My primary ballot for the 2023 American Fork municipal election arrived yesterday, and I’m far behind the curve. I only know about half of the American Fork City Council candidates at all, let alone well enough to choose confidently among them when I mark my ballot. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Ordinarily, I’d have been working at this for the last several weeks and posting much of what I learned here. But I’ve been busy with other things. Good things, enjoyable things — but now the slightly-delayed primary election is upon us.
I finally sent some questions to the candidates this evening — the same questions for all of them (see below), but weeks later than I usually do that. Whatever answers they send (within reason) I will post, and given the timing, I won’t wait to hear from most or all of the candidates before doing so.
Meanwhile, here are some other opportunities to learn about candidates.
Three of five seats on the American Fork City Council are up for election this year. The term is four years, and the other two seats and the mayor will be up for election in 2025.
Ten candidates filed during the June 1-7 filing period, but one has since withdrawn. Of the nine remaining, only one, Clark Taylor, is an incumbent. Another, Jeff Shorter, served on the council previously. He was first elected in 2013.
The primary election will narrow the field to six (two per seat). However, candidates don’t run for specific seats or from specific districts. The winners will simply be the six (in the primary), then the three (in the general election) who get the most votes. The winners’ will be sworn in just after New Year’s Day.
Here’s an important note, of which more below: municipal primary and general elections have been postponed statewide. They’ll be a few weeks later than usual.
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.
In my one-on-one interviews I asked members of the American Fork City Council what concerns they hear from residents. Interviews take different directions, but I also asked most of them, “If your term ended tomorrow, what have you done or accomplished of which you’re proudest?” In some cases, they disclaimed any personal credit and described things around the city which particularly please them — and that’s good too.
Just for fun, I asked most of them their favorite old and new restaurants in American Fork.
I asked members of the American Fork City Council what they look for in city council candidates. I thought their view from the inside might be instructive. I also asked them about the work load, because conscientious prospective candidates want to know what it will take to do the job right.
Three of five city council seats are up for election in 2023, but only one incumbent, Clark Taylor, told me he’s running. The other two, Rob Shelton and Kevin Barnes, have publicly announced their intention not to run — Councilman Shelton after three terms in office and Councilman Barnes after two terms.
(Of course, until June 1, there are no candidates, and we’ll only know for sure who’s in and who’s out after June 7, the end of the filing period.)
What to Look for in a Candidate
All five city council members sounded common themes. Where their own votes in a city council election are concerned, they’re looking for:
men and women who work well with others, and who can disagree without being disagreeable;
people who already have a resume of civic engagement — not necessarily at the City, but if it is at the City, service on at least one committee or coaching in the recreation programs, working in the arts, etc.;
candidates who know about City government and don’t just assume that all the stereotypes and talking points from national and state government apply;
overlapping with the last two, candidates who are energized by more than a single issue, who won’t check out once they’ve accomplished — or failed to accomplish — the thing that motivated them; and
the words good and honest came up almost as often as work.
Growth is a fact of life in American Fork, as it is on the Wasatch Front and in Utah generally. My conversations with members of the American Fork City Council included much discussion of growth and its challenges. That’s also a topic on which they often hear from residents.
This post will look at the challenges of growth generally, then focus on two perennial concerns: striking a difficult balance between regulating and facilitating development, and promoting civic engagement among the residents of large new neighborhoods.
I asked members of the American Fork City Council for their thoughts about the City’s financial condition. I had a particularly detailed conversation with Councilman Shelton, who has professional expertise in financial matters, about the effects of inflation on City finances.
City Finances and the Fund Balance
State law requires municipalities to keep a minimum cash reserve of 5% of the current fiscal year’s budgeted revenue. Until 2021 the maximum allowed reserve was 25%; now it’s 35%. (See Utah Code 10-6-116.)
One significant point of pride among all five council members is that, over the past several years, the City has built its reserve from below 10% to the maximum allowed by law, 35% — and the intention is to keep it there.
This is not just a rainy day fund, Councilwoman Staci Carroll explained. It has allowed the City to be opportunistic — for example, in acquiring a large piece of land for a planned regional park south of the freeway.
Councilman Ryan Hunter said, “We’re as strong as we’ve ever been, financially.”
This post addresses three topics from my interviews this month with the American Fork City Council: short-term concerns about the overabundance of water, long-term concerns about having enough water for current needs and to sustain growth, and the effort to bring fiber optic connectivity to the entire city, including homes and businesses the major telecom providers have declined to serve.
(Insert your own joke about [water-]soluble dietary fiber here. We’re not talking about that kind of fiber.)
Water, Water Everywhere!
I asked each member of the council what’s going on in the city just now, and they all mentioned water. The water is hard to miss, to be sure, especially if you’ve wandered down toward the harbor lately.
Each member of the American Fork City Council sat down with me this month, one on one, for half an hour or more, at my request, to discuss how things are going in the city. I thought their perspectives might be useful background for the municipal election season which starts June 1, with the opening of the one-week candidate filing period.
Two of these interviews happened in my living room. Two were at the City Administration Building. One was on a council member’s back porch on a pleasant weekday evening. I thank each of them for willingly making time for me in their busy schedules.
This blog is primarily dedicated to American Fork issues. My 2022 election ballot has races for nation, state, county, and local offices, as well as a proposed Alpine School District bond issue and a proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution. I’ve posted two guides at my site for a broader audience, The Freedom Habit.
The other addresses all the other races on my ballot, with info one each race and my own thoughts, such as they are, on each contested race. Overall, this post is less aggressive, I suppose, but it’s still what I think.
Today American Fork City Council candidate Austin Duke withdrew his name from the November general election ballot, citing "unforeseen personal and family considerations" and endorsing Clark Taylor, Ernie John, and Tim Holley.