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Friday, November 7, 2008
A Look at the Election Results: American Fork

Five out of five bond issues went down convincingly. What it means. How it might have been different.

I'd like to gloat a little over the fact that I correctly foresaw the failure of all five of American Fork's bond issues. The problem is, it was an easy call, too easy, so I can't give myself very much credit. As it happened, Bond 1 (assorted roads) went down by about a 2:1 ratio. Bond 2 (Art Dye Park completion) failed by a slightly larger margin. The only one that was remotely in the ballpark was Bond 3 (cemetery expansion); it failed roughly 4:3, which only looks close in this grouping, where the others were such routs. Bond 4 (trails and open space) failed about 5:2. Bond 5 (560 West) failed about 3:1.

Several of these projects will have to be done sometime soon, either funded by another general obligation bond or in some other way. For example, 1120 North opponents may think the question in Bond 1 was whether to finish 1120 North to 900 West or not. But that project has been in the plan for decades; it is necessary and important. What failed this week was the funding to finish it now.

A lot of people want to see Art Dye Park finished, and I think it eventually will be, but not now. Likewise, if American Fork City stays in the cemetery business, the Cemetery will have to be expanded one way or another, though the voters declined to fund it this time. I also expect to see either the 560 West project or a reasonable alternative implemented in the next few years.

I said this was easy to foresee, and I'll grant that it became even easier as the worldwide economic crisis grew after (not because of) the decision to put these bond issues on the ballot. But at least four, and perhaps all five of them, would have failed even without that crisis. Mayor Thompson, senior staff, and some members of the City Council were told in unmistakable terms by professionals and by some members of the Council that it was the wrong time to put bond issues on the ballot, and that five was too many. They wouldn't listen; they thought they knew better. "Think positive," one of them said, as quoted in the last line of a fair but devastating Caleb Warnock newspaper article. They wanted the people to make their decisions for them, and they patted themselves on the back for being so democratic. I wonder if they'll listen next time to the voices that warned them this time -- and which turned out to be right.

Even in a high-turnout election, had they picked just the most necessary bond issue or two, instead of a grab-bag of five; had it been obvious to the public that they had done their homework, instead of being obvious to many that they hadn't; had they gone out of their way to be professional in all their public relations, as they have done admirably with pressurized irrigation -- can they tell the difference? a lot of us can -- and had they not made such a public relations debacle of this year's property tax increase -- had they done all these things, they could have passed the cemetery bond issue, and maybe one other, even this November, and even after a property tax increase.

If any of the officials behind all this actually says to me, "We put the questions to the public, and they didn't want to do these things after all," I'm afraid I'm going to have to tell him or her what I think. (Big surprise, right?)

"No," I will say, "the public wants to you do your homework, be professional, exercise some restraint, and set some more careful priorities instead of passing the buck. Then you'll get your funding, at least for the critical projects."

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