David’s Notes on the June 29 City Council Debate

As before, this is not an attempt to give a complete play-by-play report of everything each candidate said. It’s one guy’s notes and opinions, and I’ll be candid. That said, if you read my thoughts on the mayoral debate, you’ll notice that these take a different tone. There’s a good reason for that. The six candidates who showed up are a strong field.

There’s another good reason for that, now that I think of it. I set the bar higher for mayor.

Before we proceed, a warning: If you’re at this site just for information, not opinion and analysis, hit the back button now. This post is opinionated, though it takes a gentler, happier tone than my similar post on the mayoral debate — for good reason, as I suppose.

I came away from the event thinking that the six good candidates I heard divide themselves into two tiers. There have been races in the past where I’d have rejoiced to have any or all of the three second-tier candidates on my ballot. They seem sensible, they have some awareness of city government and its issues, and they have experiences and education which could make them an asset on the city council. I could vote for any of them, if it weren’t for the three candidates in the first tier.

The first-tier candidates distinguish themselves by their experience, mostly within and around city government, and their command of details. I wish I had three votes, and I’m going to spend some time deciding which particularly good candidate doesn’t get my vote, even as I hope for all three to survive the primary.

At the end I’ll tell which candidates I place in which tier.

As before, you don’t need me to tell you what they said. If you want to hear the candidates themselves, audio is available in a separate post. And I won’t always quote the questions here, though I do in the post with the audio. You may not need me to tell you what it all means — but I’m about to try, for anyone who’s interested.

Two candidates did not attend the event, and no explanations were offered of their absence. There are reports that Bill Houlin has dropped out of the race; that’s a perfectly good reason not to show up. And I read in the Daily Herald’s report on the event that the other missing candidate, Aaron Clegg, was away on a pioneer trek. That’s a worthy excuse too. But a word to the wise . . .

For the sake of your campaign, and to show respect for the voters, the process, the other candidates, and the host, when you have to miss an important event, what you do is this: You send a statement — perhaps even opening and closing statements — and a representative to read them. You include an apology for your absence and perhaps an explanation, before moving on to your political message. None of the missing candidates in either race did this on Saturday.

I would have liked to meet and hear Aaron Clegg. To date I know little more than that he has publicly endorsed and allied himself with mayoral candidate Carlton Bowen and congressional candidate Chris Herrod. If that’s all I ever learn, it might be enough. But I’d like to know (and share) more.

Onward.

As you’ll see, except for opening and closing statements, only four of the six candidates answered a given question. That’s a fairly common approach to a large panel of candidates and limited time.

Opening Statements

Barbara Christiansen

Barbara Christiansen

Barbara Christiansen emphasized spending nearly three decades understanding and explaining City issues, in her former role as a reporter for the American Fork Citizen and the Daily Herald. She spoke against unnecessary debt, but said sometimes there’s a good reason to borrow. As a communicator, she wants to help communication go in both directions between the City and its residents.

Staci Carroll

Staci Carroll

Staci Carroll talked about growing up in Utah County and in a family immersed in politics and public service. Her father was a state legislator and senator for 26 years. She prefers a collaborative, problem-solving approach which involves listening to others’ ideas. She has served on the PARC tax advisory board, which makes recommendations to the city council for the expenditure of PARC tax proceeds, and she noted that the rest of that council has endorsed her candidacy for city council.

Kyle Barratt

Kyle Barratt

Kyle Barratt said that, if he’s elected, he’ll be the fourth generation of his family to serve the city. (Most recently, his father served two terms as mayor.) He has a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in state and local policy. He has studied local issues and analyzed utility rates across Utah. He has attended or watched 75% of city council meetings in the last four years, so he knows what’s going on.

Doug Richards

Doug Richards

Doug Richards talked about his father’s and grandfather’s legacies of service to the community. It’s impressive stuff; you should listen to it, for the sake of city history if nothing else. His roots are deep.

Jeff Shorter

Jeff Shorter

Jeff Shorter is a one-term incumbent and has enjoying running for and serving on the city council. He spoke highly of Mayor Hadfield, including on a personal level. He ran originally because he didn’t want a bond, and he still wants American Fork to be debt free. (I don’t know how realistic that is, but as I’ve said elsewhere, I like having that voice on the council, when it’s a reasonable voice, as Councilman Shorter’s has been.)

Ernie John

Ernie John

Ernie John talked of his own and his family’s involvement with the American Fork High School Marching Band, which he continues to serve as a band dad, even though his children are all graduated. He served six years on the community council of American Fork Junior High, is president of the American Fork Metropolitan Water District, and is president and watermaster of American Fork Irrigation. He helped Brad Frost in his fight for American Fork Canyon. He’s lived in eleven states over 33 years of marriage, and has seen lots of things that work and don’t work. He’s running to bring all of that experience to the city council, to help American Fork.

Panhandling

Several candidates praised the barriers that were placed near Walmart to discourage panhandling in a particularly unsafe area. They also noted that these are people too, and we need to figure out what their actual needs are, if any. Mr. Richards talked about out-of-control panhandling in Las Vegas, where the major approach is to teach people not to give to panhandlers, but to institutions which can help them. (That’s a major emphasis in Salt Lake City too.)

Good lines:

  • Kyle Barratt: “You can’t police your way out of every problem.”
  • Staci Carroll: “Giving them money . . . is not giving them the resources they need.”

Growth

Mr. John said growth, and preparing for it, is the main reason he’s running and cited his work with water and his experience observing growth elsewhere. He said it’s important to maintain quality of life as we grow. He noted the importance of getting ahead of the curve and the costs of not doing so, as in the case of our pressurized irrigation system, which would have come at one-third the price if built when we already knew we’d need it, twelve years earlier.

Mrs. Christiansen praised the city’s Planning Commission, noting that they’re all volunteers. As an example, they plan the road structure before anything is ever built. She emphasized that impact fees protect existing residents from having to pay the costs of new development.

Mrs. Carroll said the City has already done a lot of things to prepare for growth. There are plans for a new fire station, a police station annex, and new water lines. We’re continually adjusting our impact fees. Part of the job is talking to residents and staff to see what the problems are, and that’s a lot of work. She mentioned the transit-oriented development (TOD) planned near the FrontRunner station.

Mr. Barratt talked about the TOD and emphasized the importance of communicating with landowners, etc. He cited the Farmington Station area as an example of a well-planned TOD.

Strategies for Gaining Consensus

Mr. Richards cited his experience and a plant manager and a corporate executive, where consensus-building is essential.

Mr. Shorter said it’s important to listen. Disagreement is okay; being disagreeable is not. He listens well in his legal work, seeking solutions for people.

Mr. John cited a motto from Nucor Steel, where he worked. “Hard to hurt and quick to heal.” He’s also been teaching youth at Timberline for seven years to resolve conflicts and solve problems.

Mrs. Christiansen likes the expression of different opinions and cited the importance of listening to others — which she has done for decades in her journalistic work. She wants to facilitate communication with the public, helping the City come to informed decisions.

Supporting a Mayoral Candidate

If you’re smart, and the other race is close, and you need people on both sides of it to vote for you, you don’t tell people who you’re supporting in other races, even if they ask. Instead, you say positive, conciliatory things about each candidate and their supporters. That’s just prudent politics.

That is, unless you feel particularly strongly about it, perhaps to the extent of not wanting to work with a given candidate, if he or she is elected.

So maybe they were being naive. Maybe they were confident that the mayoral race isn’t close. In any case, all four city council candidates who were asked the question — Mr. Barratt, Mr. Richards, Mr. Shorter, and Mr. John — explained in detail why they’re supporting Brad Frost for mayor. They mostly cited his strengths, but had some criticisms of Carlton Bowen too. Even Mr. Shorter, who was essentially elected with Mr. Bowen on the same anti-bond ticket and has worked with both on the council for almost four years, praised Mr. Frost’s extraordinary work on the council and is voting for him.

Mrs. Christiansen wasn’t asked the question but answered it in Mr. Frost’s favor when she was handed the microphone for the next question.

. . . Which is how Mr. Bowen lost the city council debate, which he wasn’t even in, mere minutes after losing the mayoral debate. You almost have to feel for any candidate who’s having that bad a day.

Quality of Life Issues

All four candidates (Christiansen, Carroll, Barratt, Richards) who responded spoke of the important of sports, recreation, the library, and arts programs in a community. Mrs. Carroll listed things that have been funded so far with the PARC tax (a small sales tax increment allowed by the state, for use in parks, arts, recreation, and culture programs). Mr. Barratt talked about a man he met who thought the City shouldn’t pay for any of those things, and responded to that idea. Mr. Richards described several ways in which he enjoys life in American Fork.

Good lines:

  • Barbara Christiansen: “[These things] help us grow together as a community and make the community great and the people great . . . and help us work together.”
  • Staci Carroll: “I’ve been going around . . .knocking on people’s doors, . . . and you’d be surprised at how many people in the city, their number one thing is a quality of life issue.”
  • Kyle Barratt: “Everything doesn’t have to make money. . . . When it comes to government, quality of life needs to override revenue in a lot of ways. Not always, but in a lot of ways.”
  • Doug Richards: “I’ve lived in five cities in three states. . . . This is my hometown.”

Current Council and Room for Improvement

Councilman Shorter (currently on the council) thinks the council has done well, but there’s room for improvement in personnel matters.

Mr. John praised the current council too, including its effort to balance the public desire for services and the need to limit taxes. He thinks the council could get along a little better, and he talked for a while about civility.

Mrs. Christiansen said they council has done an excellent job, including in doing things people don’t see — like fixing the pipes beneath the roads, not just the roads. She praised them for debt reduction and refinancing of bonds at lower rates. She sees room for improvement in communicating with residents — both informing us and listening to us.

Mrs. Carroll cited the making of important and difficult personnel decisions, but noted that it came at a considerable financial cost. She praised some members of the council for communicating well with the public on Facebook, and she mentioned the availability of city council meetings on YouTube.

Best line:

  • Staci Carroll: “I do that quite a bit [watch council meetings on YouTube], and I’ll tell you why: because I can fast-forward people, and that’s fantastic! . . . You should try that too.”

Cutting Things to Pay for Roads

Nobody wanted to cut specific programs, but efficiency and continuous improvement are good things, and it’s too bad that dealing with personnel issues is so expensive. And any extra funds we can find, we should apply to roads. It was a relatively interesting six-minute discussion, I suppose, for four people who agreed so much.

Councilman Shorter has had a close-up view of several City budgets, as a member of the council. He said, “I’ve looked at the budget, and there’s not a lot of room to cut costs. The City of American Fork has done a great job. . . . We understand that it’s your money. . . . I wouldn’t cut any [programs] right now. We’re always trying to be more efficient. . . . We keep equipment as long as we can keep it, before we surplus it out. . . . The City’s very conservative that way.”

Mr. John said he’s gone through the entire budget, line item by line item, and hasn’t found any line that needs to be cut.

Communicating with Residents

Mrs. Christiansen said, “I’ve been communicating with the citizens of American Fork for a long time.” She wants to use Facebook and other social media and the City website, but also have places for residents to make their concerns known.

Mrs. Carroll wants to keep using Facebook, start her own e-mail newsletter, find ways to emphasize the City’s successes, and be available to citizens by phone, e-mail, etc.

Mr. Barratt emphasized seeking to understand before seeking to be understood. He praised improvements of the City website in recent years. Facebook is good. His phone number is out there. Listening is important, even to opposing views.

Mr. Richards emphasized his eagerness to meet with people and his flexible schedule, since retirement. He prefers face-to-face communication and phone calls.

Dealing with Water Wasters

Responding to a question about a specific case of wasting water, Mr. Shorter said it should be reported, and the City will monitor the situation, and talk to the person and try to resolve it. The enforcement mechanisms are limited, and education is the most effective approach. He slipped in some more praise for Mayor Hadfield’s preventive measures for sewer pipes.

There was much agreement, and some candidates added some additional details, including Mr. John, who is a water expert.

Mrs. Christiansen wants to bring back Neighbors in Action, to get people involved and informed at the neighborhood level. (It could work, if they can find someone with the vision, drive, skills, and bandwidth of former Neighbors in Action chair and city councilor Heidi Rodeback to run it. Otherwise, it’s a volunteer sinkhole.)

Good line:

  • Jeff Shorter: “I thought the rain was free from God, but I found out the State of Utah controls rainwater.”

Closing Statements

Ernie John emphasized his desire to work with the mayor and the rest of the council.

Jeff Shorter would love to serve for four more years, but thinks eight years would be enough.

Doug Richards mentioned his years as a volunteer firefighter in American Fork and on the irrigation board.

Kyle Barratt said American Fork is a great place to live, and he wants to make it even better.

Staci Carroll said that style matters, not just issues — how you solve problems. She emphasized citizen engagement, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.

Barbara Christiansen mentioned her love of community and her service on numerous boards and communities.

Good line:

  • Barbara Christiansen: “When I was a newspaper reporter, through the years I had numerous people say, ‘Why don’t you run for city council?’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to, because at least at the newspaper I get the last word, and I don’t have to campaign.’ And here I am.”

She got the last word Saturday morning, too.

I see that I have not listed anything Ernie John said among my “good lines,” which are scattered through this post. There’s no motive in that, and I’m not going back and listening to everything he said, just so every candidate gets a trophy. But I will say this. If we were voting on voice alone, no other candidate would stand a chance against him. His deep, rich voice is even more impressive in person than it will be when you hear it in the recordings.

Aftermath

This segment included some thoughts from the moderator, State Auditor John Dougall, and also American Fork Chamber of Commerce President Josh Walker, who drew on American Fork’s history to make a point about our present. It’s worth listening to.

Speaking of the Last Word . . . Mine

I’d like to know more of Aaron Clegg‘s views and temperament. I see the fact that I don’t yet as a failure of his campaign. What I do know is this: He has allied himself with Carlton Bowen and Chris Herrod. So he’d be digging himself out of a pretty big hole with me anyway. For this alone, he himself might form my third tier of candidates in this race, but because of his absence on Saturday, I’ll exclude him from the rest of this discussion.

The Second Tier: For me, Jeff Shorter, Doug Richards, and Kyle Barratt are the second tier. As I suggested, there have been years when I’d have loved to see any or all of them on the ballot, so I could vote for someone better than we had. If any of them wins, I would expect him to do well.

  • Notably, if you recall my strident opposition four years ago to Councilman Shorter, this represents a considerable improvement in my view of him. I think he has served far more sensibly than he campaigned four years ago, and I’d be comfortable with him winning another four years.
  • Doug Richards comes from a long and honorable tradition of public service in American Fork. He has a wealth of experience that could be valuable on the council, and he would be interesting to watch, if elected.
  • Kyle Barratt also comes from a long tradition of public service in American Fork, and he has some background in studying policy, which could be good. (I cannot as yet rate his skills at it.) He seems intelligent and personal, and I don’t detect any extremism.

If you asked me to rank these three in order of my preference, I would struggle. I’ve heard and seen things from each them that I like, and I don’t see any major liabilities.

The First Tier: Three candidates make what would otherwise be a good field of local candidates into a great one: Barbara Christiansen, Staci Carroll, and Ernie John, not necessarily in that order. Their great advantage is a depth of knowledge and experience in and around local government.

  • Barbara Christiansen is walking institutional memory. She excels at communication, listens well, knows issues as well as anyone, and thinks sensibly.
  • Ernie John knows how local governments work, is a fount of knowledge and experience about water (pun noted), communicates well, plays well with others, and has an abundance of common sense.
  • I know Barbara and Ernie better than I know Staci Carroll, but she deserves her place in my first tier too. She communicates well, I like her experience on the PARC committee, she’s spent a lifetime observing politics from the inside, and when she opens her mouth, she makes sense.

I will struggle to decide which of these three does not get one of my two votes. Whoever emerges as my third choice, I will hope for him or her to be appointed to fill Brad Frost’s seat, which he will vacate if he wins the mayoral race. All three will make uncommonly good city councilors.

Two final thoughts.

Whatever you may think of Washington, DC, these days, we’re a long way from there. We have every opportunity to be well-governed in American Fork. I’m not sure that choice was even on our ballot last November.

We owe all our candidates and their families a debt of gratitude for the effort and sacrifice required to run for office, let alone serve if elected. One way to show that gratitude would be to vote in larger numbers than usually turn out for a local primary — especially if we have learned before we vote.

Thanks for reading.

Comments are welcome.

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