David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Saturday, April 30, 2005
My Ideal Candidate for Mayor of American Fork - Part III
Part I of this series began with some essential disclaimers and explanations which are relevant here, too. It continued by listing several miscellaneous characteristics of my ideal mayoral candidate for American Fork. Part II focused on an infectious sense of professionalism, especially in communication. This installment takes up three topics briefly: volunteers, law enforcement, and the increasing diversity of religious affiliation among city residents.
My ideal mayor will demonstrate (not just claim) a genuine respect for volunteers and an active determination to welcome, to inform, and not to waste their efforts. The American Fork parks upgrade process is a positive example, despite some hiccups. Volunteers have been involved and influential in it from the beginning, and now nearly to the end, for a period of years. Portions of that effort, organized by a few volunteers, staffed by hundreds of them, and adequately supported by the City, saved the City tens of thousands of dollars in tree-planting costs alone. By contrast, the City's lack of interest in, inability to inform, and casual disrespect for recent efforts of Downtown American Fork, Inc.; the Nuisance Abatement Committee; Neighbors in Action; and the combined RDA task force are not positive examples.
A certain, rather common species of politician co-opts activist residents who irritate her by putting them on, sometimes even in charge of, volunteer committees. She can do this confidently, because she is in a position to see, mostly through inaction, that such committees are poorly informed and receive minimal staff support. Then, once in a while, when a committee gets busy and actually does something, its efforts can be dismissed as irrelevant, misinformed, or politically unviable - often at the minimal cost of enduring a ten-minute report in a city council meeting.
My ideal mayor would make every effort to recruit able, intelligent people to effective committees, then see that their efforts have good staff support and are well-informed. She would acknowledge that at least some members of such committees have (or acquire during service) some useful specialized skills and knowledge, and she would pay attention when the committees make a serious proposal. She would work with the committees and their leaders to insure that committees develop proposals that can be taken seriously because they are legally, fiscally, and politically viable. She would support, help focus media attention on, and often actually attend committee activities and projects.
Again, all this assumes that the mayor appreciates and welcomes, rather than feeling threatened by, volunteer participation in city government.
My ideal mayor, whoever he or she may be, has a substantive commitment (more than lip-service) to law enforcement. If American Fork ever was Mayberry, USA, it isn't now. I-15 is one of the major conduits for transporting illegal drugs in the United States. We also have a fairly transient population in a large part of the city, and we've been inattentive to nuisance laws which tend to discourage criminals from setting up shop in a neighborhood. Our exploding retail offerings are increasing traffic to and through the city. Last but not least, the city's population is expected to grow by as much as 20,000 or 30,000 over the next two or three decades. Our police force needs to be growing in size now, and we need to help it grow in quality by being somewhat more than competitive in compensating them. Higher salaries allow those who make hiring decisions to be more selective; this, in turn, reduces several kinds of problems, including expensive investigations and lawsuits stemming from alleged abuses.
My ideal mayor understands the "broken window" principle - that is, that any sign of ongoing neglect in a city or neighborhood attracts criminal activity. She also understands what I will call the Giuliani Principle: that tolerating minor crime attracts major crime. She has a spine, by which I mean that she's willing to offend a few slovenly neighbors if that's what it takes to keep a neighborhood safe. She understands that nuisance abatement matters more for safety's sake, and for the sake of property values, than it matters for beauty's sake. And she's not a hypocrite, by which I mean that she will clean up the nuisances on City property before requiring city residents to clean up their own nuisances. Finally, she can do math, by which I mean that she knows that (1) it would be to her political advantage to vex the relatively few voters who cultivate nuisances, for the benefit of the many voters who share neighborhoods with nuisances; and (2) adding a couple of police officers to concentrate on nuisance abatement actually will reduce law enforcement expenditures in the long run. For the city's sake, every square foot in the city should have someone who cares about it. Usually that's the owner or the tenant, but if both of them fall through, at least there's the nuisance officer.
Finally, my ideal American Fork mayor has an understanding that there is a growing number of city residents who are not LDS. Respect for all the city's residents requires that City leaders and employees not talk and behave, in meetings and elsewhere, as if the entire populace of the city shared the same religion. For example, when something needs to be done or communicated, or volunteers need to be mustered, or a prayer needs to be offered (which in itself is debatable, in settings such as city council meeting), city leaders should be as quick and eager to turn to pastors and priests as to bishops and stake presidents.
Copyright 2005 by David Rodeback.