David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Meet the American Fork Candidates, Round Two: Summary
Here I report mostly what wasn't already said at last week's event. There were some new questions. Photos and links to audio recordings of all answers and statements are included.
[Note: Since posting this, I have fixed some typos and tweaked some of the writing for clarity, without modifying the substance. -- DR]
Event and Format
This evening, the second of two meet-the-candidates events was held in American Fork at the Senior Center downtown. It was sponsored by the Youth Student Council and moderated by former Councilman Shirl LeBaron, a veteran of many such events. Once again, all five candidates were present: Mayor J. H. Hadfield and his opponent Bill Thresher, and, vying for two available city council seats, incumbent Craig Nielsen and two challengers, Jeffrey Shorter and Carlton Bowen.
Attendance was excellent; I counted about 100 people in the audience at the beginning. (Let's have a round of applause for American Fork voters.) As usual, the candidates were available well before the formalities began and well after they ended, talking to voters individually and in small groups.
There were two-minute opening statements. Most of the time, candidates had one minute each to respond to questions, but they were given two and a half minutes each to discuss road repairs and the proposed bond issue to fund them. The moderator said about half the questions submitted were on that subject. Finally, there were two minutes each for closing statements, but some of the statements were much shorter. All five closing statements, plus some concluding thoughts from the moderator, totaled less than seven minutes. (I'm not sure what candidates leaving that many minutes on the table might mean. Maybe the timer wanted to go home. Maybe they all wanted to go home. Maybe they figured they'd already made their points. Maybe the world is about it end.)
As before, the questions were submitted by the audience in writing, then selected, merged, amended, etc., as necessary by the moderator.
As before, I'll confine myself to reporting and summarizing in this post. In the following post I'll add some analysis and commentary. So if you just want my notes on what was said, or links to audio files, you can ignore the second post. It's your choice.
I Eschew Redundancy (But I Do Like Big Words)
I suggest you read first what I wrote about last week's event, for this reason: I'm not planning to repeat myself very much, and I'm not planning to recapitulate everything the candidates said -- especially when they repeated themselves, which they naturally did quite a lot. Most of the statements were similar to last week's; some of the questions and answers were similar, too. That's not a problem; that's just how these things go.
I'll highlight the new questions and the candidates' answers, and give somewhat less attention to things that were said last week, except where they're useful for context. For the full picture, there's always the audio.
Notes About the Audio
By comparison with last week's venue, the room was more alive acoustically. The audio system was inferior and prone to noise. And the crowd was bigger. So these recordings are noisier. Still, the audio is usable, if you want to hear exactly what the candidates said and how they said it.
In case anyone's interested at a geek level, this time I did something I didn't think necessary last time: I processed the audio with some software (Audacity), removing a lot of the noise -- but not random coughs or the guy behind me rattling his papers -- and compressing the dynamic range. The noise removal slightly degraded the quality of the recorded voices, but in this case it's worth it. If anyone wants the unedited audio files, I'll be happy to send them.
The Cast of Characters
This time, I remembered to put a memory card in my camera. The photos aren't great, but at least you'll have some idea what the candidates look like.
Mayor J. H. Hadfield
Councilman Craig Nielsen
Shirl LeBaron (moderator)
The Moderator's Introduction
Mr. LeBaron began with some of his own thoughts about local government and some discussion of the format. I didn't plan to record him at that point, so the recording starts in the middle. I've edited out a lot of the housekeeping chatter, but this excerpt on local government is worth two and a half minutes of your time, I think.
Unlike last time, I'll organize the rest of this by question or statement, not by candidate. With each statement or question, I'll tell you the order in which the candidates spoke, for the sake of anyone who's listening to the audio.
As before, I'm reporting and summarizing here, and mostly avoiding evaluating the truth or accuracy of statements. With an exception or two, numerous errors and misstatements go uncorrected here, unless another candidate corrects them. See my analysis and commentary on this evening and the last for detailed discussion of such things. But for now, don't assume that it's true just because I report here that a candidate said it.
Note also that I have condensed and paraphrased most of the questions below.
Order: Thresher, Hadfield, Bowen, Nielsen, Shorter
As before, Thresher emphasized his desire to give residents and businesses the highest return on their investment (ROI); criticized debt levels, tax rates, and utility bills; and touted his business experience. He said that American Fork utility rates are the highest in northern Utah County, and he said American Fork is the fifth most indebted city in Utah (but he didn't say whether this was in terms of total debt or debt per capita). He also described his moving business more specifically as a piano moving business.
Hadfield named four cities in north Utah County which have higher utility rates than American Fork. Later in his statement he said something I didn't expect:
I don't know that I would call myself unbiased, but I'm definitely sitting, and how I see things is, indeed, how I write them. For the record, no one has ever offered to pay me to blog, except at work, where they pay me to blog now and then about genealogy, among my larger responsibilities. If anyone wants to start paying me, see me out in the hall after the meeting, so to speak.
Well, that got a bit off track, didn't it? Back to the candidates, who are, after all, the point.
Bowen and Nielsen said approximately the same things this time as they did last time. (I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with that.) Check out last week's summary or listen to the audio if you want details.
Shorter said that it's okay for individuals and families to get into debt, but governments never should, because it's the people's money, not the government's.
Question: How Will You Strengthen American Fork's Economic Base?
Order: Thresher, Hadfield, Bowen, Nielsen, Shorter
Thresher underscored the important of lower taxes, lower utility costs, and less debt. He said Lehi is much better in each of these, and look at the boom they're having. He noted how hard Sandy worked to get Scheel's there, as an example of what could be done.
Hadfield reported that in calendar year 2010 the City issued 99 new business licenses. In 2011 there were 123 new businesses. In 2012 there were 139. In 2013 to date there have been 150. There are businesses of all sizes, which didn't exist in American Fork the previous year.
I didn't notice anything new in Bowen's, Nielsen's, and Shorter's responses. See the previous summary or listen to the audio.
New Question: Do You Think American Fork Should Have Its Own Justice Court?
Order: Shorter, Nielsen, Bowen, Hadfield, Thresher
This subject didn't come up last time, so I'll give it more attention here. In case you're wondering, here's the description of justice courts I found at utcourts.gov:
Not all cities or counties have them. American Fork doesn't.
Shorter answered: no. As an attorney he has some experience with them, and he said they turn into "revenue" courts -- fining too many people too much money for too many mistakes.
Nielsen said we need to study the question. He's concerned that the City would have to provide counsel for those who couldn't afford it, and that would have some implications for the City budget. (Editor's, er, Blogger's Note: I was told later that this is also true in the district court we already have.)
Bowen provided a good example of how to handle a question to which you don't know the answer. He said he hasn't heard the arguments on either side, but he explained the principles he would apply: he would be against creating a justice court if its primary purpose were revenue. Government should not pick the pockets of its citizens, he said.
Hadfield said that the City is studying the question. One advantage is that the fines would go to the City, unlike fines imposed by the district court. Our only source of revenue from the district court in American Fork is from leasing them space in a City building. Another advantage is that justice is often swifter in a justice court.
Thresher deferred to Shorter's expertise and experience on the question.
(Note: After the event I spoke with a former justice of the peace and another attorney. They said that Shorter is right about the potential for abuse, but the state has recently restructured the administration of justice courts to minimize it, where it has occurred.)
New Question: What Is Your Vision for Art Dye Park and Other Green Space in American Fork?
Order: Nielsen, Shorter, Bowen, Hadfield, Thresher
Nielsen said open space and parks are key components of the quality of life in the city. He said Art Dye Park has the potential to be a regional park, which would draw people to events from out of town. He noted that the City has recently asked Utah County for some money to finish the park, and the County has pledged some money but hasn't yet delivered it. He said finishing Art Dye Park would allow sports now played in the park between the American Fork Cemetery and the Rec Center to be moved to Art Dye Park, and then we could turn the other park into cemetery land.
Shorter agreed and spoke of the possibility of involving some private fund-raising and volunteer labor, too.
Bowen wondered if land near Art Dye Park could be used to expand the park, when funds are available, but he wouldn't consider Art Dye Park a high priority at present.
Hadfield explained Utah County's additional 0.5% sales tax on restaurants (of which he said there are 113 in American Fork). Based on the tax revenue we provided to the County from that increment (about half a million dollars last year), which is supposed to go toward tourism, the City asked the County to share some of those funds for Art Dye Park, which has a regional draw. He said the City has options to purchase additional property there and near the Developmental Center.
Thresher said the City isn't looking at parks, etc., and trying to reduce their fixed and variable costs. He objects to the Rec Center losing money. We should run the City like a business. He mentioned a neighbor who is on a City committee (which he misnamed, but I later learned is the Beautification Committee), and her committee has no budget this year. (I later confirmed that this is correct.) He mentioned excellent facilities elsewhere in Utah and asked why American Fork doesn't have them, and why we're not being fiscally responsible.
Question: What Is Your Personal View of the Road Bond?
Order: Bowen, Hadfield, Thresher, Nielsen, Shorter
(Remember: for questions discussed last time, I'm focusing mostly on what is new in the answers.)
Bowen said we have enough debt. We're underfunding roads. We can pay for the road project without tax increases or borrowing. He presented the fact that the City has repaired some roads recently without borrowing as evidence that we don't need to borrow to fix all the roads.
Hadfield listed $18 millon in bonds retired during his term: library, police and courts, and broadband bonds. He said that mobilization -- getting equipment and materials on site -- is 10 percent of road repair costs, so it's more efficient to do more at a time, rather than piecemeal. He reiterated much of what he said last time about spending on roads in recent years, including that last year the road repair expenditures totaled about $3.2 million.
Thresher opposes the bond issue. He said the mayor said we need to spend $4 million annually to maintain our roads. Then "he never came close to his own advice" in actual road spending. He said the mayor doesn't take his own advice or the advice of Provo Mayor John Curtis, with whom the City consulted, and who told the them not to bond for road maintenance. Thresher asked, "If you were a business, would you want to come into our community?"
Nielsen declined to second-guess hard decisions made by previous councils, but we are where we are, and we need to fix the problem. The City could have just raised property taxes, but the city council wanted the people to decide whether to raise their own taxes to repay a bond issue. He explained that it's a better use of the City's resources to spend the money now, rather than doing it piecemeal and being subject to inflation and increased labor and materials costs.
Shorter opposes the bond. If you don't have the money, don't spend it. The City should get out of debt and stay out.
New Question: How Would You Handle Cemetery Expansion?
Order: Thresher, Hadfield, Bowen, Nielsen, Shorter
Thresher said the American Fork Cemetery has 14 employees, while Provo's cemetery, which is four times bigger, has only three employees. He hasn't studied the needs of our cemeteries. He sees needs in other areas, especially the roads, so he wouldn't expand the cemetery now. (If you listen to the audio, the recurring laughter has to do with some problems with the microphone.)
Hadfield said it's critical that we acquire more property for the cemetery. Some adjacent property owners won't sell, but the City could finish Art Dye Park and expand the cemetery into the park to the south. We shouldn't acquire additional land for the cemetery elsewhere in the city.
Bowen likes the stone wall at the cemetery and the veterans memorials. He's not opposed to buying more land when the opportunity presents itself and the City has the means, and he thinks we have the means.
Nielsen favors the approach Mayor Hadfield described, and which he himself described earlier in the evening.
New Question: Where Would You Cut the City Budget, and What Revenue Sources Would You Try to Increase?
Order: Shorter, Nielsen, Thresher, Hadfield, Bowen
Shorter said, Don't hire anyone, and don't replace anyone who retires. Use lots of volunteer labor in the parks and elsewhere.
Nielsen said that almost no one came to the meeting where the last budget was approved. One person's luxury is another person's necessity; all these things need to be weighed carefully. The City has done well trimming costs. Be business-friendly, focus on economic development.
Thresher wants to run the City like a business. Analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, etc. Don't overspend or go into debt. Be very proactive towards attracting businesses. Keep taxes and utility costs low.
Hadfield described the budget process, including working with department heads. Often we keep using equipment instead of replacing it. He mentioned arts, etc., as before. (Sirens were heard in the background.) We're not going to cut fire and police protection.
Bowen said the budget is significantly higher than it was a few years ago. There are efficiencies to be found. He hasn't looked at the budget carefully, but claimed to have found 3 million dollars to cut, just by "scratching the surface." He doesn't see fees and utility payments as a revenue source.
Question: Address Water and Water Rates in the City.
Order: Bowen, Hadfield, Nielsen, Shorter, Thresher
Bowen said, stop increasing water rates. They are scheduled to increase in each of the next two years, after increasing in the last three.
Hadfield discussed the City's various culinary and irrigation water sources. Water rates went up because of the economic downturn. It's fair, because every uses water, and everyone pays.
Nielsen described how the price for pressurized irrigation went from $8 million, when it was first considered, to over $40 million, when it was finally decided upon. Water rates later went up, because impact fees dried up in the recession and were unavailable to pay for the bonds.
Shorter isn't sure what happened with water rates, but knows we didn't get the deal we were promised. He hates the City telling him when he can water and when he can't.
Thresher thinks pressurized irrigation water should be metered, or else there is no accountability. He quoted the culinary water rate study, noting that other cities' water rates will be raised 16 percent or less, but in American Fork the increase will be 57 percent. Is that our fair share?
Question: In a Positive Sense, What Separates You from Your Opponent(s)?
Order: Thresher, Hadfield, Bowen, Nielsen, Shorter
Thresher recited his business experience and his experience cleaning up a homeowners association budget.
Hadfield has lived in American Fork for 48 years. He served for several years on the Planning Commission, mostly as chair. He knows the people, the neighborhoods, the challenges, the infrastructure. He mentioned that there are only seven full-time employees at the cemetery.
Bowen believes in the US Constitution and believes we should govern according to founding principles. He's engaged; he's been attending meetings. He has ideas for improving the city.
Nielsen has learned a lot in his year on the city council. The learning curve is steep; he has a head start. On the job he manages a multi-million dollar budget and engages in strategic planning, capital planning, etc. He has no agenda, no ax to grind, and wants to make reasonable decisions based on the facts.
Shorter said that families should always win, whenever it's families against the government. He supports a lot of volunteerism. He'll be positive.
Order: Shorter, Nielsen, Bowen, Hadfield, Thresher, then some comments by Mr. LeBaron.
I noticed nothing new in Shorter's, Nielsen's, and Bowen's closing statements. (That's not a criticism.)
Hadfield reported a study of volunteer hours worked in the city from April through November 2012: more than 60,000 hours.
Thresher recapitulated his talking points and said people are the City's greatest asset.
See the next post for some analysis and commentary.
Copyright 2013 by David Rodeback.