David’s Last-Minute Little Election Guide, 2019 American Fork Edition

Tuesday, November 5, is Election Day. Of more practical importance, for American Fork, today (Monday, November 4) is the last day to mail your mail-in ballot. (Otherwise you’ll have to deliver it tomorrow, following instructions which came with your ballot.)

This post comes a little late, to be sure, but if you haven’t voted yet or made up your mind how to vote, perhaps my thoughts will help you to solidify your thoughts — whether you agree with me or not.

We’ll start on the bottom half of the ballot, for reasons known only to … No, actually not even known to me.

Fire Station Bond

Voters are asked to choose whether to fund a needed second fire station and land acquisition for a third station through an $8.5 million bond issue.

My longer discussion is elsewhere, but here’s my short take: We’re getting a second fire station we’ve needed for quite a while, to maintain acceptable response times and share a heavy call load, and we’re also getting land for another we’ll soon need — without a tax increase. The old fire station bond is about to be paid off, and new payments would simply replace old payments.

There are some happy and interesting aspects to this issue, which show the City working intelligently to reduce costs in the long term, but you can read them there, so I won’t belabor them here.

For me, this is very nearly a no-brainer. I’m voting yes.

People keep asking for my prediction. I don’t have any hard data, but my gut feeling is, it will pass with at least 58-60 percent of the vote, and perhaps as much as 75 percent, depending on how many people out there are cranky about two things which are not on the ballot. Speaking of which …

Two Things That Are Not on the Ballot

To one degree or another, this election will be influenced by the citywide fiber utility proposal and the absurd postcard Utah County sent out last week, announcing a hearing to consider a proposed county tax increase of up to 100%.

Citywide Fiber

The fiber proposal may or may not come to a city council vote in the next several weeks, and it may or may not pass, but some voters may want to vote based on their views of the matter. They may want to vote either for candidates who are at least leaning against — Rob Shelton and Kyle Barratt — or for candidates who are leaning for — Clark Taylor and Kevin Barnes.

As a voter I’m leary of making decisions like this based on votes candidates might cast, but haven’t yet. I’m more inclined to vote based on actual communication with candidates, which allows me to see not just what they think about an issue, but how they think about it, including how they weigh competing interests and considerations. Even if I disagree with a candidate’s position on a given issue, I may vote for that candidate, because I want the same quality of thinking applied to a thousand other issues.

It doesn’t make sense to me — but I know it does to some — to punish elected officials for considering a proposal, before they’ve gone on record with a final, official vote. Notably, in 2013 we punished incumbent candidates for asking whether we should borrow money to jump-start our collective penance for neglecting road maintenance for years.

Nor am I persuaded that it’s wise to vote one way or another to show current officials my support or displeasure for votes I think they may cast on matters which haven’t come to a final vote yet.

But enough of that. I’ve spilled a lot of (electronic ink) on the subject elsewhere, with more to come very soon. (Spoiler: the lingering concerns I articulated in my most recent post, mostly about the need to protect the City’s control of the proposed system, are now satisfied, after further reading and discussion.)

County Tax Postcard

If you’ve lost touch with your constituents and feel very secure in your seat (or don’t plan to run again), you might do what the Utah County Commission did:

  • ask all departments for their budget proposals,
  • add them together,
  • calculate that meeting them all would require doubling everyone’s property tax,
  • send out the obligatory notice of hearings on a 100 percent tax increase — because everyone understands (because you do) that the tax increase won’t be anywhere near 100 percent, because that number is just a cap on the increase you can approve — so there won’t be any serious backlash.

Maybe they’re getting us all charged up about a 100 percent increase so we’ll feel good about a 29 percent increase (I just pulled a number out of the air), but a decent respect for voters and taxpayers would have them telling us what they really think they need, and maybe — for congenial politics — the lower number they’re trying to achieve.

I don’t think this should affect votes in a municipal election, but it might have a few voters saying, for example, if the county’s taking all my money next year, we can’t afford a new fire station for our city.

I do think this is just one more indication that we need a different form of county government, with five or seven county councilors (elected from districts, not at large) and a county mayor, so the executive and legislative functions will finally be separated. As it is, we have three county commissioners, so if two of them support the same bad idea, that’s enough.

City Council (3 Seats)

2019 American Fork ballot - city council

What I Want

The longer I live, and the more I watch and dabble in local politics, the less I care about a candidate’s positions on a long list of specific issues, and the more I care about the character, temperament, and thinking of the people we elect. Members of the city council address a wide range of complex issues, some of which are legitimately controversial. And as we’ve seen somewhat recently, the wrong sort of petulant obstructionist can make almost everything more difficult and painful.

I want city councilors who are focused on City issues, not consumed with national politics (or unable to tell the difference). I want them to communicate well with each other and the voters. I want them to dig into their jobs as legislators, without trying to run the City administration or interfere in matters that are beyond their purview. I want them to be active participants in their committee and board assignments, so things work better, and so they’re more in touch with the community.

I’m won’t evaluate each candidate against my list of wants here. I’ve thought quite a lot about the candidates, and I’ve listened to them and spoken with people around the city (and elsewhere) about their work, in some cases. A lot of those conversations were off the record — but you wouldn’t want this post to get that much longer anyway.

If you know people who work at the City (or with the City), it can be illuminating to ask them what they think of specific candidates, especially the incumbents. Sometimes they’ll surprise you. (I’ve been surprised a few times in the last week or two.)

But onward.

The Candidates (Ranked)

There are five candidates for three seats. You and I can vote for three or fewer. I’ll rank them here according to my thinking, and I’ll mention some other possible approaches.

If you want to hear from most of the candidates directly, here’s some audio. And here is John Mulholland’s report of interviews with the candidates.

First Choice: Clark Taylor

Clark Taylor is intelligent, experienced, and works well with others. He was the obvious choice for Mayor Pro Tem, the council member the mayor nominates to take his place in his absence. He has served on the council twice before, and was appointed to fill Mayor Brad Frost’s seat for the remaining two years, when the latter was elected mayor two years ago. Taylor himself could be a compelling candidate for mayor in a future election.

He has a strong personality, which is welcome to balance other strong personalities on the council and elsewhere. I find that he listens well and is willing to discuss issues, including his positions on issues. In general, I like how he approaches issues, including the fiber utility proposal the council is currently considering. In that case he sees the vision, but he’s not in cheerleader mode; he wants to make sure it’s done right and will in fact be good for the city.

Second Choice: Kevin Barnes

Kevin Barnes is running for a second term. He is a soft-spoken and congenial, but also quite intelligent. He served for a while on the Planning Commission, which is valuable experience for a city councilor. He plays well with others, but he has his own views and approaches to issues.

He too has been willing to communicate his views and seek out others’ thoughts. He is candid without being overbearing, and I doubt he has a duplicitous bone in his body. In my outsider’s view, he’s a good fit on the council.

Third Vote: Kyle Barratt or Rob Shelton

Rob Shelton is running for a third term; I supported him the last two times he ran. Prior to his election to the council, he served for a long time on the Board of Adjustments, which also is good experience for a city councilor. His background is in finance, and I have valued that on the council. Like the estimable Dale Gunther before him, he was able to bolster a weakness in that part of the City administration. However, the City is now well staffed there, so this is less of an issue. I do like his work to make city finances more transparent to residents.

Kyle Barratt ran for council two years, but he’s a much more credible candidate this time. Previously I was critical of his lack of mastery of certain key issues. Now, in speaking with him, I find more nuance in his approach to complex issues, a more accurate grasp of the history of some key matters, a keener appreciation of the level of work required to mount a successful local campaign, and an evident willingness to consider others’ views, not just put forth his own ideas. Others report seeing the same. I think he’d be a good choice for one of your votes. (If you’re looking for new blood, he’s your only choice.)

Also Ran(?): Jeff Shorter

Jeff Shorter was elected to the city council in 2013 and served for one term, then failed to win reelection in 2017. This time around, he has essentially failed to show up for the campaign. That’s a deal-breaker for me. (It may not be for you.)

When he was on the council, he wasn’t the ideologically poisoned radical he looked like he might be, in his 2013 campaign. (Someone else filled the role of obstructionist for those four years, even to the extent of voting against the City paying its electric bill, to cite one example among many.) A number of people at the City speak positively of his term on the council and especially of him personally.

Prediction

Again, people keep asking. Again, I have no good ddata. But I’d give better-than-even odds we’ll see all three incumbents reeelected. I won’t be at all surprised if Kyle Barratt shows well enough to retire one of them. Which one may depend on how many people are upset at the fiber proposal or — more likely — which incumbent knocked on fewer doors than the others during the campaign. Local politics is still a retail business, after all.

Vote!

So thanks for reading, and go so sit down and fill out that ballot already. Mail it in time to get today’s postmark, and you’ll save yourself a trip.

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