Friday, October 28, 2005
One Last Round with American Fork Mayoral Candidates
Last evening at the Senior Citizens Center in American Fork, mayoral candidates were grilled at the season's final meet-the-candidates event. As last week, when I reported on the last event for city council candidates, my report will not be a play-by-play, but mostly will mix my notes on what was new with my own commentary. So it is deliberately and inevitably incomplete, and selective. I am generally disinclined to repeat what I have observed or reported before. If you find any of this unacceptable, you probably should be attending the events yourself, not relying on some blogger to report them.
The first hour of two featured three rounds of seven-minute statements, followed by a round of six-minute wrap-ups. I pooh-poohed the long statements last week at the event for city council candidates (six candidates, fewer minutes each), but I thought this worked well enough with only two candidates, especially when both are well-versed in the issues. Each candidate chose his own topic or topics for each statement. There weren't really any surprises along the way.
Once again, Keith Richan and Judy Price organized the event, and Richan moderated. I've done both, and both are more work than they appear to be. So thanks are due to these two and their helpers once again. The audience was in the low 30s, not counting the candidates, including a few folks I don't recall seeing at previous events, and some who I think were not connected to one of the campaigns.
FIRST HOUR: LONG STATEMENTS
First, a quick overview of the first hour: Candidate and current Councilman Shirl LeBaron devoted his first statement to a discussion of what the mayor does and LeBaron's own relevant qualifications. Candidate Heber Thompson passed out a set of four position papers (which I thought was a nice touch) and spent his first statement walking us through the first, on leadership, including priorities, planning, fiduciary responsibility, decision-making processes, and the value of human resources. LeBaron followed with some discussion of public safety and other City responsibilities and assets. Thompson's second statement (and paper) discussed City finances. LeBaron's third was on meeting the challenges of growth. Thompson devoted his third statement (and paper) to water. In the six-minute statements, LeBaron emphasized, not for the last time in the evening, that he has been "part of the solution, not part of the problem" in the last two years, as a member of the City Council. Thompson left us to review page four of his handout (the position paper on wages and productivity at the City) on our own, and returned to the familiar themes of careful, long-range planning, careful handling of financial matters, and sound business plans for the City's business-related assets, such as the recreation center and the broadband system.
Now, let's backtrack and pick up some interesting points raised by one candidate or other in the first hour. Inevitably, they are interrupted by my own commentary. For what it's worth, there were numerous instances in which (according to my information) the candidates got their numbers wrong, saying thousand instead of million, 12 months instead of 18, three instead of two, or 128 instead of 144. I don't care about those. Most of us couldn't speak in such detail on such a range of subjects without getting making at least that many errors along the way. So on to more substantive notes.
SECOND HOUR: Q & A
The second hour consisted of questions from the audience, with mostly three-minute answers from each candidate, and sometimes a follow-up or rebuttal. The format and timing worked well with two candidates. Many of the questions were familiar from other, similar events; I will note the topic of each (where it was discernable) but generally only mention what I found new or interesting in the answers.
Alcohol Sales to Youth: A gentleman asked the EASY question again, in slightly different form than before. Thompson had done some more research since last time, and noted that the Utah Department of Health is considering mandating EASY statewide, and that three of twelve relevant businesses in American Fork already comply voluntarily.
Parks, Special Interests, and Committee Abuse: A gentleman from the Parks and Recreation Committee asked a multi-part question. First, Art Dye Park once had a bright future, which was partly derailed by "special interests." He cited the equestrians as an example. Will the candidates stand up to special interests for the City's benefit? Also, he noted that the Parks and Recreation Committee was bypassed in planning the recent round of park upgrades. Will the candidates use, rather than ignore, the City's existing committees? The candidates' responses were mostly predictable and not outstanding, but these points seem noteworthy:
Balancing Arts and Recreation Funding: LeBaron picked up my point (not necessarily from me; it seems self-evident) that the dollars per participant might be inherently different between arts and recreation programs, so absolute numerical equality may not be a proper answer. (I don't know that anyone is promising that, but a 15-to-1 disproportion in the City budget -- overall, not per participant -- does suggest the need for some examination.) Thompson talked about the Arts Council's request for some funding for the Harrington School, which the City Council, including LeBaron, rejected when RDA money was at issue. Some notes:
Visions of Downtown: A gentleman who said he's about to move three small businesses into downtown asked the candidates to share their specific visions for downtown, to comment on how they personally define downtown, and to discuss how Main Street (which is a state highway) fits in. Discussion of this subject proceeded mostly along familiar lines, but I found these points interesting:
Modern Public Communications: I asked essentially this: Sooner or later, you will probably want the public to vote on a proposed general bond issue to fund pressurized irrigation. Using that as an example, and understanding that bad public communication makes even good City actions look bad, how will you (a) educate the public enough that they can see that the City has done its homework and made the best decision, as to both the system and the financing; and (b) convince them to trust you and believe what you're telling them? Unfortunately, I didn't ask it quite that clearly, and the answers were not fully on point. LeBaron mentioned the newsletter, blogging, the City web site, answering e-mail, and having public forums, perhaps even at the neighborhood level. Thompson said that if the public can see both the decision-making process and the decision clearly, we'll have fewer expensive lawsuit. (True, but how will we see it more clearly?) He said there has been too much contention in the past, and that the Mayor and staff need to do a better job of informing Council members about issues in a timely manner. He said he would designate someone to have that responsibility.
Communications, Reprised: One of our symphony musicians noted that people are busy, and mostly uninvolved in City matters, and wondered how the candidates would address that. He asked how they would stay in touch with what their hearts tell them to do, not just what the vocal, involved residents want. (I'm not sure if they're supposed to do exhaustive polling or simply be psychic. But I am sure I want them to use their brains a lot, too, not just their hearts.) LeBaron talked about having town meetings, with appropriate safeguards, and noted that in many cases our real opposition is apathy and ignorance. Thompson spoke positively of (as he said) council candidate Heidi Rodeback's desire to organize the neighborhoods and to exploit interest in issues which is often concentrated at the neighborhood level. And he said, as I think I have heard him say before, that he'd like the mayor to give a regular "State of the City" speech in a public setting, at least annually, in which he would report on his broad stewardship and discussion his plans and vision for the future. If LeBaron wins, I'd like to see him do the same.
Communications Reprise, Reprised: Someone else noted that we're all very busy; how will the candidates, as Mayor, use their resources to get the word out? (Apparently, my preoccupation with the City's inept public communications is not solely my own.) LeBaron suggested putting unapproved (and therefore timely) Council meeting notes on the Web site promptly, and even exploring creating a Web-bases video archive of meetings. (I'll pass on the video, thanks. Life is too short, and Council meetings are not often that interesting. But I'd be grateful for the notes.) Thompson mentioned the American Fork Citizen's responsibility, endorsed the notion of putting draft minutes on the Internet, and mentioned the water bill, as well. Neither candidate said, but I will, that the Citizen does a very good job sorting through and writing about the issues, generally, but usually (and necessarily) reports on an issue when it's already too late, or almost too late, for the public to get educated and wield some influence on a decision. (That's not a criticism of the newspaper, just an essentially unavoidable fact.)
Special Interests and Organizing Neighborhoods: Incumbent council candidate Juel Belmont, a member of the audience, got the last question. It was two-fold. First, Thompson's earlier mention of council candidate (and former Neighbors in Action chair) Heidi Rodeback's desire to revive Neighbors in Action rankled. True, Rodeback was a very effective chair for two years -- something you won't hear Belmont admit during the campaign -- but it was Belmont herself who was instrumental in creating the organization which eventually became American Fork Neighbors in Action. The first part of her question was really rhetorical: Do the candidates remember when the neighborhoods were first organized? The second part of the question was essentially, Why do people always say they don't like special interest groups, and should an elected official represent all residents equally, or just special interests? (Maybe it's just the political theorist in me, but that question isn't entirely a no-brainer.) Her speech in general was rather murky, so the candidate's answers were as well, to some degree. The parts I understood were plain vanilla, except that LeBaron talked yet again about the (mythical) group with a single agendum, meaning Thompson and DAFI. Thompson, who seems actually to have a variety of interests, talked about the importance of the City responding to various interests and trying to offer a broad spectrum of activities and opportunities. It was a weak pair of questions, so it's not surprising the answers were weak. LeBaron beat yet again on the tiresome, inaccurate my-opponent-only-loves-downtown theme, which is starting to sound a little cheap. Thompson basically was treading water and serving up platitudes.
Closing Statements: In his closing statement, Thompson got historical for a minute, then promised to lead as he has campaigned: honestly, respectfully, with open communication, etc. He expressed his desire to serve, and noted that he could be doing other things in his retirement which are more fun and less work, but he wants to serve. (I believe him.) LeBaron said in his closing that we should judge his future performance by the past -- a sound principle, but where can I easily find an official copy of his voting record or details about the issues on which he voted? (I can't; that's a problem the next Mayor should solve.) He went through his (excellent) resume of public service again and reprised the "part of the solution, not part of the problem" theme. He noted some of the things the City and Council have accomplished in the last two years, and fairly and truthfully noted that he personally did not have a lot to do with the parks upgrades, which were essentially in place when he took office. Again, he seemed to want to distance himself from the Barratt Administration.
Both candidates came across as mayoral in bearing and generally in command of the issues. It's a win-win situation for the voters. But neither candidate sealed the deal with this voter. I still cannot answer for myself these basic questions:
Copyright 2005 by David Rodeback.