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Saturday, August 10, 2013
David's Handy Election Guide

There's one race in American Fork's primary. You get two votes. Four of five candidates survive to compete in the November general election.

I've offered notes here at the blog on almost every election, municipal and otherwise, in which I've voted since I started blogging in 2004. There's a municipal primary next Tuesday (August 13) in American Fork, among other Utah communities, so it's time for another installment of David's Handy Election Guide.

Primary in American Fork

At issue Tuesday are two seats on the American Fork City Council. Their present occupants are Craig Nielsen, who is running for reelection, and Heidi Rodeback (herein usually MFCC), who is stepping down. Nielsen was appointed to finish Dale Gunther's unfinished term; MFCC is completing her second four-year term. (There will be no mayoral primary, but Mayor Hadfield will be opposed in the general election. I'll look at that race in a few weeks.)

Five candidates filed for city council, including Nielsen. Voters get to cast two votes, and the top four finishers advance to the general election in November.

I didn't have time to send questionnaires to all the candidates and post the results, as I have done in some past elections. That's too bad, because most of them are making it hard to learn much about them through more conventional means. I'll tell you some of what I've learned about them and give you links to everything I've found on the web -- which is everything I've found, period. Within limits, I'll tell you what I think.

If you don't care what I think, confine your attention below to the sections headed by candidate names, and you'll miss most of my opining.

Where I'm Coming From

I have certain basic expectations of candidates who want my vote for City office, even before I learn their views on and approaches to specific issues. I look for at least a basic level of political competence; one way to judge this is by examining their campaigns. Campaigning and governing are not the same thing, but it's generally safe to say that a candidate who cannot field a competent campaign is not likely to excel if elected.

Ordinarily, such a candidate is highly unlikely to get elected in the first place, but these are trying times.

I also like my candidates for City office to have been involved in the City already, or at least to have been involved elsewhere in civic activities, and to have a sound knowledge of the City and its operations and challenges.

Candidates who clear these two hurdles merit further scrutiny. I want to learn their positions on specific issues and also their ideologies. I actually prefer a candidate with some ideology, as long as it doesn't make him closed-minded or cripple him in matters of governance -- which ideology often does. Some people claim that a candidate should have no agenda, but I like a suitor for my vote to want to accomplish something specific, if elected. I listen to see what that is and whether the objective and the path to it are plausible.

R. Craig Nielsen (incumbent)

I don't know Craig Nielsen's thinking on every issue, but I agree with him on several important points (in my words, not his):

  • American Fork's need for a full-time economic development specialist on staff.
  • The need to streamline the development process, which has a reputation in American Fork of being unduly difficult in more than one sense.
  • Fiscally stable city government, bonding where it's prudent (e.g. now for road maintenance), and not strangling everything in sight so you can say you cut taxes.

Nielsen's candidate profile at the City web site starts to give you a sense of who he is and what he's done, without talking in detail about specific issues. It supplies an e-mail address for contacting him, and it points us to his campaign web site.

His campaign web site is not huge but does describe his views of several significant issues, including road maintenance, and adds a phone number for calling him. It's recommended reading.

His responses to questions in the Daily Herald's 2013 Primary Election Guide are also recommended reading. They add more detail on some key issues and generally give the impression of a mature, dignified, reasonable, informed approach to local government.

I've worked with Councilman Nielsen a bit since he joined the council. As I've been telling curious friends for some weeks now, he is intelligent, listens, and does his homework. He gets one of my two votes.

The Names are Omitted to Protect the Challengers

I'll provide links to what there is from each of the challengers below, so you can read and draw your own conclusions.

Here's mine: I can't vote for any of them; my second vote will go uncast. The simple explanation is that none of them clears both of my initial hurdles, which are not high at all. Here are some of the reasons why, with names omitted. (You can discover them for yourself if you wish, by reading the same materials I've read.) In no particular order:

  • As of a couple of weeks ago, none of the challengers had spent or raised a dime, according to the campaign finance reports  they're required to submit. Nor have I seen a single sign touting any of the challengers. Nor has any of them left any campaign materials at my door. They haven't tried to call me, either, and I'm not aware that they've knocked on my door. How can I take them seriously?
  • One challenger claims the City had a multi-million dollar surplus this year. This surplus didn't really exist, and it would have existed theoretically only if the City had short-changed its "fund balance" -- the rainy day fund both Utah law and common sense require it to maintain. The same candidate claims the city council recently approved a seven percent property tax increase, which it certainly did not. Granted, Utah's Truth-in-Taxation law is perverse and sometimes allows rates to go up without there being, for legal purposes, a tax increase, but if this is what a candidate is claiming, he needs to explain and give some real numbers.
  • Another candidate complains about the huge expense of the City's water treatment plant and the need to educate residents about small changes that can reduce its costs. The problem is, the City doesn't have a water treatment plant. Our culinary water system comes from wells, and we use irrigation water for irrigation. A lot of us actually prefer not to have a treatment plant; apart from cost issues, the water tastes better.
  • As of Thursday, only one challenger had anything substantive in the Daily Herald's election guide online, and none had a photo there. Now one of the others has both a photo and some answers, but two are completely absent.
  • One candidate wants the City to get completely out of debt. It's not an unusual theme among candidates, but I don't remember the last time the voters elected someone who emphasized this. (This isn't just another issue; I think it reflects ignorance of how city government works, and it fails my second hurdle, the part about having a sound knowledge of the City and its operations and challenges.) For my part, I think prudent use of debt is, well, prudent. And I think it's in our interest to fix our roads sooner rather than later, to do it by borrowing at low rates rather than simply raising taxes, and not to indulge the fantasy that it can be done in the foreseeable future without either borrowing or raising taxes.
  • Only the incumbent has a campaign web site with anything substantive posted. One challenger has a rudimentary blog with nothing posted yet that might help a voter decide.
  • There are numerous platitudes about transparency, fiscal restraint, community values, and the like, but there is very little substantive discussion of what might be done to advance these causes. In one instance a candidate says, "City finances & budgets should be reviewed regularly for discrepencies [sic] and overspending." I don't know whether he thinks that no one has thought of doing this before, or that those who are already doing it are failing out of incompetence or malice. (I think they're succeeding fairly well, but that's just one guy's opinion.)
  • Even the candidates who declare the importance of transparency are seriously deficient as candidates in communicating with voters. Their statements don't say much, and in one case no contact information at all is provided.

There's more where that came from, but you get the idea.

There are legitimate reasons to disappear from a campaign after filing -- if, for example, one's circumstances change in a way that makes campaigning or serving either unwise or impossible. When this happens, the conscientious candidate tends to make or post some sort of public statement, effectively withdrawing from the race, even if his name stays on the ballot. That hasn't happened here.

All of that said, I don't know any of the challengers personally or professionally. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that all four are good men. (Quick tangent: clearly, Mars Needs Women.) Presumably, they treat their families well and work hard to support them, do their best to serve God and country, and don't gratuitously kick the dog or run over the cat. We want and need our elected officials to be good, decent men and women, but we also need them to be competent, communicative, and passionate about their service.

Here are some links to each candidate's materials -- literally everything I've been able to find. In alphabetical order . . .  

Glen Anderson

Glen Anderson has a candidate profile at the City web site and some material in  the Herald's election guide, with an e-mail address but no photo. I find no evidence of a campaign web site .

Carlton Bowen

Carlton Bowen has a candidate profile at the City web site, which includes an e-mail address and a web site address. His campaign web site, at the moment, is a basic Blogger blog with a single post, confirming that he is running for city council and saying nothing more. When I checked the Herald's election guide this week, there was no photo or text from Bowen, but a photo and some answers to questions have since appeared. There are also Twitter and Facebook coordinates, which is good, if he uses social media in a meaningful way to advance his campaign. There isn't much at his Facebook page yet. His Twitter feed is fairly busy, but almost entirely on national issues.

Don A. B. Nelson

As far as I can tell, Don Nelson has no campaign web site. Apparently, he didn't supply any information to the Herald. All I have about him is his candidate profile at the City web site, which doesn't include any contact information.

Jeffrey Shorter

All I can find about Jeffrey Shorter is his candidate profile at the City web site. His section at the Herald is presently empty. His profile at the City says very little of his views, but at least he gives us an e-mail address.

On Tuesday . . .

I have no horse in this race; I just want good government. I want someone to take over the seat my wife is vacating and do at least half as well for us voters as she has.

I recommend you read what I have read; hence all the links. Give your own thoughts and impressions about the candidates more weight than you give mine. Try to contact candidates, if you have burning questions. Then cast one vote for the incumbent, Craig Nielsen, for reasons stated above (unless you have good reasons not to), and . . .

. . . As regards your second vote:

  • If you already know -- or somehow get to know -- one of these challengers and think he'd be good on the city council, you should vote for him and tell your friends. Tell me, too, because I'm starved for information, as you see. Bear in mind that the primary will eliminate one challenger, and then you'll have a very similar set of choices in November.
  • If, like me, you look at the choices and what little we know about them and decide that you cannot vote for any of the four, don't cast your second vote. This will be an option in November, too. It's possible there will be another alternative by then: a credible write-in candidate. (I have no idea who.) I'll blog about that very soon; stay tuned.

Next time, with reference to that second option, I'll try to convince you that I'm not crazy. It's no small task.

Wendy Hickman comments (8/13/2013):

Thank you for this post! I have looked and looked for any information on these candidates and have basically found the same limited sources that you have.

I do have personal knowledge of Mr. Shorter because he served as my Bishop and with my husband as a member of our Stake Presidency. He and his wife are currently serving at the MTC. He is a good and honest man. However, I cannot speak to his political or community views.

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