David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Saturday, October 24, 2009
October 14 Questions and Answers with American Fork City Council Candidates
A mostly-complete account of the city council portion of the October 14 meet-the-candidates event in American Fork, emphasizing what was said and almost entirely omitting what I think.
The first half of the July 14 meet-the-candidates event at Shelley Elementary featured the four city council candidates, who are competing for two available seats. The format was the same as I described in my notes on the mayoral half of the evening which followed, except that there were twice as many candidates and a little more time for questions. State Representative John Dougall moderated.
So here's the deal. Because one of the candidates, Councilmember Heidi Rodeback (MFCC), and I have a household, a surname, and four children in common, some readers will think me even less objective than usual, and any analysis I offer will appear to some to be slanted, no matter its content. So I will refrain from the sort of analysis I offered in reporting on the mayoral part of the evening. I will confine myself to noting what the candidates said. Sometime later, in a separate post between now and Election Day, I may offer my personal view of the candidates.
I will offer these general comments about the questions: Some were relevant and well expressed. Others may have been relevant but were partially inscrutable. Several were irrelevant to the city council race. Some of those were obvious ringers, intended to allow one local candidate or other to say noble things about national politics; others may have been genuine concerns, but still were irrelevant to local politics. Such is life, when you draw audience questions at random.
There are some minor errors in statistics and details below, some inappropriate generalizations, some outdated information, some outright falsehoods -- whether deliberate or accidental I cannot say and will not speculate here -- and some vague accusations. I offer no comment on or verification of any claim or detail, except for this disclaimer and another at the end of this report: You cannot safely assume that everything said at the event and recounted below is true. The truth which is my goal here is an accurate account of what was said, not a detailed analysis of the truth value of each statement, which analysis some would dismiss as partisan even if it were completely accurate.
As before, I'm working from copious notes and an audio recording. I will feel free to edit and condense a little bit, while still attempting to convey the substance and, generally, the wording of each statement. There were a few places where I couldn't make sense of a sentence or two in the recording, and my notes didn't help; I'll note those.
Marc Ellison: (Condolences to friends and family of Heather Christensen, some more discussion of that subject.) A lot of issues need attention. Someone ranked American Fork as having the highest debt per household of any city in the area. Has a friend from Romania, who came here for freedom; he says he sees a lot of commonalities between our country today and his country before the communist takeover.
Jess Green: Cited city business owners' horror at a nearly 600 percent increase in their water bills. Couldn't believe the council could be so callous, "without human thought or feeling," as to force them nearly to bankrupcy with this "water tax." To the incumbents, struggling business seem to be cash cows to milk for money. This summer the council added a huge sewer charge to our water bills for the benefit of a business in Pleasant Grove, a fancy hotel. They take our money and give it for the benefit of Pleasant Grove. The junior high students might say that the smiles and handshakes can't be true, if they sold us out to PG's white and blue. May the voters allow the incumbents to retire to a fancy hotel in Pleasant Grove.
Dale Gunther: I ran originally because I was concerned about the financial condition of the City. I've discovered that there has been not a lot of good long-range planning at the City. The law requires the City to balance the budget every year, and if there's a shortfall and we have to cut things out. What they've cut out are capital improvements. For example, Jess Green mentioned the secondary water system. I have a copy of a 1989 letter sent to the mayor of American Fork, suggesting that the cities in northern Utah County get together and build a secondary water system. We didn't do that. The estimated cost to American Fork at that time would have been $4 million. In the mid-1990s it was looked at again; the cost would have been $9.5 million. In the early 2000s, the cost would have been $16 million, then $35 million, and when we finally put it to a vote, the cost was $47 million. My goal is to make the City get a system in place that will force the City to have the discipline to make long-range plans.
Heidi Rodeback: (Thanked tonight's organizers.) I ran for city council four years ago saying that I wanted to see American Fork provide a proper neighborhood experience for our families and children, by which I meant playgrounds, parks, safe routes to school, and a good library. Underpinning this I said was the need for careful attention to finance, planning, management, and economic development. I have been hard at work on this vision for the last four years, and I believe that strong leadership and careful planning have never been more important than they are now. Road maintenance has been deferred far too long. Public safety continues to get a high priority, and we must commit to paying for top-quality fire, ambulance, and police protection. These are costly but essential priorities. I think that with careful long-range planning we can provide for these needs and still have a little bit of money left over for quality of life. If there's a theme of my campaign that I want you to remember, it's long-range planning. Long-range planning would have got us our pressurized irrigation for $9 million dollars ten years ago. It would have saved us 80 percent of the rates we're paying now. I feel it is a privilege to work side by side with the residents, neighbors, and families who make American Fork the kinds of place we all like to live in, and I'd be so honored to continue that collaboration for four more years. I look forward to getting to know you better tonight.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question: What are you going to do to preserve the small-town feel of American Fork?
Green: I've had a lot of experience at planning, about 16 years. You have to plan for that kind of thing by maintaining the street structure and maintain the feel of a small town by creating neighborhood amenities. Planning is essential.
Gunther: The City has been involved in laying out a trail system; there's a master plan for trails. The Mountainland Association of Governments is studying downtown, which has deteriorated over the years as the west end has grown. Revitalizing downtown would preserve the small-town feel. We need to spend money on improving our road maintenance.
Rodeback: I think I began to answer this question in my opening statement. American Fork needs to be the kind of place we want to raise our children and families in. We need good parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, safe routes to school. We need to have good library. We need have a modest but good variety of arts and recreation programs. These are things that bring us together and help us build community. American Fork residents do a great job of coming together and building community. They participate in our citizen committees. We take our volunteers in American Fork very seriously. We listen to what they want for their neighborhoods and put it into effect. We get to know each other in our recreation and arts programs, and when you come to city council meetings. I congratulate you on making this the kind of city we want to live in, and I would be pleased to continue supporting your efforts.
Ellison: One of the best ways to keep a small-town feel is to have the people's voice be heard in the community and their wishes and desires expressed to the city council. The collective vision of the city council might be represented by a baseball; the collective wisdom of the whole community is enormous. So by listening to you, and doing what you wish, by not taxing you excessively, by making everything more of a win-win situation between the city council and the people, we can keep that small-town feel.
Question: Would you favor exercising eminent domain or other government intervention to obtain private property for downtown parking?
Rodeback: That was well said. I don't have the stomach for eminent domain. I believe private property reigns supreme. The only place I've ever seen eminent domain that was justified is when UDOT has to condemn a corridor for transportation, and even in that situation I can only condone it because I know they pay fair market value for the land they take. I think eminent domain is contrary to our American ideal of preserving property rights, so I would not support it.
Ellison: The Founding Fathers believed that property rights were essential to our freedom. without private property we would have no freedom. The highest standard has to be your right to your property that was given you by God.
Green: Even though eminent domain is a constitutional provision, I would not use it.
Question: How involved are you in the debate of current federal projects (Congress, Senate, White House; stimulus, energy, health care)?
Rodeback: As a citizen, I'm watching and I'm very anxious, just like all of you, but you're here tonight to know what I think as a city council member, and I want to confine my remarks to that. I have nothing to do with health care policy. Energy policy isn't made at the local level. I can speak about the stimulus. We accepted federal funds to finish 50 South. People question, should we have accepted those funds, when they come with such an onerous burden to the federal taxpayer. The way I look at that is, if we don't accept those funds, they'll be spent in someone else's community; we may as well compete for them.
Ellison: There's an effort at the federal level to socializing programs, to socialize health care. [Recording garbled, some mention of inflation.] There's a double standard. We bail out businesses that are too big to fail, but if we don't pay our mortgages, we get kicked out of our houses. I've made several calls to my congressman and senators, especially about cap-and-trade and other socialist-type programs. The problems with our federal government alarm my Romanian friend and his wife, because they saw the same things happening in our country.
Green: Like all of you, I hate $3 dollar gasoline. That's an energy remark. It goes back to planning, to use any federal funds that come our way. If you don't preplan for things like that, you'll have some difficulty in using anything that comes your way. I know that it comes with a very high price, to use federal monies. I don't know that we're dealing with any health care issues in American Fork at a governmental level that interacts very much with the Feds. If it came our way, we'd have to see what it was. I'm not in favor of those kinds of programs.
Gunther: I think we have to face great challenges nationally in these areas, health care and energy. I hope all of us will communicate with our elected representatives about our feelings and wishes. When it comes to taxation, I remember a bumper sticker I read years ago. I'll quote it with one word omitted. It said, "Federal aid? H---, it's our money." That says it. I think the stimulus money we got is a real blessing for American Fork; it saved our taxpayers directly a lot of money.
Question: How do we fight political correctness in American Fork? How do we fight it at the national level?
Ellison: [Garbled, seems to be in favor of honesty in government.] We need to trace ideas back to their source, to see if they are for the benefit of you and me or for the benefit of a special interest group. As government gets bigger, the potential for corruption grows. So the smaller we keep our government, the more honesty we can have in government.
Green: The easiest way to deal with honesty and integrity in government is openness in government. If you can't see it, and it goes on . . . Government must be open to the people.
Gunther: I echo what Jess Green says. I think openness in government is important. I think it's also important for citizens to take the opportunity to be involved in government. Government works best when citizens are involved. The mayor has a quotation in his office, "Government is what the people make it." I have always appreciated it when people have called or e-mailed me about concerns they have. It's effective when we know, as representatives, what you want. That's important.
Rodeback: Since we're talking about transparent government and sunshine laws, I'll tell you some of the things the City does to be transparent. We comply with state law. We have to publish notice of our meetings before we take action on any issue, in the newspaper, at the state Web site. Otherwise, if there are more than two city councilors in the same place, there will be no discussion of city items. Once we finished a meeting early and decided to go out for ice cream. There was not a single conversation topic we could seize that was safe to talk about, because we were so committed to this principle. Another thing I do for transparency is maintain a blog for you. I tell you what's going on at the City. I hope that helps. I'm always open to comments and happy to answer questions.
[John Dougall noted that the state's public meeting notice web site is pmn.utah.gov.]
Question: There's a large portion of downtown where there's no parking. There's no place to park. Where are we supposed to park?
Green: A very good question. Because of the nature of the construction of buildings in the downtown area, it doesn't leave a lot of area for parking, so you have to park along Main Street. You run into the problem of eminent domain, if you try to move your focus from parking along Main Street to parking on private property. Eminent domain is something that many of us are unwilling to deal with. Private property is private property. We can work with UDOT on Main Street to see if we can ameliorate some of the problem.
Gunther: The MAG study that's just been completed addresses some of these issues. There are a couple of options. One method would be to widen Main Street slightly to give us better on-street parking. The study proposes that there be public-private partnerships to create inner-block parking, so that we can solve the parking problem downtown. It's a great study; I'd encourage all of you to look at it.
Rodeback: The two main focuses of the MAG study are the volume of traffic on Main Street and the need for parking. There is a variety of possible solutions; none of them involves eminent domain. The City could -- with money -- provide more parking. We could use signage to point people to existing parking. We could create a merchants association or a special improvement district. There are other things that could be done. What we need to do is respond to the study, come together, and find some solutions. There are two values that are important here: We must respect private property, and we must respect the need of the downtown businesses to have parking for their customers.
Ellison: There are some private individuals who own parking spaces downtown. Maybe we could create some sort of a voucher system, so the owners can be reimbursed. We need to work together as citizens, as property owners and business owners, to come to a fair compensation for everybody.
Question: What are your plans for cleaning up and revitalizing the entire community, not just the downtown area?
Gunther: Cleaning up the whole community involves the public works department. We need to improve our road maintenance; we haven't had the money to do adequate road maintenance. We need to find the money to do better. While I've been on the council, we've dedicated more money to sidewalks; we've done a lot near Shelley Elementary. We have a Beautification Committee that works on encouraging citizens to beautify their property. That needs to be an effort that is spread throughout the community, so that people take pride in their property and maintain it properly. The City needs to support that. For instance, where there is no curb or gutter, we do 50 percent participation with the owner who wants to do that.
Rodeback: Three things are continuing focuses of mine. The first is sidewalks. Right now, we have $100,000 per year for sidewalks. That is a large sum, as a percentage of our City budget; it is a tiny sum as a percentage of the need. We have a program in development that will help us with the repair of existing sidewalks, not just installing new ones. I'm proud of our Nuisance Abatement Committee for working so hard to get so many of our nuisance properties cleaned up. A nuisance is not a property that looks bad; that's a matter of opinion and aesthetics. It's where you have drug properties, waist-high weeds, etc. We've been enforcing our ordinances, and we've made tremendous progress there.
Ellison: I visited Sandy, and they have a spring and fall cleanup, where the community focuses on cleaning up their own properties. They pile things in the streets and the City picks it up and recycles what can be recycled. When you have private property, you have more of an incentive to take care of it. We have a Beautification Committee. We have a lot of Boy Scout groups that could trim weeds and brush. Our public works can do that also.
Green: I like the idea of city cleanups, but each individual is responsible for his own property, and that starts with me. You clean up the property as best you can. That needs to be encouraged throughout the entire community. What the others have said concerning the various programs . . . It's important, and it needs to be looked at in terms of helping the individual to take care of himself.
Question: How will you insure that everyone receives all City services, and not just a select few taxpayers? All taxpayers should receive the same services.
Rodeback: We have essential services, such as water, sewer, garbage, and public safety. These services are extended to all. They are not restricted to any interest group. We also have optional services, such as the library, parks, and arts and recreation programs. These, too, are open to all, to any who choose to participate. We could answer questions about tax fairness, for example, whether all should be made to pay for a library that only some use. The way I come down on that issue is that a healthy community must have a good library, a good parks system, and good sidewalks. We all benefit by them, whether we use them every day or once a year. I think we all deserve access to a wonderful, beautiful city.
Ellison: I was talking to a business, a car dealership over by Carl's, Jr. They said that the pressurized irrigation system wasn't extended to them, but their culinary water rates were raised like everyone else's. [Garbled] a reason why the system wasn't extended to this company and why their rates were still hiked. It has to be equally distributed. [Garbled.] There are probably some things we can look at to make it more equitable as a whole.
Green: I echo what Heidi said concerning the various issues in the city, but I can also echo what Marc said concerning the extension of some of the services like pressurized water down the streets, so they can get the services for which they're being charged, or being punished, I would say.
Gunther: I would echo what Heidi says. When we put in the pressurized water system, there are some areas it's not economically feasible to get water to. The pressurized water rates are there for all citizens and all businesses. They may be adjusted as we go forward, depending on how many hook up and any other issues we have.
Question: [garbled, about the priority of road repair]
Ellison: When we put in the pressurized irrigation system, that disturbed the road base, which will cause future problems as the road begins to settle. There are some places where the culinary water pipe is not up to code, where it's four inches and it needs to be eight inches, so we have the right pressure for fire hydrants. We need to make sure all this is taken care of before we start to repave all the roads. But to have a healthy city, we need well-maintained roads that won't ruin our cars. We need to finish the pressurized irrigation system first. I think we have 105 miles of roads in our city that we need to maintain.
Green: Every time I drive to the junior high school or on the south side of town, I can hear our grandfathers wailing through the broken cracks in the roads. Those are not going to be repaired very rapidly. We need to be put on a schedule, to begin to rehabilitate what has been torn up. Just because it has asphalt in it doesn't mean that it is stable. There's a lot of studying that has taken place. There is horrible damage to infrastructure under those roads that needs to be taken care of.
Gunther: The public works department has worked on a long-range road maintenance plan. The only thing we need now is to find the funds to do it. There are some things we're working on. For example, the City purchased the broadband system years ago. It was a loser. That's been sold, and we're trying not to sell and lease fiber. There are some other areas in the city where we're running huge subsidies, that we need to tighten up. We need to find the resources. We have the plan; now we need to find the funds to do it. I'm committed to do it.
Rodeback: You heard me say in my opening statement that road maintenance is my first priority. The problem is, yes, we have about 110 center-line miles of road; we ought to be replacing about five percent per year. That puts us on a 20-year maintenance cycle. I visited with a professor of pavement management at BYU, and he tells me that's going to cost us about $5 million per year. Where do we get that kind of money? The solution can't just be money; we're going to have to involve planning in this. You heard me say that long-range planning is my second priority; road maintenance is central to that. We need to implement that 20-year plan. We need to make sure that our bonds are paid off, and that that money now goes into roads. We need to scour the industry for best practices and new technology to save us money. This is priority one for me, and I believe it is for you also.
Question: I've heard the words, "revitalize the downtown area," many times. What does that mean. Will you revitalize my business, too? If not, why not?
Green: Many years ago, I served as co-chairman on the downtown committee, so I have been through the problems of downtown quite intricately. They are many, and one of the biggest problems is to get the cooperation of the property owners, in order to proceed. We actually had that all done at one time, and there was an economic downturn, and some who were going to help out pulled out. That was many years ago. Revitalizing downtown is going to take an effort of the people, the property owners, and the City cooperating, and that's difficult.
Gunther: What happens with downtowns is typical in the United States. I've been the board of a nonprofit organization called Downtown American Fork. We attended meetings in other parts of the country, where we had seminars. We were given a subsidy by the state. We got the downtown property owners pretty much together, in terms of setting up a public-private partnership. We went to the City and said, we will pay a certain amount of money, will the City match it? The City kept saying, no, we don't have the money to do it. That's why I ran for city council. I got elected and found out . . . that we don't have the money to do it. My hope is that we can revitalize public-private partnerships.
Rodeback: Downtown is the economic epicenter of our community. It's the image we project to the world. It's the heart and soul of our identity. It's important that we protect and revitalize a healthy downtown, so we can attract good businesses to our community, and so we can employ families and keep them in our community. It is equally important to me, as a resident of the downtown neighborhood, that we prevent blight from taking place, because that leaks into my neighborhood and invites crime. So this is an important issue. Economic development is a fine line for cities to walk. We don't run businesses; we don't subsidize businesses. We believe in a free market economy. But at the same time we don't create a hostile environment, and we do pay attention to the infrastructure that helps businesses to succeed, such as traffic planning, sidewalks, sign ordinances. These are all important. This is my vision of downtown planning.
Ellison: When the Meadows moved into American Fork, it seems like the majority of business now goes out there, instead of downtown. We need to regulate more closely what businesses do go on Main Street, because that portrays in image of our town. If we have businesses that attract crime or create a negative image or are anti-family, [garbled]. We need to help our business owners maintain adequate parking, so they can succeed.
Question: What are the plans for the roads in front of the junior high school and near Art Dye Park?
Gunther: We had the Art Dye Park road and the road in front of the junior high on the bond issues that were defeated some time ago. Those are issues we need to address. We haven't had any plan to bring back to the public, because they were part of the bonds, and the public said, no, don't do it. Long-range, we've got to do something there, but it hasn't been on the front burner.
Rodeback: We did propose widening the access road to Art Dye Park. It is a public safety issue. We had an incident where we needed to get an ambulance in and we couldn't; we had to bring a helicopter in instead. That bond was defeated, as were all the others, so we're not pursuing that at this time. The way I see us pursuing it is, when we have parks bonds paid off and we have revenue available, that will be our first priority. As to 1120 North, in front of the junior high, that has been on the general plan for 25 years to be extended to 900 West. It needs to happen so we can get our emergency vehicles to that part of town in a timely matter. We don't have money to do this. We can't complete the bridge that is needed. We can't complete the improvements to 900 West that have to be done before we make that extension, so it's on the back burner right now. We do have money for speed mitigation in front of the junior high, and I am a strong proponent of that.
Ellison: I would like to thank the citizens for voting down those five bonds. I looked at how much they were going to cost us, how much it was going to add to our property tax burden, and I was glad we voted those down. There was a great group of residents in the area of 1120 North who got together, because they didn't want that road to go through. So they got their neighbors together and they fought really hard against the bond. We should look at the City's finances first before we put extra taxes on the citizen through bonds. Art Dye Park is something we could make a priority. If we could make it safer, that would be good. I know the City right now is trying to save about 18 percent of our revenue. We could use that to pay off our debts and get rid of that interest we're paying.
Green: In the past, the Art Dye Park area and the road in front of the junior high school were intimately linked, as far as an access way east and west. Not only was it considered to put a road across the Developmental Center property over to 1100 East, but they need to develop it also to the west. Whether they will rethink the roadway going east from the junior high school, I don't know. That periodically came up about every five years. I think that with the private property owners it can be accomplished, for an access road out there, and it should be, without a bond.
Question: What are your positions and concerns regarding 100 East and 300 North?
Rodeback: 100 East is interesting, because the state, which now has jurisdiction over 100 East, is talking about giving it back to American Fork. We'll need to recognize that on our master plan as a major artery, and protect it and make sure it is well-maintained. 300 North is a major collector, and 30 miles per hour is an appropriate speed for it, and it's another road we need to keep maintained, and make sure it's safe, especially by the high school, where we have so much traffic.
Ellison: I'd have to find out what the citizens want to do with those two road before we move forward. They are major thoroughfares; I use them every day. They're important arteries.
Green: 300 North will be difficult to expand to a full-service collector road going westward, because it terminates out there, if I remember correctly. So a reasonable outlet system will have to be developed. Going east, it basically terminates its superflow at about 1100 East. I don't see 300 North taking less traffic in the future, but more, so we'd better plan to do something with it.
Gunther: Regarding 100 East, as Heidi mentioned, UDOT wants to give that back to the city. I'm opposed to taking it, because I don't want to do the maintenance on it. So I want the state to keep it. 300 North is a major route, and it will continue to be. We need to maintain it as best we can and look at improving other east-west routes, to take some of the traffic off it.
Question: What, if any, changes would you make to the police department, including funding changes for next year?
Ellison: There was a was a high turnover in the police department, and the city council over the last four years has raised their rates, so they can hold onto the trained police officers. At this time, I wouldn't see any additional pay raises. They've done really well, trying to make it as equitable as possible.
Green: The police department is one of the key organizations in the City structure, and it is responsible for many services besides the one you see. There is, or used to be, a rate schedule which specified raises, and I think those should be followed. They need to be reevaluated, but I think the police department is one of the key operations in the city.
Gunther: Our police department is really superbly run. Chief Call was hired four years ago; he's done an outstanding job building the police department. We run lean; we don't have as many officers as [garbled]. We did raise their wages; that's going to be a challenge going forward, because other cities are paying higher wages, and we have to be competitive to keep good officers. I think the City intends to do that, and I would be in favor of it, to keep our good police force intact.
Rodeback: Yes, four years ago we did get that pay raise, so we could keep good officers in our city. We were losing officers to other cities, that were paying higher wages. I visited with Chief Call recently about this, and he tells me that this problem is starting to happen again. When it happens, we lose our investment in the officer's training, so to protect our investment, we need to revisit this issue again. It needs to be a priority in our budget, which is why I said that, after long-range planning, public safety is my second budget priority. Let me just add that we owe our safety and our health sense of peace and well-being in our city to a good police force, and that's a debt we never can repay. We express our gratitude to them.
Question: With FrontRunner coming to south American Fork, what specific plans do you have to insure that increased traffic going there will be properly managed?
Green: We've already taken steps to solve part of that problem, that's the 300 West traffic semaphore on Main Street, which was 25 years in coming, and we're grateful for it. We've wished for that for years. We always say, you build it, they will come, and they did. We don't know all the issues that will be raised by FrontRunner, and we need to be very cognizant of the south side of the community and the expansion that will take place down there. Maybe we do have an idea, but I'm sure the problems will exceed our thoughts.
Gunther: FrontRunner, Pioneer Crossing, and the Vineyard Connector will impact that area quite dramatically. A lot of problems can be solved by developers, through impact fees and roads and services developers will have to put in as those areas develop.
Rodeback: FrontRunner is going to transform that area in ways we can't even imagine right now. Already we have commercial realtors wooing landowners there who have been running the family farm for generations. It is clear to me that the City must get its transit-oriented development ordinance on the books before this development runs out of control. I've been speaking loudly for this. I want to be sure that we have quality transit-oriented development in that area. We recently passed a sensitive land ordinance, showing how that area needs to be developed to address water table and earthquake issues. Once this recession lifts, we'll see huge change, and I hope the City will act now to get the remaining ordinances in place.
Ellison: It's really important that the city council get involved in the construction before it happens, in the planning phases . . . [garbled] . . . I work it Salt Lake at the Church Office Building, and I take the express bus five days a week. It will be nice to have FrontRunner to get to work in Salt Lake. We'll be able to have more jobs, and people who put jobs in our community will be able to reach out further, to the neighboring communities [for employees].
Question: What the highest priority items the city council should address these next few years?
Gunther: I mentioned long-range planning. It's important. We need to focus on it and get systems in place, so future city councils will have a road map to follow, so they don't put off capital improvements and instead spend money on developers. [garbled]
Rodeback: I'm going to make you a list. Our urgent, pressing priorities are road maintenance, long-term planning, public safety, and economic development. Ongoing needs are parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, safe routes to school, the library, arts, and recreation.
Ellison: One of my priorities is honesty and integrity in local government, making sure they're answerable to us, making sure they're doing what we wish. Another one is the tax burden and the increase in water rates, decreasing that burden by paying off our debts as soon as possible, so that instead of interest going to banks, it will be used to fix the roads and improve the standard of living in our community. We look at the economic turmoil in the world, because of the the manufacturing going overseas, I see that the recession is not going to end anytime soon. We see the stock market going up, but overall job losses are increasing, and we're not getting the money to the people, where it needs to be.
Green: Stop increasing the debt that falls on the people in this community. Get in line the interest paid on the bonds. It needs to be dropped, like Orem did. We need to be more frugal with the kinds of projects we take on. We need in economic times like these to point ourselves toward those that are essential, and not those that are playthings.
Question: What do feel that you can bring to the council?
Rodeback: I've never felt that the city council is an entry-level position. When I ran for city council four years ago, it was with extensive volunteer service in the community. I served on the parks task force; I was the chair of Neighbors in Action; I was a member of Downtown American Fork, Inc., and a founder of the Greenwood Neighbors Initiative. What I learned in this work, even before I was on the council, is that it takes a lot of elbow grease to get things done. I'm a hard worker. I believe in representing the interests of my neighbors. I'm a listener. I listen to you. I answer e-mails and return phone calls. I don't know if you will believe this, but I am an honest person. I will admit my faults and make right my mistakes.
Ellison: I'd really like to serve this community, because I have no special interest ties. I'm here to serve you; I realize that it makes me your servant, not your boss. Because I have no agendas or special interests, I can truly answer to your needs and concerns, and find the best route to accomplish what you envision.
Green: You'll find I'm a no-nonsense person. I do what's necessary, and that's all.
Gunther: Much has been said about the City's debt. That's come about because things have been put off. We talked about the pressurized system; that's costing us $47 million. We're the last city in northern Utah County to go to a pressurized irrigation system. If it had been done 20 years ago, it would have cost us $4 million, and we'd have it paid off. The council didn't make the final decision to proceed; that was a general obligation bond that the citizens voted on, and they voted to do that. In the past, the Meadows and broadband bonds were revenue bonds which the people didn't get a chance to vote on. My philosophy is, we're not going to do that, except in very unusual circumstances. We're going to have you vote on whether you want to go into debt or not.
Question: What is your strategy to hold the City fiscally responsible?
Ellison: Sunshine laws and accountability, so we know where all the different decisions come from. We should track whether an idea was the people's idea or a corporation's idea. Then we can know why we voted on something. Dale mentioned not having any revenue expenditures [garbled]. It's so important that we know who makes decisions, who's going to benefit, and that is how we can hold the City accountable.
Green: The first priority of any councilman is to be responsible for the oath he takes to serve with integrity. After that, openness in government is the key to keeping the entire council accountable to the people, and I do mean open government.
Gunther: It's this long-range planning I've been harping on. If we get it in place, so we know what we've got to spend on roads and to replace equipment, if we have it built-in and systematized, it doesn't matter who's there. Whoever's in office can see what's coming up, and it's hard to put things off. That's my way of holding the city council and mayor fiscally responsible.
Rodeback: We've named two of the keys already, sunshine laws that make us do City business in the open; that keeps the City responsible. Long-range planning is important, because, if we do not plan, we will not be applying our money to priorities, and we will be spending on impulse. A city budget is no different from a household budget in that respect, and we must have good long-range planning to insure that we are not doing reactive, knee-jerk tax increases every year. Two things we haven't mentioned yet: We need leaders with proven financial ability, who know how money works. And we need to be committed to the principle of government by the people. I have never forgotten that I must pay the same taxes I ask you to pay. If it's a hardship for you, it's a hardship for me.
Question: I've heard it said that, as bonds are paid off, we need to make sure that money goes to priority projects. Are you telling us that every government bond issue is a tax increase that never goes away?
Green: It has been my experience that taxes never go down. If those bonds are paid off, then the money can be allocated to other projects. It's just so hard to get those long-term bonds paid off in the foreseeable future, and it's difficult to plan for what we're going to do with the money, but I assure you, the City, whoever's in there, will find a way to spend the money.
Gunther: Let me give you an idea of some of the problems we've got, and how, if we can do what we're hoping to do, we'll help find the money for some of these things we need to do, like road maintenance and other things we talk about. The bond for the broadband . . . we borrowed $6 million, and we used it basically to make payments on the bond. When we took office, the broadband department was losing $1.5 million per year, including bond payments. We've got that down to about $1 million per year. Once those bonds are paid off, that will free up $1 to $1.5 million dollars. The Meadows/Target bond was $6 million; that should be paid off in about 2011; that will give us some revenue to help us with some of these things. Those are just two examples.
Rodeback: It's a truism in government that there's no such thing as a temporary tax increase, but I appreciate whoever it was who asked this question, for pointing out that we do have the option to lower taxes. When we talked about fiscal accountability, one thing that means is that, when those bonds are paid off, we owe it to you to tell you that it's paid off, that we now have revenue freed up that we could refund to you or put into priorities. I think it's our duty to include the public in that discussion. I think I was the one who said that, as those bonds were paid off, I see that money going to road maintenance. That hasn't been proposed to the council. The reason I say that is that we pay about $4 million per year on the bonds, and we're short about $4 million per year for road maintenance. So it's something to think about.
Ellison: I'm committed that when the bonds are paid off that money is going to pay off other debt or projects that are valued, instead of increasing your taxes. As I read through the comprehensive financial report of the City, you see money going this way and that way, and I think there is enough money going this way and that way that we don't have to raise your taxes any more. I'd like to get to the point that we're lowering your taxes; that would be my goal.
Rodeback: Thank you for being here tonight. I want to refer you to my web site, www.heidiforcouncil.com. There you will find a full and honest explanation of my platform, my priorities and my record. With that, I'd like to leave you a fistful of promises for the next four years. I promise that I will prioritize our city's most pressing needs; as I said already, I see those as road maintenance, long-range planning, public safety, and economic development. I promise to remember that I pay the same taxes that I ask you to pay. I promise to listen to you, to listen to both sides of an issue, to keep an open mind as I listen, and to analyze the numbers and consequences very carefully. I promise to be available to you. You already know that you can come and talk to me. You can call me on the phone. You can e-mail me. You can stop me in the grocery story, and I will answer your questions. Finally, I promise to continue my advocacy of quality-of-life issues that make American Fork the kind of city we want to live in. You can trust me when I make these promises, because this is what I have been doing for the last four years. It's what I did for years before that as a volunteer. It's what I hope to be able to do for you for the next four years. Thank you for coming, and I hope we can talk some more.
Gunther: Thank you for coming. I've enjoyed being a representative of the people the last four years, and I'd like to continue to do so, if you see fit to reelect me. I feel bad that there isn't more time. There's so much more I'd like to tell you in answer to some of these questions, but time doesn't allow that. Please call me or e-mail me, and I will respond. I love it when people ask questions and are interested in our community and in knowing what's going on. I pledge to you that I will continue to listen to you and to represent you to the best of my ability. Thank you for coming tonight. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you, and I hope to be able to [garbled].
Green: I'm delighted to see you all here, and I thank you for coming. I've been here before. I didn't expect to be here this time; it was a total accident. I expected a younger person to be in my place, and I would have been delighted if one could have been here. But if you want some change in your community, and a reduction of indebtedness, then Marc and I are all you've got, because I can pledge to you that there will be a different road, that we will look out for your money, and I can tell you that in full truth.
Ellison: Thanks for coming. It's great to see people who are active and involved and concerned about their community. What really woke me up last year is when we tried to pass the five bonds, and the increase in the water rates. You always feel like the federal government tries to pull one arm with taxes, and the other arm with state taxes. You have the cost of living increases [garbled]. And so whoever you elect, they make promises, and if those promises are not kept, I think they've essentially stolen your vote. When people do get to city office, a lot of them do have pure intentions when they get to city office, and then the money starts flying around under the table, and it starts to compromise integrity. This is something Hamilton wrote about 200 years ago, in 1825 . . . "For it is a truth experienced in all ages, that the people are probably most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion." So whoever you elect, you need to keep their feet to the fire, and you need to question what they're doing all the time, not just in an election year. You need to say, why did you make that decision? And if they don't give you an open, honest, and logical answer, then keep their feet to the fire, until they give you an answer that sounds truthful. If you want honesty in government, if you want your taxes not to go up, then I would ask if I can count on your vote.
[Here in particular I must repeat my disclaimer. My effort here has been to report what was said, not to evaluate its truth or the soundness of its reasoning. Any accusations of official misconduct herein are entirely on the part of the speaker; please do not assume that I assert or believe they are true, or even vaguely suspect that they might be. I -- most emphatically -- do not.]
Copyright 2009 by David Rodeback.