I mostly kept my own views out of the several previous posts in which I reported my one-on-one interviews with all five members of the American Fork City Council. But perhaps you’ll indulge some personal thoughts as we conclude.
I’ve observed and worked in politics and government at the local, state, and national levels since childhood, and I studied government in an academic setting for years. Whether or not I was inherently so at the beginning, I became cynical and skeptical. At the same time, I remain idealistic enough to hope for better than we often see in some contexts, and, yes, to be misled by the occasional politician, at least for a while.
A Jeffersonian Virtue
That said, these interviews increased my existing sense that there is a sort of Jeffersonian virtue about American Fork’s city government these days. I know people have grievances and disagreements; I know things things are imperfect and in some cases outright flawed. There is ample room for improvement.
But I just spent about five hours with good, capable people who I believe are doing their best to serve the city and its residents — and who I believe have done well, especially as a group.
I disagree with them about some things — rather sharply in a few cases. But there is a civic virtue at this level which I long to see prevail, though I do not expect it, at the state and national levels of American government.
All of that said, we know there will be two or three new faces on the council next January. What has worked well of late could continue, or it could collapse. More likely, the reality will be somewhere in between.
Much depends on the quality of candidates who file for the office in the next seven days — and, if I may say it, the quantity of high-quality candidates. Much depends on voters being conscientious, well informed, and resistant to naive or duplicitous talking points which push buttons but do not advance the causes of truth and good government.
One of my motives for conducting these interviews was for my own information. There have been long periods in the past when I was far more attentive to local government than I’ve been in the last two years or so. Even people who care about such things are often busy with other urgent and important concerns and activities. But the truth is, besides being busy, I’ve been less worried about my city government that at some times in the past.
I don’t think this is just apathy, and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone. There seems to be a significant level of trust between much of the public in American Fork and our current elected officials. I believe these elected officials have earned that trust — but that doesn’t always mean they get it. I believe the voters have earned it too, by electing people whose good will, effort, and competence they can trust — but that doesn’t mean the voters always grant that trust.
I want to say, we voters should enjoy this while it lasts. It would be good to have it continue as the names and faces change with the next election. That’s not easy. There’s a tendency for candidates to overlook the good they want to inherit and emphasize the bad they think they can fix. There’s an inclination sometimes to go negative beyond any justification, to try to appeal to voters — a minority, I hope — who would struggle to frame one positive thought about any government at any level.
Candidates With an Agenda
One of the things I heard in these interviews hasn’t been my own position. For years, off and on, I’ve criticized local candidates who say they have no agenda; they just want to serve. You may have noticed in one of these posts that current members of the council say they favor that kind of candidate — largely because single-issue candidates, once they accomplish or fail at what they want to do, sometimes check out entirely, and aren’t very useful or helpful with the rest of the work.
I don’t want single-issue candidates either. But when you run, I still want to know what you believe in, what you want to accomplish, and how you propose to achieve it.
I mentioned this to Councilman Barnes in our interview, and we approached some common ground. He said the most important things to him are police, fire, water, and infrastructure generally. Everything else is secondary. I looked at this good man and said, “That’s close enough to an agenda for me.”
Thanks, I Enjoyed It
I enjoyed each of these interviews. I enjoy discussing matters of consequence with good, intelligent, diligent, interesting people. I asked and received permission at the beginning of each interview to record our conversations for my notes only, not for release. In reviewing those recordings, I found myself wishing I had time to produce a podcast where residents and voters could hear these elected officials firsthand, one on one. It’s a valuable experience.
Each member of the council was willing to sit down with me and discuss matters candidly and on the record. The only challenge was finding times which fit our respective schedules; the five interviews spread over about four weeks.
I thank them for their availability, their candor, their service, and their enthusiastic dedication to American Fork.
Heights of Civic Engagement
I spent most of two decades on City committees and task forces in various areas of policy, sometimes as chair. It’s a lot like work. It’s sometimes boring, occasionally intense, and often frustrating. I found that, once City officials know you’re willing and try to be useful, they start asking you to do more. Sometimes I’ve told them no, sometimes yes.
All that work looms … small … next to the size and breadth of a city councilor’s ongoing workload, but it gives some glimpses into their work too. And I’ve seen their work at even closer range for several years. Skeptic and cynic that I am, I’ve learned to believe in the good will of many who do that work and to be grateful for their efforts, even when I disagree.
I don’t think it’s a lust for power or glory that, for example, sees Councilman Shelton through three consecutive terms in office, after nine years on the Board of Adjustments before that. The other current members of the council have long resumes of civic involvement too.
I understand Councilman Taylor when he says, after being on and off and on and off and back on the council again, “Of all the councils I’ve been on, this has to be my favorite.”
He also said, “You can’t paint American Fork City government with the broad brush of politics. At least not right now you can’t. This is a solid group that’s listening and that’s really trying. I feel really good about the way this council has operated.”
Realistically, American Fork couldn’t do much better than the present council — but that will soon be the past. In January we’ll have a substantially different city council, with two or three new members, as I said. Let’s take the next six months to see that we do well for the next couple of years, okay?
For the most part, I don’t know who will file for office in the next seven days. Even when I know their names, I won’t know until I listen to them which ones might make good city councilors if elected. I — and we — have some work to do, in the interest of good government.
Thanks again for reading.
Here are links to the other posts in this series:
- Water and Fiber
- City Finances and Inflation
- Growth and Its Challenges (including Development)
- Good Candidates and the Workload
- Miscellaneous Concerns, What They’re Proud Of, and Favorite Restaurants