Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Meet the American Fork Candidates, Round Two: Analysis and Commentary
All the previous commentary and analysis still applies. I recap some of it and add some miscellaneous notes.
In the last post I summarized much of what was said at tonight's meet-the-candidates event in American Fork, except for what had already been said last week. I included photos and links to audio files. Here, as before, is where I add some analysis and commentary.
As I Said Before . . .
Most of what I want to say about the candidates tonight is what I said at length before. I will touch on it only briefly here.
Incumbents Mayor J. H. Hadfield and Councilman Craig Nielsen know their stuff and connect the dots in a reasonable manner.
Challengers Bill Thresher (for mayor), Jeff Shorter (for city council), and Carlton Bowen (for city council) seem to think they're running for entry-level positions. They haven't been paying close attention to things at the City for the last few years; they haven't done their homework, in terms of learning about the City and the issues in depth; and, lacking the knowledge they didn't get from these two activities, they're not connecting the dots very well.
A lot of their numbers are wrong -- some aren't even close -- and the ones they have right in many cases don't mean what they think they mean, because -- you guessed it -- they haven't been paying attention, they haven't done their homework, and they're not connecting the dots. If they're becoming aware of the learning curve, they don't seem to respect it yet.
I'm not saying they're bad men and liars. I'm saying they're good men who are mistaken. There's half a world of difference. And I'm not saying any of them who are elected won't learn; they'll just be far behind the curve at the beginning.
But I don't want to repeat myself on that theme any more. You can read what I wrote before, if you're so inclined.
What I propose to do here is add a few miscellaneous thoughts.
Bill Thresher keeps talking about maximizing the return on investment (ROI) for city residents and businesses. To me that doesn't necessarily imply that the investment (that is, taxes, utility costs, etc.) should be lower than it is now. He's certain that these things and our debt load are too high, but he hasn't shown that lowering them will maximize the ROI. I'm not sure I'm willing to concede that ROI is a relevant concept to government, anyway. It's not an investment; it's government. If he's trying to say that we should get the best possible value for our tax dollars, I wholeheartedly agree. But that principle in itself doesn't say whether our taxes should be higher, lower, or the same -- just that they should be used efficiently. Connect the dots.
Carlton Bowen and, perhaps less obviously, the others seem to have a mystical ability to look at a number, without studying where it came from or where it was last year or the year before, and without examining all of its components, and instantly intuit whether that number is too high, too low, or about right. Thus we hear that the present City budget is big enough -- both big enough in absolute terms and big enough to allow us to find money in it for all the road repairs. Bowen claims not to know the details of the budget; yet he says he's found $3 million extra dollars in it just by "scratching the surface."
Maybe it's just his manner of expression, but Bowen's reasoning that $52 million is a lot of money, therefore it must be sufficient for the city budget is . . . well, I'm trying to be civil, so I won't use those adjectives. Perhaps his best logical howler was concluding that the City is able to do by itself all the road repairs we propose to fund with bond, and do them without borrowing or tax increases, because the City has managed to repair some streets lately without the bond. A sense of scale or proportion appears to be lacking.
I concede the necessity of taxes; I'm not sure all three of these do, based on some things they've said. In fact, Shorter said he's always opposed to taxes. Perhaps he would prefer that government be funded entirely by voluntary contributions, or perhaps he simply overstated his views.
I prefer low taxes to high taxes. But sometimes we fall so madly in love with low taxes, as we did in the 1990s, that we end up with higher taxes in the long run, because what we should have done then costs many times more later, when we can't procrastinate it any more. We've done this with pressurized irrigation and road repairs.
When we look at surrounding communities and see taxes and utility bills that are mostly lower, and facilities American Fork cannot afford to duplicate right now, do we realize that we were by far the last city to build a pressurized irrigation system? The rest of them built systems when they were much cheaper. They were wiser, and now they're reaping the benefits.
Bill Thresher claims the City has not tried to "reduce fixed and variable costs." If he had been paying attention these last few years or doing his homework these last few months, he couldn't say that with a straight face. Reducing costs has been a continual concern at the City. I realize this doesn't match some of these candidates' stereotypes about government. Whenever I see an challenger who abandons the stereotypes and gives decent incumbents credit for at least basic competence, and acknowledges that they haven't been completely bad or inert, I think he or she is connecting the dots responsibly. I'm not seeing that here.
I'm also still not seeing any signs that these challengers understand that taxes, utility rates, and other fees are actually linked to something in reality, rather than being completely arbitrary. I said more of this the other day.
I get a little cranky when a candidate, when asked the differences between himself and his opponent, piously emphasizes that he has principles -- implying that his opponent doesn't!
And I'm wondering about all the volunteerism Jeff Shorter says he wants to awaken and exploit. Will it arise spontaneously upon his election, like the planet that was supposed to heal and the seas that were to recede when President Obama was elected? Will the City organize the volunteers or leave them free to act without direction? If the City steps in, who at the City will do it? He doesn't want to hire anyone, even if it would save the City money, and the existing employees will be ever more burdened as colleagues retire and are not replaced, according to Shorter's plan. Last but not least, has Shorter given a lot of volunteer time to the City himself in recent years, so he knows the ins and outs and has some standing to preach the virtues of volunteerism?
Finally, to Bill Thresher, who uttered the cliche that people are the City's greatest asset, I just want to say this: People are not assets. People are people.
I suppose I could go on, but it feels as if I've reached the point of diminishing returns.
Remember: The critical arguments here are in last week's analysis, not these fragments.
And thanks for reading.
Copyright 2013 by David Rodeback.