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Friday, October 19, 2007
Meet Three-Fifths of the Candidates Night

Incumbent American Fork City Council candidates Rick Storrs, Sherry Kramer, and Shirl LeBaron field questions.


Last evening at the American Fork Library's Community Room, three American Fork City Council candidates and one empty chair answered some fairly intelligent questions from an audience of American Forkers. It was an interesting discussion, with serious questions and intelligent answers, but it did not draw a crowd. The least, and nearly the most, that can be said of the audience is that it outnumbered the candidates. Near the beginning, I counted ten people in the audience; a few others trickled in later.

The panelists were incumbent candidates Shirl LeBaron (running for a second term), Rick Storrs (running for a fifth term), and Sherry Kramer (running for her first elected term, after having been appointed a few months ago to fill the vacancy created by Councilman Jimmie Cates' death). Storrs is the elder stateman of the group. Right now his time on the Council exceeds that of all the other Council members combined.

Councilman Dale Gunther, who runs unopposed for half a term (technically, the seat vacated by Cates), is in San Francisco on City business with Mayor Heber Thompson. They are working on the bonds for the pressurized irrigation project. Challenger Jason Porter was also absent; a representative of his was expected, but did not appear. I'm sure both the candidate and his representative had excellent reasons for their absence, but . . . it doesn't look good.

Personally, I'd like to see Porter do well, even if he's not likely to win. But to do that, he has to show up. There is photographic evidence that his wheelbarrow showed up at a volunteer tree-planting project Saturday at one of our parks. That's something, at least.

The evening's moderator was Utah Representative John Dougall, who may be my favorite politician (not counting any with whom I may have had children). He's a very good moderator. And when the questions for City Council candidates were exhausted, he stayed for a while, answering questions about vouchers. He's very good at that, too.

Please note: What follows does not pretend to be a comprehensive, blow-by-blow account of the question-and-answer period or the candidates' opening and closing statements. There's some detail to be sure, but it's part summary, part highlights -- and one guy's version of them, at that. I'll even interrupt here and there with unrelated tangents, things that would have been fun to ask, things I wish had been said, etc. After all, this is a blog, not a newspaper.

Opening Statements

Councilman Storrs had the first opening statement. He gushed about the current Council, saying it is the best he's ever worked with. They work hard, they're smart, they go out and measure the width of streets, that sort of thing. Someone else at the meeting told me that Storrs ran as a Democrat four terms ago, when the races were partisan, because he thought someone should. Tonight, he expressed some regret that more people aren't running this year.

(Personal tangent: Four strong incumbents running for four seats doesn't exactly encourage serious challengers. That's okay here and now, perhaps, but not generally.)

Councilmember Sherry Kramer was on message in her opening statement. Parks, cemetery expansion, limiting the number of loan sharks in town (my term, not hers, for check cashing establishments), and so forth. Good stuff, well spoken, not really new if you're already following her campaign.

Councilman Shirl LeBaron echoed Storrs' sentiments about the current Council and mentioned that he hadn't intended to run for more than one term when he first got involved. He listed many things the Council has accomplished while he's been a member, but to his credit he offered no pretense that he was individually responsible for all those things. He emphasized that they are things the Council as a whole has done.

Mr. Porter's representative's empty chair offered no statement.

(Personal tangent: About this time I wanted to look up a detail about something, but couldn't. Public wireless Internet access at the American Fork Library would be an excellent thing.)

Question: Widening State Street/Main Street

Specifically, when and how will the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) be widening Main Street from 100 East westward?

First, some background. The press was at Wednesday afternoon's American Fork City Council work session, so I hope we'll get to read in the newspapers sometime soon how the Council dined that afternoon on live, uncooked engineers sent by UDOT. I wasn't there, but I've heard enough from multiple sources to be confident of one thing. Forgive the crude image, but UDOT graciously supplied the American Fork City Council a routine opportunity to plant a big, loving group smooch firmly on UDOT's institutional derriere . . . and the Council declined.

The subject was a preliminary study looking at widening Main Street from 500 East to the freeway, which would impinge upon, among other things, the Alpine Tabernacle and Robinson Park. Instead, figuratively speaking, they sent the poor guys away with good wedgies instead. Even Councilman Gunther, ever the soft-spoken gentleman, took occasion to express himself forcefully and in very short words, such as, "Do you think we're stupid?"

It's the sort of thing that probably has the City's public relations consultant wigging out, but this observant voter wants to cheer.

Tonight there was no mention of Wednesdays' pugnacity, but Councilors LeBaron, Storrs, and Kramer were completely united on these points: The widening of State Street (and Main Street) should extend no further west than 500 East. There will be no whittling away at the Alpine Tabernacle grounds or Robinson Park. And UDOT needs to be a little creative and find some other place for some of those cars to go, rather than through the middle of American Fork's already bisected downtown. LeBaron observed tonight that UDOT is "25 to 30 years behind the curve" in regional planning, and that "major surgery" is needed. Storrs said UDOT should use a road further south. He also noted that St. George just finished some major work on its downtown, with excellent results, as he observed on a recent visit, and he doesn't think a wider Main Street would be good for American Fork's downtown.

Mr. Porter's representative's empty chair had no comment.

Question: Secondary Irrigation

Specifically, is it on track and on budget?

The short answer is yes, and yes. LeBaron elaborated, noting that the engineering is almost complete, and the City is "about ready to move dirt." He also referred to detailed information at the City web site and mentioned a new hot line for project information. He noted that American Fork is not charging a connection fee to each household, as some cities have.

Storrs expressed some regrets that putting such a large project out to bid severely limits the number of contractors who can bid, because smaller contractors cannot bond a large enough amount to be considered. Apparently, there is some effort being made to find ways to employ multiple smaller contractors in future large projects.

Kramer said she favors metering on the secondary system, once technology advances enough to make it feasible. (The water isn't filtered enough to keep it from damaging meters which use existing technology.) LeBaron added that the system is designed to accommodate meters easily, when and if they become available.

Storrs and LeBaron expressed a wish that the project could be finished more quickly than the three-year schedule envisions. For my part, I wonder: Do we really want every street in the city dug up in the same year?

Someone in the audience asked if the laying of fiber-optic cable will be coordinated with the irrigation system digs, which might save some serious money. The answer is, it's being looked into quite seriously.

On this topic, too, Mr. Porter's representative's chair was silent. To be sure, this is sometimes welcome in a political discussion, especially if the other candidates don't take up all the missing candidates' time.

Question: Downtown

How to revitalize it, that is.

The three answers here were variations on a theme. Landscaping, including islands in the center of Main Street. Carefully placed trees, which don't obstruct stores' signs. Calm traffic. Don't widen the street. Get the property owners and business owners (usually not the same) on board. Flowers. Historically consistent facades. Maybe even some offices and apartments on upper floors (which in most cases would require taller buildings). A Special Improvement District (SID) or something like it.

LeBaron expects more official attention to turn to downtown as other major projects proceed to completion. He also offered what he called a "radical" idea: Start with a bulldozer. In other words, take down every building on the south side of Main Street that isn't historic. He suggested liberating the American Fork River from its concrete conduit and creating a pleasant river walk along it.

Mr. Porter's representative's chair added nothing to the discussion of this topic.

Question: Loyalties

In other words, (American Fork) Caveman or (Lone Peak) Knight?

All are "Cavemen" -- apparently, even the woman. (Shouldn't the "Cavettes" really be the "Cavewomen," anyway?) Storrs said he is more a Caveman even than a Red Sox fan, which apparently is quite a lot.

Mr. Porter's proxy's chair . . . Oh, you know the rest.

My Questions

I submitted three questions, all of which were asked. I don't remember my exact words, but I'll get pretty close.

What have you failed to achieve so far in your Council service, that you would like to achieve in your next term? (I worded it this way to see if they would play it straight or spin it away from the notion of failure. They all played it straight, to their credit.)

Kramer said she's only been on the Council for a few months and hasn't really had time to fail at anything big yet, but she wanted to emphasize landscaping State Street. Fair enough.

LeBaron said, Finish Art Dye Park. He suggested that it ought to be a facility fit for a regional athletic competition.

Storrs had a list: Land for cemetery expansion, a much-needed new fire truck, traffic problems (e.g. 300 West and Main Street needing a signal, extending 1120 North to 900 West, and taking care of 540/560 West access to Pacific Drive. He also noted that it's time to find the Arts Council a permanent home.

Would the City be better served by a full-time, professional city manager?

LeBaron hit this one out of the park. First, he noted that "city manager" is the wrong term, as I knew. That's a different form of government, and changing to it would require a vote of the people. The proper term is "city administrator," and his answer, in a word, was yes. He said the Council will likely take this up after the election.

Storrs agreed, noting that a city administrator was hired shortly after his first term began. He also discussed the need to split several staff jobs, where the city's growth has current staff overloaded.

Kramer diplomatically noted that the Chief of Staff is overworked, and she advocated a nationwide search for a qualified city administrator.

Third: When will it be time for a full-time fire department?

Storrs said, "Now." He noted a continuing role for volunteers, and cited Lehi as a good, successful model mixing full-timers and volunteers.

Kramer and LeBaron deferred to Storrs on this question, with LeBaron adding what we called in the academic world a "FRIN statement," for Further Research is Needed.

Question from the Moderator: A City Council Role in Public Education

To wit: Should there be one?

Kramer noted that she serves on the Alpine School District Community Council, which has been a valuable connection. LeBaron wants to explore partnerships, especially where recreational and arts facilities are concerned. And as to the possibility of smaller, more responsive districts (a Dougall project, to some extent), ahem . . . FRIN. Storrs echoed LeBaron's thoughts on facilities. All of them emphasized the importance of communication.

Question: Voucher Referendum

Someone asked, How will you vote on Referendum One?

LeBaron: Yes. He compared them to Pell Grants in higher education.

Storrs: Hasn't decided. His daughter teaches in the public schools.

Kramer: has a degree in Elementary Education, has children in the public schools, and is voting for the referendum. She and LeBaron added personal anecdotes about their own children, whose needs weren't met for a while by the public schools.

Question: Wait, How's That Again?

I believe the exact question was, "What are further plans to encourage growth of young families and children?" I fear MFCC and I had to stifle a laugh at this one, and I had to stifle a follow-up question, "Does the Husband and Wife Intimacy Boutique play any significant role in those plans?" I admit, that may not be exactly what the questioner meant.

(One wag in the audience said, sotto voce and still thinking of what the ambiguous question might have meant, "They should turn off the electricity every night at 9:00 p.m." On this subject, see the moderator's own blog.)

The candidates were unflapped, so to speak. Storrs talked about preserving quality of life and the need for affordable housing. (Good luck with the latter.) Kramer talked about quality of life, too, especially the arts and the parks. LeBaron noted that the Council has recently passed a cottage ordinance and some other legislation permitting types of development that tend to produce comparatively affordable housing.

Question: Boy Scouting

How can Scouting serve American Fork better, and what did you like in the past year?

Kramer cited numerous Eagle Scout projects, particularly in the parks, and LeBaron agreed. Storrs noted that he's always pleased when Scouts visit City Council meetings and introduce themselves (which he knows is not easy).

What no one said, and someone should have, was that the impact of all those Scouts and all those flags lining the route from one Sergeant Barnes' funeral to the cemetery was stunning and powerful, and long to be remembered. I was out of town that day and didn't see it myself, but many others, including Barnes' father, have told me it was a very moving, unforgettable tribute.

Rude Question: Will You Come to My Fund-Raiser?

In her defense (if it really is), the lady probably didn't realize how rude it was to ask the panel what they were doing on November 10. She is involved in a certain event in the area and wants them to pay serious money, I gather, to attend a black-tie fund-raiser at Thanksgiving Point. She put them in a difficult, embarrassing position -- how are they to say no, even gracefully, if they cannot afford her price or don't want to? -- and wasted the public's time with her rambling promotional message. However, the panel and the rest of the audience suffered in gracious silence.

I could mention the event, and it's probably a worthy activity, but I'm not inclined to give her any more free publicity.

Closing Statements

If the closing statements had been a contest, LeBaron would have won on style points. Mimicking a current pro-voucher ad, he produced a stack of Oreos, ten in all, and made two little piles, one Oreo at a time, as he gave his reasons we should vote for him. I will not reproduce the whole list; he has his own campaign web site, and this isn't it. My favorites were:

9. He has never fallen asleep at a City Council meeting.

6. He is the most handsome candidate. (He quickly amended this to "second-most handsome," apparently in deference to Storrs, who may have been about to put him in a headlock, or possibly to the candidate who wasn't sitting in Mr. Porter's empty chair.)

About this time, the moderator crept not-very-stealthily across the front of the room and stole an Oreo.

3. He participated in the Steel Days "Burnout" -- in the sense that he was actually in one of the cars. (I suppose I'll vote for him anyway.) And . . .

1. He blogs. This, he said, is a bridge connecting city government with the community. To illustrate, and he used the last Oreo to bridge the gap between the two piles he had been making.

After the meeting, I ate the blogging Oreo, just so I could say I did.

Kramer said, with pleasing brevity, that she is enjoying her service and would like to continue.

Storrs reiterated his praise for the current Council. He said he hadn't been planning to run for a fifth term, but there is too much to do and too much to finish. He concluded, "I'll put 100% into it, and then I'll get out of your hair, I promise." So no sixth term, I think.

Storrs gets extra credit here at the blog for not saying he would put 110% into it, which is, strictly speaking, impossible, even if lots of people say it.


After the planned event, Representative Dougall stayed for about half an hour, fielding questions about vouchers, of which more in my next post.

Despite the meager candidate turnout and the poor audience turnout, it was an informative, pleasant evening, with intelligent answers to intelligent questions, and ample good humor.

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