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.
Thursday saw American Fork mayoral and city council candidates gather to discuss their merits as candidates and their views of numerous issues. The American Fork Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event, and the president of its board, Seth Holdaway, moderated. The audience numbered about sixty — more that we usually see at such events. I hope this foretells good voter participation in our 2021 election.
Members of the All About American Fork group on Facebook submitted the questions online before the event. None came from the audience at the event, but numerous key issues were raised, and there was ample time before and after the formalities for one-on-one conversations with candidates.
It is time again in our two-year cycle for city council elections. This time we have 5 candidates, 3 of which are incumbents, running for 3 seats. There are some important issues including fiber, roads, and PARC tax oversight.
There is widespread agreement that American Fork’s roads are crumbling, and that rebuilding them should be a high priority in the City budget. Beyond this the rhetoric diverges.
For most of the campaign, one candidate and the local PAC which supports him – and whose flier he’s been distributing – have been telling people that, in the face of this great need, and despite having $10 million in cash for which they have no specific plans, city leaders cut the road budget by $450,000 from Fiscal Year 2015 to Fiscal Year 2016.
That supposed $10 million surplus is a tale we’ll consider soon. Today, we’re looking at the road budget. Here’s what official documents from the City say.
FY 2015: $3,051,000
FY 2016: $6,296,200
In other words, there is no $450,000 decrease. There is no decrease at all. There is more than a $3.2 million increase. The road budget more than doubled.
Even without a $2.55 million grant to fund the 900 West project, the road budget would have increased by $697,200 – that is, about 23 percent.
In fairness to candidate Allen Simpson, I note that after he spoke of this imaginary cut at a meet-the-candidates event ten days ago, one of the incumbents took him aside and gave him (and also explained) the real data. He didn’t make the same mistake a few days later, at last Saturday’s event.
On the other hand, the PAC whose flier he’s distributing doesn’t back down from its numbers, even when they’re provably false. They’re just using the City’s numbers, they say. If they’re wrong, it’s the City’s fault.
I’m using the City’s numbers too. Here are links to two documents the City provided me last week. This summary is clear and sufficient for today’s point. This spreadsheet has more detail.
Two years ago, the same PAC told voters that the City had no plan for the proposed bond funds, when there was a very detailed, carefully prioritized, very public plan.
They supported a candidate who said that it would be better to drive on gravel streets than to borrow one dime to rebuild roads.
They supported another candidate who threw all sorts of crazy numbers and accusations around, and who would not be moved even when City financial experts took great pains to explain things to him. He also claimed to have studied the City budget and found $3 million in obvious cuts that could be made right away, but then he couldn’t identify them – during or in the months after his successful campaign.
Both of these candidates won in 2013. One of them grew into the job quite respectably. The other, well . . . Word on the street is that even AFCitizens is embarrassed by him now. It puts one in mind of an adage which seems appropriate to Halloween: People with knowledge know that Dr. Frankstein was not the monster; he was the man who created the monster. People with wisdom understand that Dr. Frankenstein was the monster.
Allen Simpson is not a monster. He comes to the campaign with a much better resume of volunteer service to the city than one of these candidates I mentioned, and with a willingness to learn that the other 2013 AFCitizens darling has not shown. But Mr. Simpson still the PAC’s favorite, and he’s still passing out their stuff.
Meanwhile, the voters are learning too. In 2013, awash in a small flood of bad data, they defeated the road bond proposal. Two years later, a lot of them are saying they wish they’d voted for it.
This story has several morals. Here are two.
If AFCitizens bets the political farm on a number, it’s probably wrong. (But there’s nothing you or I can do to persuade them of that, because they know that they are nice, honest people who are not wrong.)
And learn before you vote.
If you want to help counteract the misinformation some folks are spreading to sway voters, please tell your friends and neighbors, and post this infographic on social media.
Here’s a link to audio of a few questions and candidate responses at last Wednesday evening’s meet-the-candidate event at American Fork Library: These questions were submitted in advance via the Internet.
What would you cut in the current budget to increase road funding? (Order: Barnes – Simpson – Frost – Shelton.)
What will you do to help fix our neglected streets and sidewalks, especially in the older part of the city? (Order: Simpson – Frost – Shelton – Barnes.)
Lehi is doing a great job of attracting major new businesses. How can American Fork do better? (Order: Shelton – Barnes – Simpson – Frost)
Each candidate had one minute for each response. Note the response order above with each question, because candidates aren’t named before every response.
Candidate Kevin Barnes after the October 21, 2015, meet-the-candidates event at American Fork High School.
Kevin Barnes hasn’t studied the budget enough to know where there are cuts big enough to make a difference. He’s heard a lot of opinions, but the numbers are too small to make an impact. He spoke of living together in a community and reaching a consensus as to spending. We have to keep maintaining the roads, but also everything else the City has to do — police, fire, water, sewer. Other cities think they have the worst roads, too. American Fork is attracting the right kind of businesses.
Allen Simpson talked in general terms about the budget process but declined to identify specific cuts. We’re going to have to spend some money we haven’t spent yet on roads. Maintaining roads properly reduces long-term costs. We have to decide how much money we’re willing to spend on them (but he offered no opinion of his own). A resident recently told him that her son discovered that everyday purchases are a little more expensive in American Fork than in other communities.
Brad Frost said he wouldn’t cut anything, “because I would have already.” He said the council’s priority has been infrastructure — roads and the utilities under them. He said the 2013 road bond vote gave the City clear direction not to borrow for roads, but to pay as we go. That will take a lot of patience, including with such things as maintaining major streets and not rebuilding cul-de-sacs. The City used property it already owned to expand the cemetery, rather than buying property. 300 jobs are coming at an oil company at the south end; CVS is coming. American Fork has a great model for economic growth and a great location.
Rob Shelton said he’d cut the City’s phone bill in half. Some employees have the City paying for both a land line and a cell phone for them. The City’s phone system is antiquated. Also, accepting credit card payments without charging a convenience fee to defray credit card processing fees costs the City over $80,000 per year in convenience fees. We need to decide if that’s worth the price. He identified some road projects the CIty has done itself, more cheaply, instead of using contractors. He’s very analytical and likes to roll up his sleeves. He listed some businesses that were looking at leaving American Fork to expand, but decided to stay, and noted that businesses are moving from Lehi to American Fork, because American Fork has planned better for growth and has grown more slowly. “I think we’re very competitive with Lehi.”
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.