This is the post where I tell you what I think of our current American Fork City Council candidates and how I plan to vote in next Tuesday’s primary election. I get three votes; there are three council seats up for election this year. The primary will narrow the field to six for the general election in late November. The terms are four years, beginning in January.
Please note: If you visit this site for information only and prefer to avoid opinion, as some readers do, you’ll want to avoid this post. If you feel that all of our political discourse should be sweetness and light, you’ll want to avoid this post. But I’ll be as positive as I can.
I know some candidates fairly well, but others I didn’t know at all, except their names, until about a week and a half ago. I got a late start this year, and the best I can do is tell you what I think so far. In some cases information we’ve published here, plus my conversations at last Monday’s candidate open house, constitute all I know.
(Links anchored to candidates names below point to posts with their answers to one or more of my questions. See also John Mulholland’s report of his interviews with most of the candidates.)
You May Ask
You may ask, what right do I have to judge these candidates? The same right you have. I’m a voter with three votes in this race; I have to make some judgments in order to vote.
What right do I have to publish these judgments, instead of keeping them to myself and simply marking my secret ballot? Besides my old-fashioned belief in the First Amendment and my ongoing desire for what I consider good government, my fellow American Forkers keep asking me what I think.
Why would I say anything negative about any candidate (much as I wish I could be wholly positive)? Because electing ill-prepared or even toxic candidates has real effects on real people in the real world — on everything from taxes to roads to police and fire protection.
I’ve enjoyed conversing with all nine of the candidates, and I expect to enjoy further discussions. Seriously. They’re probably all good friends of their friends and good neighbors to their neighbors — and those things matter a lot. But I look for more where my votes are concerned.
There isn’t room here for detailed explanations. (Some of those will come later.) And it’s only one guy’s opinion in any case.
Votes 1 and 2 Are Easy
My first vote goes to incumbent Clark Taylor. I don’t have to guess how he’ll do on the council; I’ve watched how he’s performed there for years. He’s intelligent, reasonable, personable, realistic, willing to listen and communicate, and passionate about American Fork. He supports arts and recreation programs. He’s well known and well liked. I like his approaches to numerous issues, including his support of the municipal fiber project. For what it’s worth, he also has a rare public endorsement from Mayor Brad Frost, who by my lights is an excellent mayor and fits well the description I just offered of Councilman Taylor.
My second vote goes to Ernie John. He has a solid record of service in the community and local government, and an excellent knowledge of local issues and government mechanisms. He knows water like few people in the community. He’s a good explainer, which is not a small thing. I like a lot of his views, including his support for the fiber project.
Vote 3 Is Harder
Here I’m choosing between two candidates.
I don’t know Austin Duke well, but the first thing I learned from people who know him, except that they think he’s good guy, is that he has solid financial qualifications. I like having one member of the council with such a background. Councilman Rob Shelton has filled that valuable role for the past three terms but is stepping down. Before him was Councilman Dale Gunther. I’d been hoping to find a candidate in this year’s field for that role; in speaking with Mr. Duke personally, I discovered that he sees himself in that role.
My impression is that he’s somewhat underprepared, but not outrageously so, where local government knowledge and experience generally are concerned. The learning curve will be significant, if he’s elected, but he seems rational and intelligent, so he should manage.
Tim Holley is energetic, personable, intelligent, and better informed about city government and issues than when he ran for mayor previously. He seems to have put in some serious work since then. He’s a credible candidate now.
Besides that, city council is a better entry point into elected local government than mayor would have been. And truth be told, I like that he ran against an unusually popular mayor two years ago, with no realistic hope for winning. He didn’t get my vote then, but I think it’s unhealthy for candidates, including popular incumbents, to run without serious opposition. So I feel some gratitude to the opponents who sign up to take a beating. But that was two years ago. He should fare much better in this year’s election.
My choice? For the primary, at least — until I have a chance to listen more — my third vote goes to Austin Duke, on the strength of his financial background. But Tim Holley would be a good choice too.
Brief Thoughts on Other Independent Candidates
I hope to find in city council candidates a resume of engagement specifically in local government, with the knowledge and perspective that brings. I set this bar much lower for challengers than for incumbents, but I still don’t see what I’m looking for in these next two candidates. (I would list three here, if I hadn’t already discussed Austin Duke.)
I see some things I like.
Christina Ballard seems intelligent, with a good eye for detail. One of the most impressive things I heard Monday evening at the candidate open house was from her. I asked her position on the municipal fiber project, and she told me what she’s been doing to learn about it before taking a firm position. Short version: all the right things. I like a conscientious candidate who’s not content with shallow, convenient talking points or mere ideology, but wants to understand important issues deeply. If two of the candidates I rate above her suddenly went away, I’d feel okay about voting for her.
Elizabeth Gray is communicative, which I value. She cares about an issue which only gets more challenging as important as the city grows: community, a sense of community.
Over the weekend X (formerly Twitter) got excited, and traffic to a post with her answers here spiked, because of a poor-quality video which someone asserts shows her in an unpleasant situation in a local store. I don’t know the facts. Until I do, I will neither dignify the allegation with a link here nor allow it to affect my assessment of the candidate.
(I can only guess who might expect to benefit from taking out a candidate who’s likely to finish no higher than sixth, and I won’t do it here. Meanwhile, trafficking in anonymous smears tells us more about the smearer and his or her ilk than it tells us about the smearee.)
The Ken Sumsion Faction
Candidate Ken Sumsion‘s campaign sent out what appeared to be a robotext last week, exaggerating the size of a 2022 tax increase and recommending that we vote for him, Jeff Shorter, and James Boden.
To move up a few positions on my list, Jeff Shorter would have to renounce that endorsement and disassociate himself from the faction which swept him into his first term on the council in the 2013 election.
He’s a pleasant, likeable, intelligent man, with good name recognition from his term on the council. During that term he did not prove to be toxic, unlike his backers and the other candidate who won that election. However, he seemed too busy to accept the full workload of a city councilor, including committee assignments, which increased the workloads of the three city councilors who were willing and able. I’ve wanted to hear him assure us that he’ll have time to do the job fully if reelected, but I haven’t yet.
To move to my list of the merely underprepared, James Boden would have to renounce the endorsement. He seems pleasant and intelligent too, and his family is known for significant service in the community. But, except for his appearance at last Monday’s open house, I haven’t seen any effort to communicate with voters as a serious candidate should; maybe I’ve missed something, or it missed me. His talking points against the municipal fiber project are practically word-for-word copies of Ken Sumsion’s — which is fine, I guess, if that’s what he believes, and if they are based on truth.
Ken Sumsion served multiple terms in the Utah Legislature, representing a district which included part of American Fork. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor several years ago. He’s a politician who knows campaigning at a level we usually don’t see in a local race. All else being equal, I enjoy that. He’s articulate, well-versed in the issues and the mechanisms of government, and a master at smiling and shaking your hand.
He’s also a key figure in a faction that has done a lot of mischief in American Fork politics in the past ten years.
I’m fine with people who disagree with my politics. I even vote for them more often than you might suspect. But I don’t vote — except in utter desperation — for candidates who care about winning, their ideology, and their narrative more than the truth. That said, at least Mr. Sumsion is out front this time, putting his name on it, rather than standing in the shadows and pulling strings.
I’ve tried to avoid bogging this post down with too much detail, but I shouldn’t say such things without some explanation.
In the 2013 election his faction elected two candidates and engineered the defeat of a road bond proposal through a campaign laced with falsehoods, half-truths, and distortions. In 2015 they put up a city council candidate (unsuccessfully) and supported him with a similar campaign. We’ll talk more of such things soon, but for now, here are some highlights. (2013 links are to mostly-brief explanations at my old blog; 2015 links are to this one.)
- Over and over, they told voters that the City had no plan for the $20 million it proposed to borrow to jump-start neglected road repairs. In fact there was a very detailed plan, and it was public and readily available. (This is a familiar but sleazy play from the partisan Washington, DC, playbook, advancing your own proposal or sabotaging the other side by claiming that they have no plan.)
- They falsely asserted that the City wasn’t using crack seal on roads, and that it would be an adequate and much cheaper alternative to needed rebuilds of failing streets.
- In the 2015 election they falsely claimed that the City had cut its road budget by nearly half a million dollars, when in fact the road budget had substantially increased.
- In the 2015 campaign they distributed a flyer with a deceptive graph giving the false impression that American Fork had the highest property tax rates in Utah County.
- In the same campaign their talking points touted a seriously and obviously flawed study claiming that American Fork had the 4th or 5th highest city taxes in Utah.
If you fear I’m exaggerating or making this up, talk to some of our elected officials who’ve dealt with this faction before. Or, if you can’t bring yourself to trust incumbents, talk to others in the community who’ve been politically attentive for the past ten years.
I have no polling data to support the following, and my predictions are worth approximately what you pay for them, but here’s my list of . . .
Candidates Most Likely to Survive the Primary (in descending order of likelihood)
- Clark Taylor
- Ken Sumsion
- Ernie John
- Jeff Shorter
- Tim Holley
- Austin Duke
What’s Your Opinion?
How will you vote? How do you rate the candidates? Where am I right? Where am I wrong? What have you learned that I haven’t, that might help us all vote wisely?
Comments are welcome, within the usual bounds of relevance and civility. If you want to write up your own evaluation of all the candidates, contact me about the possibility (not guarantee) of a guest post. You don’t have to agree with me. It’s more interesting, and possibly more useful to readers, if you don’t.
However you vote, learn BEFORE you vote. And be sure to mail or drop off your primary ballot no later than Tuesday, September 5. (The mail-in deadline is usually the day before Election Day, but this time that’s Labor Day, a federal holiday with no mail service.)
Thanks for reading — and sharing this post with fellow voters, if you’re so inclined.