has often seemed an unwinnable battle, we felt they had inspired other ordinary citizens to defend their communities against big business or big government.
Marshall seemed deserving for his efforts to remake Grantsville City government following the city’s financial meltdown in 2009. He has moved into City Hall as the town’s first full-time mayor, demanded more accountability from employees, spearheaded sensible financial reforms to cut expenses and increase revenues, completed stalled public works projects, and pushed an ambitious annexation plan to enhance Grantsville’s long-term economic development.
In the end, however, the person who most impressed us in 2011 was Makris. Of the four finalists, he was the only one who had taken an entrepreneurial gamble, putting his own money and career on the line to get Sostanza up and running. Perhaps even more impressive, he’d taken this gamble at a time when the economy was depressed and new developments were in short supply. We also liked that his ambitions went way beyond personal enrichment. His restaurant not only introduced an entirely new lifestyle concept to Tooele in the form of fine dining, but is also regarded as the lynchpin for a Main Street revitalization. Though Sostanza opened in 2009, we felt like Makris’ managerial acumen and adaptability to the market helped the eatery become a downtown fixture last year — a year in which he also expanded the catering side of his business while adding a high-end pastry shop.
After all the debate and hard work that goes into our Person of the Year package, I have to say that it’s a lot of fun too. We enjoy showcasing one remarkable person each year and detailing their accomplishments. I hope you enjoy the end product. As always, please let me know what your think of our choices.