I’ve been concerned for years that there is too little significant journalism dedicated to American Fork anymore, since the demise of the printed American Fork Citizen several years ago. Sure, there’s coverage of high school sports scores and anything striking or scandalous that news editors somewhere think will interest a broader audience, but that’s about it.
This isn’t good for good government (the local version), and it’s a missed opportunity to build a sense of community in a rapidly growing and diversifying city.
My friend and neighbor Danny Crivello did well to keep reporting some news at AFCitizen.com for years after the (Provo) Daily Herald swallowed our local newspaper, but one guy in a different, demanding career can only do so much for so long. (What he did, he did well, and the community owes him thanks.)
A few weeks ago, outgoing three-term American Fork City Councilor Rob Shelton, who has expressed similar concerns in the past, gave me a sneak, confidential peek at a new project he’s taking on to stay out of (in?) trouble when his city council term ends.
It’s not confidential anymore, and I can finally say this: I am delighted. Thrilled. Practically ecstatic. And grateful, come to think of it.
He has acquired AFCitizen.com from Danny Crivello and is making it a going journalistic concern. He’s pulled in some experienced journalists (meet at least some of the team here), and the first new stories went live there last week, on Friday, October 13. (I gather he’s not superstitious.)
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.
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.
If you’ve been waiting patiently, watching for American Fork election results to appear here, I apologize. Election Day was very nearly two weeks ago, and the results in American Fork weren’t close enough to worry that they might change as the last mail-in and provisional votes trickle in, until the official canvass. I was away on business that whole week, and very busy indeed, but I was home last week. I shouldn’t have needed all week to dig out, right?
Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe it’s that the concept of Election Day, with its expected results, has become a fuzzy concept for me, with the advent of mail-in ballots and slower counts. In any case, here we are, with some results which are still unofficial, but final enough in our own races.
"As the dust settles on the primary elections, I want to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you who believed in me and supported my campaign for American Fork City Council. Your encouragement, volunteer hours, and kind words have meant the world to me."
"None of our laws or regulations was put in place by evil people seeking to annoy the rest of us. Some might be outdated. Some might need upgraded. Some should probably be eliminated. But understanding why it was there in the first place is a good first step in not re-causing whatever made it necessary in the first place."
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.
There are nine candidates for American Fork City Council in September’s primary election. The top six will advance to the general election in November, to compete for three available seats. Terms are four years. Here are notes on interviews with the candidates. Updated August 24, 2023 (one candidate added)