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Saturday, June 9, 2007
I Have a Few Questions (and Then Some)

. . . to ask of the applicants for that interim American Fork City Council appointment, that is.

As I noted yesterday, six candidates applied for the late Jimmie Cates' empty seat on the American Fork City Council, to serve until it can be filled in January 2008 by a November election winner. The six will make brief presentations to the Council Tuesday evening, and the Council will appoint one of them in its Thursday evening meeting. I don't know how much time will be allotted in either meeting for questions and comments from current Council members or the public.

This is an appointment to a governing body with responsibility for legislation, law enforcement, public safety, and a budget of tens of millions of dollars. The City Council is taking the appointment quite seriously. One might hope for more time for public inquiry, but the available opportunities will likely be sufficient for the Council itself, who are the actual decision-makers. There may be some private, individual inquiries, and there will certainly be back-channel, one-on-one discussions among Council members before the vote.

Likely Questions

Here are some useful but relatively innocuous questions which may be asked of any candidates who do not answer them sufficiently in their statements. They are reasonably friendly questions, not deeply probing, and not likely to be misconstrued as personal attacks.

Q. Why do you want to serve on the American Fork City Council?

If a US presidential candidate doesn't have a short, memorable, coherent answer to "The Question," his or her candidacy tends to be quite short-lived. (Believe it or not, presidential candidates have foundered on this question.) At the local level, I would be looking for a quick, substantive, and coherent response. It's okay with me if someone wants to serve on the City Council as a stepping-stone to higher public office, as long as he or she serves conscientiously. It's okay if he or she simply wants to serve, or has a short list of priorities to address.

The other purpose of this question in my mind would be to help eliminate any single-issue candidates, of which more below.

Q. What City issues energize you?

On one hand, a single-issue Councilor is of little use and may be a positive hindrance in a governing body with broad responsibilities. This is true even if the issue is "Don't raise taxes at all for any reason ever," an old workhorse which got exactly zero American Fork City Council candidates elected in 2005. On the other hand, we want our politicians to be passionate about something beyond their own political careers.

Q. How many City Council meetings have you attended in the past year? What have you learned by attending?

I wouldn't demand a high number -- but the number ought at least to be greater than zero.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish in the next six months?

Here I would be looking for two things: (a) a sense of the City Council's limited jurisdiction and the limited influence of a single member, especially one on a steep learning curve; and (b) a sufficient understanding of City government to know how some things might really be accomplished. For example, problems with State Street are not directly within the City's jurisdiction, but the City could lobby UDOT aggressively about them. Along the way, if any candidate says he or she wants to fix something in the public school curriculum, which is not within the Council's jurisdiction, I would put a line through that candidate's name on my mental list immediately.

Gentle reader, this concludes the likely portion of this blog post. The rest is rather fanciful and posits hypothetical conditions which do not now and probably never will exist. You don't have to read it if you don't want to; it's still a relatively free country. If you do read it, you will probably be glad I'm not on the City Council -- so at least you get something in exchange for your time.

Unlikely Additional Questions

If I were making the decision, which I am not, and if time and other circumstances permitted a more comprehensive examination of the candidates, I would be interested in each candidate's responses to the following questions. Neither of those things being the case, I would be surprised to hear more than one of the following questions actually asked and answered.

These questions may seem excessive, even if time and setting permitted them all. However, judging by my own experience as a job applicant, they together would constitute a job interview well on the short side of average length, and by no means unusually careful or probing. I freely admit that posing each of these questions to each of the candidates would drag a public meeting unbearably far into the wee hours.

  1. Do you use e-mail comfortably and consistently? (Helpful, but not a deal-breaker.)
  2. Do you return phone calls conscientiously? (Almost a deal-breaker, if you don't.)
  3. By noon tomorrow, would you please provide members of the Council with verification of college degree(s), if you listed such on your resume, and with names and contact information sufficient to allow verification of the work experience you listed? (I'm not suggesting any deception among the six applicants, but resume fraud is rampant among the general population and occurs sometimes among Utah politicians, too. Imagine the embarrassment to the Council if they appointed someone based partly on a resume in which important points were invented or seriously exaggerated.)
  4. In the past eighteen months, the Council has addressed major issues which had been somewhat controversial for years, including the disposition of the City's broadband system, pressurized irrigation, and a significant tax increase. Are you comfortable accepting decisions already made and projects already under way, and working toward their implementation? Or are you determined to revisit and possibly obstruct one or more of these matters? (This question is designed to eliminate obstructionists who live in the past, if there are any among the candidates.)
  5. Have you ever lived for more than two years as an adult in any other community? If so, where? And how involved were you in civic affairs there? (Outside perspectives are sometimes very useful.)
  6. If you were of age then and lived in American Fork, did you vote in the 2005 general election? How about 2003 and 2001? If not, why not? (If you were here and able to vote, but didn't, you'd have to do some fast talking to convince me that your application should be taken seriously.)
  7. Are you sufficiently committed to a free society that you are comfortable leaving others free to do many things of which you personally do not approve? (It's not likely that anyone would answer no, which would be a deal-breaker, but I'd be interested in the look in their eyes and the conviction in their voice when they say yes.)
  8. Have you ever sponsored, written, placed, or distributed an anonymous political attack ad, anonymous flyer, or anonymous mailer in connection with an American Fork issue or election? (I am not certain that any of the six has done this, but I would want to know, if the appointment decision were mine.)
  9. Are you comfortable with the certainty that some of your fellow American Forkers will personally dislike you -- and tell their neighbors about it -- for years to come, because you differ once with them on some issue that is important to them? (In other words, Do you have a mature understanding of the personal cost of public service? We might find welcome evidence of a spine here, too.)
  10. Have you ever filed suit against American Fork City? If so, when and why? What was the resolution? (I'm not saying this is inherently inappropriate -- it may be quite honorable -- but in some cases it might signal that a candidate is impatient with or intolerant of normal political processes.)
  11. In 100 words or less, describe the proper role of local government. (The "100 words or less" may be more important than the specific response.)
  12. If appointed, do you expect to run for election in November? (I actually don't care either way; I'm just looking for evidence of thought.)

Feel free to suggest your own questions in a comment to this post; see (and use) the link below. If you are a candidate and happen to be reading this before next Thursday, and want to answer any of these questions on the record, feel free to send me your answers using the same link below.

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