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Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Developer Sues American Fork City

Tell me no one saw this coming. According to the Daily Herald, local developer Dan Richards is suing American Fork City over the alleged discrepancy between City officials' private, presumably unofficial and undocumented statements to him and the City Council's decision to reject his offer to swap a road right-of-way for two prime lots near Hunter Park. He put out some serious money, assuming that he had a deal.

I think the Council thought they were avoiding lawsuits by rejecting the offer, which by some accounts would have set an unfortunate precedent to be exploited by other developers in the future. I was at the Council meeting when the proposal was on the agenda for action, and it looked like a lawsuit to me either way. Ironically, according the Herald story, Richards says the City came to him last year for help evading yet another threatened lawsuit, which is how he got into the deal in the first place.

I learned a long time ago not to believe fully anyone's account of events or conversations I did not witness, even when the person doing the telling is conscientiously trying to be truthful. Richards says some things were said; others say they were not. Some City officials who were in the meeting sat in silence, neither confirming nor denying the reports.

Assuming all parties are doing their best to tell the truth as they remember it, there was probably only one way to avoid being sued by someone over this: Have a City administration which is firmly committed to clear, consistent, judicious communication and has the collective and individual skill and judgment to pull it off. This has to start from the top, and that's part of the problem.

At the most recent City Council meeting, a city resident I know asked a simple, reasonably clear question about a recent zoning change. The elected official conducting the meeting either didn't listen to the question, didn't understand it, or chose not to answer it. He (the official) immediately began circling the wagons, treating us to several minutes of defensive maneuvering before he could be pinned down and persuaded to give a sort of answer to the question. Am I the only one who thinks that better communication in such situations would reduce the number of lawsuits the taxpayers are paying for?

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