David Rodeback's Blog

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Monday, May 2, 2005
My Ideal Candidate for Mayor of American Fork - Part IV

Parts I, II, and III of this series have discussed numerous attributes of my ideal American Fork mayor and have touched on a few specific issues. With the same disclaimers as before, I take up two more themes in this final installment. I want American Fork's mayor to display an active understanding of diversity (actual diversity, not the fluffy, selective PC kind) and an understanding that the proper role of government is quite limited.

When I speak of an understanding of and respect for diversity I don't mean just race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Here in the heart of Mormon Utah, there is more diversity than meets the eye. Residents move frequently from group to group with the passage of time. I think interest group politics are generally very bad for government, and I'm not advocating the sort of paralysis that has lately made the Democratic Party incapable of governing a nation. But people in similar roles and stages of life have similar needs and interests, which may differ radically from those of others, who are in different roles or stages of life.

For example, there are renters and homeowners, who are affected by policies and circumstances in different ways. There are LDS and non-LDS people and several major subspecies of each. There are the very poor (by outlandish American standards), the lower middle class, the upper middle class, and perhaps a few who are moderately wealthy. There are those who speak passable English and those who do not. There are children of all ages (and their parents); there are adults of all ages (and their parents, too). There are those (many) who prefer to shop at Target and those (few) who will faithfully shop at K-Mart until it finally fades away completely.

There are people with graduate and professional degrees and people who barely finished junior high. There are the people who drive juiced-up cars on a certain Friday evening in July and those who, hearing the roar, shake their heads, sigh, and quietly exclaim, "Wow, are they compensating for something!" There are those for whom the Steel Days carnival is the cultural high of the year and those for whom it is the cultural low. There are those who are just passing through and those who happily raise their children in their own grandparents' old home.

People in each of these groups pay taxes and have a claim on essential City services, from water and sewer to law enforcement and city parks. And, to the extent that the City chooses to provide non-essential services and benefits, such as a recreation center and high-speed Internet access, they each have their claim on those, too.

It's quite fashionable for public officials to give lip service to diversity and to take mostly-symbolic measures to promote it (as if diversity needs to be promoted!). I don't care much for that in a mayor. I would rather see a mayor involve intelligent and willing volunteers from all walks and stages of life in discussions and committees, so that programs, measures, and laws have input from a better cross-section of our evolving community than is typically the case.

This is trickier than it looks. American Fork demographics are in constant flux. Moreover, among work, school, family responsibilities, yard care, soccer, and church service, a lot of city residents can scarcely find a spare minute to devote to the broader community. My ideal mayor will seek ways to involve a wide spectrum of residents in civic activities which don't demand large amounts of time and don't waste the time they take. This is heady, 21st-century stuff, but it needs to be done.

(Speaking for a moment as a local leader in the LDS Church, where civic activity is essentially a religious duty, I see a crucial reciprocal challenge: to administer a congregation in such as way as to leave even my ablest, most dedicated members some time and energy for civic activity. But in this I have no authority outside my own congregation, and a mayor as such has none at all.)

I'm also looking for a mayor with a strong sense that government's role is important but should be carefully limited - not just by the City's budget and credit rating - who will think twice about expensive, non-essential services, and consider whether even some of the sacred cows among them should be slain. Here are some examples:

The need for city recreational programs is clear to me (at least where baseball and soccer fields are needed), as is, perhaps, the need for a city swimming pool. Beyond that, I'm unconvinced that having a recreation center which is fully competitive with the private sector is worth the cost of subsidizing it. Perhaps we should consider which makes more sense: keeping it or tearing it down and building another soccer or baseball field with the land and the money we would save.

The need for a pressurized irrigation system is not clear to me; nor am I convinced that I would derive benefits from it that would even begin to justify its cost to me. So far, nobody has taught me enough about the issue to dissuade me from believing that this is a huge proposed handout to the developers who want to work south of the freeway. Shouldn't they reap their profits at their own expense, not mine? Maybe I just need to know more about it. I think a lot of folks may insist on knowing more about before embracing it or the politicians who vote for it.

I'm not certain that buying the AirSwitch infrastructure was wise, and I'm not fully confident that the City, of all entities, can keep it alive, but I love it. I get much faster Internet connectivity than I could otherwise afford. I even get better service from the associated ISP (mine is AFConnect) than I expected or ever received from larger telecommunications companies. I think there's a case to be made for the system being a legitimate public utility, and I'd like to see the City put on its economic development hat and make the system a major selling point to people and businesses who are looking for a place to locate. I suspect that if the proper technical, business, and political expertise were applied, it could at least break even. But even if the City has to subsidize the system somewhat in the long term, because its costs exceed its direct revenues, it will still pay for itself indirectly by attracting a larger tax base and a stronger economy, if we use it properly in making our case for locating businesses and employees in American Fork.

To conclude this four-part series, I note simply that, though my list of desirable attributes is not exhaustive, I will never find my ideal mayoral candidate; that's what "ideal" means. But my ideal is my measuring stick for actual candidates. I will use it to decide which candidate I like best - and the closer the fit, the more enthusiastic will be my support.

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