Friday, October 18, 2013
Meet the American Fork Candidates, Round One: Summary
Here's a lengthy summary of what the candidates said last evening at Shelley Elementary. I've exiled my own analysis and commentary to the next post.
Event and Format
Last evening, the first of two meet-the-candidates events was held in American Fork at Shelley Elementary. Next Wednesday's event is at the Senior Center downtown. It's listed as beginning at 6:30 pm, but the formal part of the evening will start no earlier than 7:00 pm, if things go as usual.
All five remaining candidates for city offices were present. (One primary winner in the council race, Glen Anderson, dropped out after the primary.) Bill Thresher is challenging one-term incumbent Mayor J. H. Hadfield. The three city council candidates are Craig Nielsen, who is an incumbent but is in his first campaign (having been appointed a year ago to fill the vacancy left by Dale Gunther); and challengers Carlton Bowen and Jeffrey Shorter. The three city council candidates are competing for two seats, and voters may select two on their November ballots.
There were two-minute opening and closing statements, with questions in between. The questions came from the audience, and were selected, combined, edited, etc., by the moderator. Each candidate had one minute to respond. Mayoral and council candidates fielded the same questions, with one exception at the end, where a Cub Scout had submitted a question for the mayoral candidates about the mayor's duties. The candidates took turns being first to answer a question. The question-and-answer period lasted about an hour, which seemed long enough. Before and after the formalities, candidates mingled with residents.
Attendance was better than usual, but I forgot to get a count. I can only say that it was more than 50 and less than 100. The other thing I forgot was to put a memory card in my camera. I was hoping to include a photo or two here, but that will have to wait until next time.
The First of Two Blog Posts
For several reasons, I think it's important to explain what I'm doing and not doing here, and some of my process. If you want to skip straight to the meat of the matter, simply skip this section.
My report on tonight's event will consist of two blog posts. Here I will attempt to summarize faithfully what each candidate said, without pretending to offer a full transcript. In doing so, I am referring to my own handwritten notes and to a digital recording I initially made for my own reference (but see below). In the second blog post, I'll tell you what I think, or at least as much of what I think as I consider appropriate to post. This way, if you just want my notes on what was said and don't care what I think, you can simply ignore the second post.
After reviewing my entire recording twice, with much backtracking, as I made my notes, I've decided to include the audio files here. (See links below.) I've edited out (or simply didn't record) some of the initial housekeeping, the Pledge of Allegiance, the opening prayer, some fiddling with the microphone, a weird little episode where someone in the back asked that the name signs be put in front of the right candidates (which they already were), and so forth. I included only one bit of applause, which happened to be for the moderator at the very end, just to prove that there were people in the room. The recordings are not professional in quality, and I haven't attempted any noise suppression or anything like that, but they are usable. If you're suspicious of my motives or even-handedness here, or suspect I may have omitted substantive portions in the posted versions, I'll make the original audio recordings available upon request.
In my summary here, I'm paraphrasing a lot, eliminating a lot of repetition, and exercising some editorial license by omitting some minor details. As a result, some candidates inevitably get more words here than others. Furthermore, a lot of things that sound coherent when someone says them don't sound coherent when written. I'm not trying to call anyone out for weird usage, and I'm not even telling who referred to campaigning for (or maybe he meant serving on) the city council as "a calling" (inadvertent Mormon-speak), or who ended his closing statement "in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (That actually costs a candidate votes.) If any of this editorial license bothers you, or you just want to get the full effect -- you guessed it -- listen to the audio files.
I've included some but not all statistics offered by candidates, and I'm quite uncomfortable with going that far. Some of them are wrong or misstated, and some of those go uncorrected by other candidates. Some of them lack the context or detail which would allow us to evaluate them. I'll pick out some of them in the second post, but here, remember, I'm trying not to include my own commentary or analysis.
Here's one other personal conceit (not quite in the literary sense). It's almost a pet peeve, and it actually used to be. I'm a citizen of the United States, but a resident of Utah and American Fork. Because this is my blog, I've elected to say "residents" in this report in many instances where a candidate spoke of "citizens" of American Fork. It's a minor matter, but I thought I'd mention it in case it sounds odd to anyone who was actually there, or who listens to the audio.
Perhaps because this was my first substantive experience with most of these candidates, I've chosen to organize the following by candidate, rather than by question, beginning in each case with such biographical fragments as I was able to accumulate throughout the event. (I think I've successfully avoided biographical detail I already know about some of them, which wasn't mentioned last evening.)
We'll see how it works.
Questions and Seating Order
In the summaries below, you'll be able to identify much of the material as responsive to particular questions. Bear in mind again, however, that I've eliminated a lot of repetition (though repetition can be a very effective technique for a candidate). Maybe I'm easily bored. In any case, if you can't identify a particular candidate's answer to a particular question, it's either because it was redundant or because the candidate didn't actually answer the question.
As determined by random drawing, the seating order, "from left to right on your radio dial," was as follows: Thresher, Hadfield, Nielsen, Shorter, Bowen. If you listen to the audio, that will be important.
Here is the order of statements and questions:
I am attempting here to report accurately what the candidates said, not to evaluate the truth of each point or provide outside context. Some of what they said is distorted, out of context, speculative, or outright untrue. Some of the numbers don't really mean what the candidates say they mean. You won't find any specific analysis of that here, except in a case or two where one candidate corrected others. My analysis, as noted, is in a separate (much shorter) post.
Mayoral Candidate: Bill Thresher
Bill Thresher is an 8-year resident of American Fork. He started a moving company just out of college and has owned and run it for 13 years. He's now looking at franchising, to expand to other cities. He says he's number one in his market and "extremely successful." His college education was at the University of Utah. He didn't specify a degree or major, but identified it as "a business background." He grew up in Washington, DC. He used to be a country dancing instructor; he met his wife while country dancing. He owned "a small DJ company."
Thresher kept repeating that his object in running for mayor is to give American Fork residents and business owners the best possible return on their investment. He defined this as decreasing property taxes and utility costs. These two things being too high, plus the City's excessive debt, discourages businesses from coming to American Fork.
He said that utility bills, property taxes, and indebtedness in American Fork are all high compared to other cities in the county and state. American Fork issues fewer-than-average building permits for new homes, and the fees -- presumably mostly the impact fees -- are much higher than in other cities.
He opposed the roads bond. He noted that the City had Provo Mayor John Curtis come talk to them about what Provo is doing to fix roads without bonding. He asserted that American Fork has spent only about $500K per year to maintain roads, when mayor says we need $4 million. "Over the last few years, they've only spend $500K in maintaining our roads." If we'd funded them at the proper level, we wouldn't need to bond. This is something that should have been ongoing.
He emphasized that the City needs to operating according to good business principles: understand challenges and analyze weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. He said, "I have a bit of a talent for business." He wants to pass that along to the community.
He said the arts important and have played an important role in his own and his family's develpment. He loved the arts and culture available in the Washington, DC, area, when he was growing up. He didn't say anything for or against public funding for the arts.
He has no prior service to the City. He applied for a city council vacancy a year ago (when Craig Nielsen was chosen). He had some volunteer activity back East.
He said we're falling behind, while Lehi is having the biggest boom they've ever had.
Responding to the pressurized irrigation rates complaint, he proposed to meter pressurized irrigation, to make people accountable.
Questions himself, why rates so high -- so why doesn't he know? Speculates its because we're using mroe because it's unmetered. (We have the water, doesn't save if we use less of it.)
He described the duty of mayor as being the chief operations officer of the City; preserving a safe and secure environment; maintaining roads and infrastructure; keeping taxes and utility bills low and property values high; maximizing ROI and value returned to residents and businesses.
Mayoral Candidate: James (J. H.) Hadfield (incumbent, one term)
J. H. Hadfield was born in Lehi and has lived in American Fork for most of his adult life. He spent 30 years working in the Utah National Guard. He began working at American Fork Armory, then ended up managing facilities, ammunition, equipment maintenance, etc., for the entire Utah National Guard. He had some active duty and reserve time. He retired as colonel, then went to work in the City Engineer's office for 18 years, from which he retired to run for mayor. He has served on the city's Planning Commission.
Hadfield has been mayor of American Fork for the last four years. He praised City staff, and discussed some accomplishements in the last four years, including road construction, piping the Murdock Canal, putting in the Murdock Trail, and reducing debt by $16 million by paying off some bonds and refinancing others at lower interest rates. Most of the City's debt has revenue streams to pay it, so it doesn't increase property taxes. He noted that some utility rates are not up to the city; the City passes rate increases from the sewer district to the residents. He praised the police and fire departments, as well as ambulance staff, who, he said, have the highest level of training, as required to do hospital transports.
After several candidates had talked about all the things American Fork does to discourage businesses from coming to the city, Mayor Hadfield asserted that the city actually has been business-friendly for years. He noted that few cities our size have five auto dealerships, which are huge in terms of tax revenues. Mentioned the Meadows and North Point Business Park -- with two new buildings under construction at the latter, promising over 1000 jobs.
He explained that impact fees were recently reviewed. Thereafter, some were lowered, and more may be. He said, "We've had a pretty good track record, and things are working well."
Council and mayor have studied roads for a long time. After Bowen and Thresher threw around much lower numbers and asserted that the City has been neglecting roads on his watch (my phrase), Hadfield explained that we're spending a lot more money on roads than appears in the budget. Much of it comes from grants, UDOT, the federal government, gas taxes, etc.
Hadfield offered this list of recent expenditures on road maintenance and repair. (The year I give here is the year in which the fiscal year ended -- on June 30, to be precise.) In 2010: $764,000. In 2011, $1.03 million. In 2012, $2.86. In 2013, $3.24 million.
He emphasized the important of qualithy of life issues, such as the arts, recreation, and the library. (Why do people choose to move here? he asked.) He said we need to decide: "Do we fund these things, even though they're not in the black every year, or do we put a subdivision where the golf course used to be?" Previous councils made some of these decisions.
He said that a lot of foresight went into our infrastructure, preparing for growth which later came. There are lots of good things in our community; "let's not get wrapped around the axle about debt." $47 million of our $56 million in debt is not impacting property taxes; other revenue streams pay for it.
As to the arts, he noted that not a lot of cities our size have their own orchestra. Currently, the arts programs are experiencing growing pains, as the city pushes them out on their own as nonprofit organizations, so they can go after grants and continue to grow.
He explained that pressurized irrigation meters are expensive; there are only eight in the city right now, installed where there are usage issues. Instituting the odd/even watering system this summer improved things a lot. Piping Murdock Canal saves 20 percent [a reference to water loss, I think]; this will help in future.
The rates are so high because have we have bonds to repay; users pay their fair share.
Asking about the role of mayor, Hadfield explained that state law says the mayor is responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of all members of the community. He said the biggest challenge: putting together the council agenda, makeing sure things are ready before they get on the agenda. He represents the city to the Mountainland Association of Governments and other signficant bodies in the region.
The best thing about being mayor, he says, is representing the 95 percent of people who take care of their homes and yards, put out and pull in garbage cans on the same day, do what they're supposed to do. The worst part is the other 5 percent, who cause 95 percent of the problems.
City Council Candidate: Craig Nielsen (incumbent, one year)
Craig Nielsen was born and raised in Orem and has lived in American Fork for 30 years. His three children are American Fork High School graduates. He worked as Director of Oncology at American Fork Hospital and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center (the cancer centers there). He enjoys running [the physical exercise, he meant].
He has no service to the City prior to his year on the city council. In Orem, while in junior high and high school, he served on the Youth Justice Council, judging peers charged with minor offenses, to keep them out of the juvenile system. "I learned a great deal from that," he said. His one year on the city council, has included a steep learning curve. There is a lot yet to learn, but there is great advantage in knowing how things work.
Three years ago, he organized the American Fork Half-Marathon to help local cancer patients. It has grown from 800 runners the first year to almost 3000 runners last year and has raised almost $200,000 for needy cancer patients.
He wants to continue to "educate myself to make sound rational decisions based on the facts," for the benefit of residents and businesses in American Fork.
Asked about economic growth, he said he wants American Fork to have a small-town feel but be business-friendly, to attract businesses and their taxes. Two-thirds of sales tax revenue comes from residents of other cities, this helps reduce property taxes in the city. He would favor hiring a full-time economic development director; if efficient, this person would bring in more tax revenue than the position would cost.
He supports the proposed road bond. He wants to work with the state legislature to get higher portion of gas taxes. He noted that the city council could simply have raised property taxes to pay for road repairs, but they thought bonding the best approach and wanted to put it to the voters.
High priorities include public safety (fire, police, ambulance). Quality of life issues are important; arts and recreation programs, the library, and parks need to function well and efficiently. The arts make a community a community. It was a tough decision to make the arts programs stand on their own. Some city jobs were eliminated, saving some money.
Asked why pressurized irrigation bills are so high, he noted that the price of the system went from $8 million when it was first considered [in the 1990s] to the high-forties when it could no longer be postponed. Repayment projections were probably a little too aggressive, and the economic downturn beginning in 2007 drastically reduced the impact fee revenue intended to repay the bond. It has to be paid, so user fees had to be raised.
He noted that when the City held a public hearing on its proposed budget for the year, almost nobody came. He urged residents to get involved.
In his closing statement he politely urged voters to become educated, make sure they understand the issues before they vote.
City Council Candidate: Jeffrey Shorter
Jeff Shorter grew up in Orem and has lived in American Fork for about 19 years. He has a law practice in Salt Lake City and enjoys the work. He has no history of civic service outside his professional and church duties, because there was never time. Now he's at an age where he has some time to help, and he wants to.
In his church service experience, he has tried to delegate responsibility and give people opportunities to serve, and has tried to expect the best from them, and to be kind along the way.
He is against the proposed road bond issue and bonding generally. He says the government should spend what it has, not more. But he does like that in this case the people can just whether to bond and have a tax increase or not.
He said we can get by without raising taxes to fix the roads; simply prioritize them and fix them when we have the money. He said the roads have been worse in the past than they are now; we can live with bad roads while we figure out how to pay for fixing them.
He praised the City for recent cuts and noted that current council inherits a lot of issues from past councils But he thinks we could and should cut more. We should make sure families have what they need; if it's a choice between families and governments cutting budgets, it should always be the governments. State and federal governments, he said, need to stop reaching into our pockets.
Shorter doesn't think we should hire an economic development director or anyone else. We want people to come to American Fork to shop, and we want businesses to come. But persuading businesses to come to American Fork should be the job of the mayor and city council.
He said we need to treat businesses fairly, to keep our word, and make sure we don't take their property for parks. ("If we want a park, then we have to pay for it.")
He said that we need to let people be free. A police force is important, but adding more policemen doesn't solve the problem. We need to find ways to get along, support people, help them not get involved in drugs, rather than putting people in prison and jail all the time. There's greatness in people. We've got to get the government out of people's lives, then turn them loose. They'll solve the problems, start businesses, etc.
He said the arts need to exist privately, not funded by government. People not interested in the arts shouldn't be forced to fund them, and we should move in this direction with a lot of programs.
He thought water bills would go down when we moved to pressurized irrigation, but it didn't happen. It was not nearly the kind of deal it was supposed to be. We should pay off thsoe bonds quickly, before raising any more taxes. Water is free (rain) until people get hold of it, then it's expensive.
City Council Candidate: Carlton Bowen
Carlton Bowen has lived in American Fork for four years. He served on board of directors of a credit union as a volunteer, where he created their budget and accountability processes, such as manager report on budget at every board meeting.
He has no history of service to the City, but has been active in other ways. He started or revitalized a club in high school, testified yesterday at the Utah State Capitol at a hearing on Truth in Taxation. He's been on a community council [I assume at a local school] and has played some local roles in a political party.
He wants to keep city great. He envisions well-maintained facilities and good roads, with low taxes and, eventually, no debt. He's concerned about tax increases and too much debt. He said repeatedly that the City's $52 million budget is enough; we can find enough money in it for roads, perhaps move six percent of it from something else to roads, and not have to bond. He said the current road budget is "very minimal." Roads have neglected in the budget for many years, "for whatever reasons."
He said the best way to promote economic development is to have low taxes and good infrastructure (including roads). There's lots of undeveloped land in city, especially south of freeway, offering lots of opportunity to attract high tech businesses.
He tossed around some numbers to show how little we spend on roads now. Later, Mayor Hadfield gently -- without mentioning him specifically -- gave the numbers I cited above, which are much higher than Bowen's.
Bowen said that the most important things the City does are least glamorous: water, sewer. He doesn't believe in neglecting critical infrastructure. Fire and police are important, too. But most important is getting fiscal house in order. We have a lot of debt and need to pay it down. The City owns a lot of property; maybe it can sell some. We need to get our budget in order, adjust some priorities.
The arts are important, but not something the City needs to do. We had arts before we had government funding. Maybe the city could coordinate the programs; he seemed to like the idea that the City already has an arts council. He likes a certain boat harbor sign, thinks it must have come from an arts council.
Of pressurized irrigation, he noted the perils of bonding, stating that the City first borrowed $30 million, then found it wasn't enough and had to borrow $8 million. He said, apparently the City didn't consider the cost of digging up the roads to put in the irrigation system.
He said rates are high because the city had a study done, which said to raise the rates. If elected, he wants to freeze rates for the next two years.
Commentary and Analysis to Follow
So what does all this mean, and how clearly does it distinguish the candidates? More on both counts than may meet the eye. I'll give you my analysis and commentary in tomorrow's post -- which might help you, when you read it, to appreciate the difficulty of keeping all of that out of this post.
Copyright 2013 by David Rodeback.