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Saturday, September 5, 2009
Notes on Meeting the Candidates in American Fork, Part 3: City Council Candidates

Principally, what the candidates themselves said.

The two previous posts have offered some general thoughts and impressions of Thursday evening's meet-the-candidates event at American Fork's Barratt Elementary, followed by a report with commentary on the three mayoral candidates' remarks.

An Explanation and Some General Notes

I originally intended to approach the city council candidates' remarks in a similar fashion, as I have done before, and despite the risk of appearing arbitrarily to favor one candidate, my wife (generally known here at the blog as MFCC). I flatter myself that I am capable of some degree of objectivity even in the present situation. Part of my focus at the event was to evaluate her performance and assess the other candidates, for whatever helpful insights her reelection campaign might glean.

I will still report briefly on each candidate's five-minute statement, focusing on reasons for running and major issues which appear to concern each candidate. However, I'm leaving my own commentary and evaluation of each candidate out of this post. This is less than some of you were expecting, I already know, but I offer only this somewhat cryptic explanation: If I were to offer my candid, reasonably objective, somewhat experienced evaluation of each city council candidate who was present at the event, it would be even more unbelievable than usual that it is objective to any significant degree.

I am also omitting a host of answers I received to the question I posed to numerous friends and acquaintances during the latter part of the evening, when candidates and residents mingled informally for as long as an hour. The question was approximately this: "So, did you see anyone you like?"

For a somewhat disinterested, insightful, quick take on the candidates, I refer you to Councilman Shirl LeBaron's recent blog post about the evening.

I also note the absence that evening of three candidates: Councilman Dale Gunther and challengers Andy Dobmann and Gretchen Wiltbank. Gunther had a prior obligation out of town, so he sent his son with a brief statement. Wiltbank sent an apology for a last-minute family crisis. Dobmann was not heard from. Ordinarily, I'd say something to the effect that serious candidates make sure they attend these events and schedule around them, but I think we have to give them some slack this time, in view of the eight or nine days' notice they received for this event.

Note that the four top finishers in the September 15 primary will compete in the November general election, to fill two available city council seats. In both elections, each voter may vote for either one or two of the candidates.

So here are my brief notes on the candidates' statements, with no specific commentary, explanation, or fact-checking from me -- no matter how sorely I am tempted. I have generally omitted biographical information which is available elsewhere, along with paeans to the beauty and other virtues of American Fork and its people. This is the principal reason for variations in the length of my reports on candidates.

In preparing this post, I have reviewed both my written notes and a recording of the event.

Dale Gunther (incumbent)

According to his son, Gunther wants to finish what he has started, and to help the city prepare wisely, financially and otherwise, for its future. He is eager to hear from residents with questions or concerns.

Larry Webb

Webb is glad to meet with residents to get new ideas. He says that officials should be willing to listen to the voters and to do the majority's bidding. Elected leaders shouldn't ignore the voters. We need to think about the needs of all age groups, the unemployed, and the disadvantaged. The City should provide citizens with correct and accurate information, to help them make good decisions. It should be especially concerned about the impact of its decisions on residents and small businesses. He is concerned about overtaxation. The city council should brainstorm and come up with "new and innovative ideas to help our small businesses be successful," and find ways to limit tax burdens. We need a fresh way of thinking. Leaders should get more input from the voters, then use that input to make decisions.

Marc Ellison

Ellison thanks everyone for voting down all five bond issues last November, so he could still afford to live in Amerian Fork. He mentioned a genuine, well-documented personal act of heroism which had his name appearing in several publications a while back. He is concerned about some of the decisions being made at the City, which negatively influence the city. He cited the 2006 and 2008 tax increases and the water rate hikes, saying some citizens have called the water rate changes "price gouging." We need more fiscal responsibility. He said that the City's bond rating has dropped from AA- four years ago to A2 now, citing this as evidence that the City carries too much debt. He wants honesty and transparency in government. No official should be influenced by "special interest groups." He will represent the people.

Heidi Rodeback (incumbent)

Rodeback is running for reelection because of her enthusiasm for local government. It controls the issues about which she cares most, including neighborhood issues, public safety, and the water we drink, among others. It is directly accountable to the people; she cited frequent opportunities for one-on-one discussion and feedback -- at the grocery store, in her living room, and elsewhere. Local government makes more sense than the federal government, because in Utah city budgets have to balance. Expanding local goverment comes at the expense of reducing other services or raising taxes -- both of which she'll hear about at the grocery store. She always returns phone calls and e-mails. She promises to prioritize the city's most pressing needs (right now these are road maintenance, public safety, and financial accountability); to remember that she has to pay the same taxes she asks residents to pay (she's not afraid to vote against the wrong tax increase at the wrong time); to be available and communicate; to listen to both sides of an issue and weigh numbers and consequences carefully; and to continue her advocacy of quality-of-life issues. This is what she has done on the city council for the last four years, and what she did before that as in volunteer positions with the City.

Darren Cooper

Cooper is a professional firefighter and paramedic in Orem and a volunteer firefighter in American Fork. He has lived in American Fork only a few years, but married into an old American Fork family, the Durrants. It's important to educate citizens, so they know what services they are receiving in return for their tax dollars. He wants to lend his professional expertise to the city council. We need to look at the water infrastructure before we fix all the roads (which need fixing); among other concerns, many fire hydrants are not up to code. He would like to be "the new face, the young face" on the city council.

Robert Godfrey

Godfrey said, "We all know what needs to be changed." Later, he said it again. Because we all know that, he would tell the audience about himself, instead. He knows a lot of people in the community through his many years as a sports official. He's an award-winning small business owner. He used to be a drag racer, but traded in that hobby for classic cars. He was involved in pushing a bill through the Utah Legislature to change Utah's hot rods law. It passed both houses, and the governor was "extremely excited" to sign it. This convinced him that he'd like to get into politics, which he now finds exciting. He says people need to be better informed. The city should find a way to make the roads situation right without making the people pay for it through taxes. The city council should vote for what the people want. He'll have an open-door policy as a member of the city council and will be very communicative (my word).

Jess Green

Green drew some laughter by opening, "My name is Jess Green. I've been around a while." He read his statement (written in the third person) for the Statewide Electronic Voter Information Website Program (available here).  We need to stop increasing debt, which is "an estimated $200 million at payout." General obligation bonds are secured by "every homeowner's property." He said, "The bond investor ultimately holds what amounts to a mortgage on your property, in case of default." We should reduce water and sewer rates to an equitable level; the last "sewer tax" "should be repealed." The City shouldn't do low-priority projects. He blames current officials for Smith's closure and vacancies along 500 East.

A Final Note

I have omitted my comments, as I explained, but your comments on this are quite welcome. In particular, if those of you who attended were struck by things not included here, please let me know.

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