David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Thursday, September 29, 2005
I Met Even More Candidates, Part I (Or Is It IV?)
Tonight's meet-the-candidates event in American Fork featured the three candidates for mayor and the four candidates for the two-year city council seat (the second half of Tom Hunter's vacated term). Organizers Keith Richan and Judy Price, whom we still owe our gratitude, fixed some of the problems with the format from last week, but two minutes is still too long to give every candidate to answer every question. Attendance was about ten percent higher than last week.
Once again, my notes are not intended as a comprehensive, objective account of two hours of discussion, let alone the life and times of the several candidates. I offer here simply my impressions and evaluations. Probably no candidate who reads this will be fully satisfied with my thoughts; some might not like them at all. As always, there's a link at the end of this article to facilitate comments. Or, if that's not enough, starting one's own blog is unbelievably easy. (Keeping it going, and keeping it interesting, is harder.)
First, some general notes.
Next, the candidates for city council (two-year half-term):
Banker and developer Dale Gunther is Snow White among the (three) dwarfs. I don't mean to suggest that he's naïve and innocent, just that he stands head and shoulders about the competition. (I'm not referring to his height.) He generally spoke more clearly and substantively than the other three council candidates. He emphasized his financial expertise as his main qualification and motive for running. It would have been interesting to see if the other three council candidates even knew the difference between a general obligation bond (which requires a referendum but offers a lower rate) and a revenue bond (which the City can issue without a referendum, but which has a higher interest rate) - but the opportunity did not present itself.
I'll be voting for Gunther, because I think he is the best choice, but I give him a "B-," mostly for his swing-and-miss on the subject of downtown. It's a key issue for him, and he spoke with some passion about it. But he failed to communicate clearly a positive vision for downtown, in response to Councilman LeBaron's vigorous (and factually somewhat challenged) attack, of which more when I discuss mayoral candidates. I don't doubt that Gunther has a sensible vision for downtown, which doesn't involve bankrupting the City, but his ideas and vision count for little in a political campaign unless he articulates them clearly. Opportunity missed.
Karl Peterson, who runs one of the ISPs on AFCNet, was the liveliest specimen. He worked the audience pretty well, but alternated between solid thought and brief flights of loose-cannon fancy. On the question of how to handle earthquake risks and other issues in development south of I-15, he went both ways. First, he won some real points with me for realism. At least two candidates had already said something absolutely silly, to the effect that the City should have codes and enforcement sufficient to guarantee the safety and survivability of homes in a major earthquake. "Get real!" was what I wanted to call out. No government can make such guarantees, and any that tries or pretends to is asking for major lawsuits if something actually happens. What local government can do is ensure that its codes and their enforcement are strict enough to reduce substantially the risk of disaster - but government cannot eliminate the risk (unless it simply bans development). Peterson scoffed at the guarantee, as he certainly should have, but then went too far in the other direction. He suggested that City codes should ensure that people are informed of the risks of building, but allow them to assume whatever level of risk they choose. That makes a lot of sense, and it is very persuasive - except to a jury, which would likely find that the City was liable for any troubles, anyway. So it is probably not a prudent approach.
Peterson has a relatively good command of facts and government processes, at least to an extent, but seems to lack the breadth of vision and soundness of judgment one seeks in a city councilor. He wins favor with me by insisting that the City should follow its own rules, but he loses points in almost the next breath, when he says very plainly that the current members of the City Council are under the control of special interests. (He did not say which interests are special and which are not.) Just for fun, correctly thinking it would not be used, I submitted a question which essentially invited him to specify which special interests control which members of the council. If he insists on making blanket charges, he ought to be prepared to give specific details.
I was sitting next to Councilman Jimmie Cates; I whispered to him, "So which special interest controls you?" His whispered response was perfect - but I'll leave it for him to use later, if he wants. It wouldn't be the same coming from me, anyway.
I had high hopes for Peterson when the subject of the City's broadband system came up, since he is intimately (professionally) involved with it. But on that theme he was naïve and narcissistic, and he missed the big picture entirely. I couldn't help remembering my recent, very informative conversation with current Councilman Keith Blake on the same subject; the difference is night and day.
I think Peterson would be a lot of fun to watch on the council, at least for a while, but I do not think he is a good choice if one is actually interested in good government. In any case, I have to admire his brief explanation of why he is running: "I think I can make a difference."
Colin Strasburg, I have learned, commands considerable personal loyalty around town, among people whose children he taught at the Dan Peterson school. No doubt he is a good, kind, able man, but I don't think he'd be a great asset to the City Council. Like some candidates last week, he tended to see problems about which something needs to be done, but not to be clear about what should be done and how. He seems to have sound principles and some good insights, but not a broad view of how local governments work. It was a mistake to subsidize the retail development on the west side of American Fork? That's a hard case to make, and he didn't make it. Not even the downtown crowd is saying that, as far as I know; they simply maintain that if the City is going to help those developers, downtown businesses deserve comparable consideration.
At one point, late in the evening, Strasburg seemed almost mystified. He essentially said, We don't have something we need, and we need to get it. This does not inspire confidence. And he was also one of the well-meaning but indiscrete candidates who talked about the City guaranteeing the safety of folks who build on the south side, in the event of a major earthquake. Good intentions are admirable, but they don't get you very far if they are not accompanied by discretion and sound judgment.
It's always risky to accept a political candidate's description of himself, but when Marc Ellison called himself an average husband, father, and neighbor-next-door, I thought he pretty much nailed it. I suspect that he's probably better than average at these things, and a nice guy to know. But we need more than that in American Fork's leaders, at least in the 21st century. Ellison reportedly is a geologist, so it is no surprise that he could talk in technical detail about earthquakes. But he showed no comparable depth of awareness of the structures, processes, and day-to-day realities of government. In real life, most issues are complex; there are at least two compelling sides to many issues. I watched for - and failed to observe - an appreciation of this in Ellison's remarks. He, too, advocated guaranteeing the safety of south side residents in major earthquakes. He made partial sense on downtown economic development. But we can do better. (Apropos of, well, something, I note in rebuttal of Ellison that a lively downtown does not start with restaurants. A concentration of business downtown tends to be necessary to support good restaurants; it has to come first.)
I had a bit of a brain cramp and and actually spent a moment wondering which of these four candidates would get my second vote on Tuesday in the primary. I mulled that over long enough to realize that there is no satisfactory second candidate. Then I remembered that I get to vote for only one of the four, anyway, and I was somewhat relieved. Watch for Dale Gunther to prevail in the primary and general elections, almost, but not quite, by default. I have no sense as to which of the other three will be the second candidate on the ballot in the general election, but we should know that Tuesday night. It is not likely to matter.
Next, the mayoral candidates.
Copyright 2005 by David Rodeback.