Monday, April 30, 2007


Reporting on two conversations from the past week:

Skate Park

A successful Orem businessman, explaining to me why he is considering a move to American Fork, described our skate park in glowing terms. No, the landscaping is not yet complete, and there's still the wrought-iron fencing to be installed, and yes, we did promise road improvements which we have not yet delivered. But on the plus side, this gentleman agrees with his teenage son that American Fork's course is unquestionably the most challenging and therefore the most fun of any of the skate parks around. But the icing on the cake, he says, is the kids. If you frequent the Orem skate park, he says, you're going to catch an earful of grime. But these American Fork kids -- they're as good as they get.


Another businessman, this week, tried to persuade me that our City broadband need not operate on a business model. By this he meant that it is permissible for the City to operate in a perpetual loss position. Why? Because there's a benefit to the residents. City government, by this logic, justifies the annual loss of more than $1 million because there is a benefit to the residents.

It is true that the City operates several money-consuming assets which are wholly subsidized by the taxpayer. The library, City streets, and parks come to mind. That's our job, this gentleman says. We provide services that benefit residents.

True, I say, but there's a twist. Our real job is to manage the taxpayer's money.

City government is not the father who earns and doles out money to his children as he sees fit. City government is more the co-op of residents who pool their money to provide services of their own choosing. The City Council is elected to collect and manage the taxpayer's money prudently and according to the taxpayer's wishes.

Prudent money management dictates that enterprise funds -- funds such as water, sewer, and broadband, which have revenue streams attached -- recover their costs through their revenues.

Much as I love my high-speed connection to the AFCnet-- in my part of town, it's reliable -- I can't look the taxpayer in the eye and tell him we're leaving roads unfinished because we want to go $1 million in the red on municipal broadband.

This would be a different question if American Fork were located somewhere in rural Utah, where Internet service is not widely available. In that scenario, the City might well be justified in providing broadband at a loss. But we live on the Wasatch Front, where Comcast and Qwest and many others will gladly provide the service to our residents at no cost to the City. (The cost will still be paid by the consumer -- but whether he pays his fee to the City or to a private provider will make no material difference to his pocketbook.)

Thus, the RFP (request for proposals) on the in-City network remains in force, and the City is considering offers from qualified buyers.

In terms of financial health, this is the only viable option for American Fork City. My grip on civic reality teaches me that, in the absence of financial health, there can be no other kind of health.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Announcing Arbor Day

Next Friday, April 27, is national Arbor Day. Here in American Fork, we plan to paint the town -- green.

Here's the plan:

First, Mayor Thompson will read and sign the Arbor Day Proclamation during the April 24 City Council meeting.

On the next evening, State Forester Scott Zeidler will visit with the members of the Beautification and Shade Tree Committee during their regular meeting. Topic: The How and Why of Becoming a Tree City, USA.

Then comes Arbor Day proper. At 10:00 a.m., the Beautification and Shade Tree Committee will conduct a special Arbor Day assembly at Forbes Elementary, taking the opportunity to encourage the school children in the appreciation and care of trees, and distributing no less than 635 blue spruce seedlings.

Special thanks to Daniel Copper of the Star Mill, who donated $500 of the $1,000 needed to fund the seedlings. Mr. Copper and the Beautification committee do this every year, rotating through American Fork's five elementary schools. It's an excellent cause.

At 11:30, the committee will proceed to Robinson Park (near the library), where they will be joined by members of the City Council and the news media. (My blogging husband calls it the DTM, or Dead Tree Media, but I can't bring myself to use that name in this post.) There they will transplant five maples in the corner by the historic cabins.

A pleasing variety of Rubrum and Norway maples, these trees will be fifteen years old, providing instant shade. One doesn't ordinarily transplant such mature trees, but these trees have been provided and will be transplanted by a very painstaking specialist, one Kent Gunderson, tree farmer and former American Fork resident.

Mr. Gunderson grows these trees on his farm in Oregon. When the trees are selected for transplanting, he carefully root prunes, then balls and burlaps the trees and transports them on a flatbed truck during the dark of night -- never during the heat of day. (During the heat of summer, he uses a refrigerator truck.) The trees are planted using a very large, 56-inch spade, then carefully staked for the first year to get them through any surprise storms.

In twelve years, Mr. Gunderson has lost fewer than five percent of his transplants. (Ten percent loss is the industry standard.)

Robinson Park does already have nice tree coverage, even if the cabins are out in the open. Visitors to the cabins will appreciate the shade. But the more pressing need, in this park, is for reforestation. Mature trees can't live forever, and when they die, it's important to have the next generation already in place.

I'm tickled pink -- er, green -- to report that one of the five trees will be funded by the Arbor Day grant I wrote a few weeks back.

So we're planting five trees in American Fork this year and passing out 635 seedlings. If you can, I hope you'll join us at Robinson Park.

If I don't see you there, then let me just tell you now:

Happy Arbor Day!

(Many special thanks to Juel Belmont, Arbor Day chair, and Paul Strong, Beautification committee chair.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Do You Know What Your Children Are Reading?

One of the many things I do for fun, as a City Councilperson, is serve on the Library Board's Collection Development and Reconsideration Committee. As the name suggests, this committee's job, when it's not working on collection development, is to reconsider books that have been challenged by patrons.

(See my earlier post, Offensive, for some of the philosophy behind the reconsideration policy.)

During a recent e-mail discussion, a board member posed the following question as to the feasibility of rating books:

As a parent of teenagers that read many books, I often wonder what my children are reading. I am not able to read all their books before they do and without doing so, I have no way to determine if something is inappropriate. My children generally do not raise concerns about questionable items in a book. I wish there was some kind of rating system that I could review that would give me the opportunity to begin a dialogue about something in the book.
It's an interesting question. We rate movies and video games; why not books?

Another board member suggested a few reasons:

Who makes the decisions? Librarians, the committee, the board, the community. Labels are value judgments and a single source cannot arbitrate the values of a community. What is ok in my view may offend another. I wish that YA literature did not push the envelope to attract or shock readers, but I do not feel empowered to set standards for others. All patrons may choose what they will or will not read. Labels may deter or attract certain readers. What a seventeen year old reads may differ significantly from what is developmentally appropriate for a thirteen year old. Do we label for appropriate audience? How do we do that? All thirteen year olds are not developmentally equal. I admit that I have a hard time finding suitable solutions and have relied on parents to monitor their children’s reading habits.
It's an interesting debate. But the question that really interests me is, how does Board Member A get his children to give him so much space?

Honestly. I know at all times what my children are reading -- through no fault of my own.

Even as we speak, I am trying to send a child to bed. He won't go. He has got his nose in Homer Price, and he's telling me about the donut machine that won't stop. "Go to bed," I say. "The donuts only cost two for five cents," he counters.

Then there's the note I found on the kitchen table yesterday morning from another child, a Harry Potter fan, which I quote:

Mom -- If you get bored, read the part where ******* dies, and consider these: JKR tells you you have to say the Avadra Cadavra curse with meaning, Snape can think spells and make them happen while he's saying other things, and finally, ******* goes flying backwards (I think) when he's "killed," which is exactly what "Expelliarmus" does to you. And Dumbledore trusts Snape. What do you think?
Okay, not all my children are this easy. I do also have a teenager. He has less use for me than a cat has for a dog. "Mmpphh" is all he can say to that perennial bedtime question, "Good book?" So yes, I have to work a little harder for him. I have to be a little subtle. But the rewards, when they come, are only that much sweeter.

Library policy states that "the library cannot act in loco parentis." In my heart, I'm glad -- because life yields few pleasures greater than reading and discussing a book with a child.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Historic City Hall

I spent a good part of my weekend at City Hall. This beautiful building was rededicated last December while my blog was incommunicado, but it still merits a mention.

Originally built in 1903, City Hall lost much of its structural integrity as it weathered the century. Several remodels weakened it further by painting or paneling over windows, partitioning the great hall upstairs into tiny cubicles with low ceilings, or -- that cardinal of all sins -- paneling the Council chambers in wood laminate.

Fortunately, Carl Wanlass, previous City administrator, found a loophole in State law which would allow the City to restore the building with RDA funding, so long as the building could be put to use for arts or recreation. A task force was formed and the City determined it could make a very fine, dual home for Council chambers and the Arts Council. The task force, led by present Chief of Staff Melanie Marsh, then set out to halt the building's deterioration and re-establish the historic grandeur of the building.

The task force engaged the services of Cooper Roberts Simonsen, an architectural firm which specializes in historic preservation. There were many noteable adventures which were chronicled in the Deseret News last July -- adventures such as discovering, then recreating the ornate, pressed tin ceiling tiles, or finding the tin filial of the original bell tower hidden in the attic.

The restoration's success is evident to all who use the building now. The building is aesthetically magnificent and historically sound, and commands the dignity that is appropriate for official City business or for great artistic performances.

The City Council and Planning Commission hold their public meetings in the Council chambers on the second floor. When not in use for City business, the chambers can be rented for private weddings and receptions, but mostly they are put to good use by the Arts Council.

Which brings us to my weekend. On Friday and Saturday nights, acting in one of my alter-egos, I was a piano accompanist for Sacred Voice 2007 -- a competition, not of vocalists, but of the composers of sacred art songs. The music was glorious, and the setting was equally magnificent. As a recital hall, this building is a gem.

On Saturday afternoon, I was pleased to return for a reception for Mary Ann Judd Johnson. Ms. Johnson's evocative watercolor renderings of American Fork historic homes, buildings, rural scenes and natural foliage are on display at City Hall now through June 8. I believe everybody who ever lived, worked, or watered a horse in one of these settings was there Saturday, thanks to the diligent work of Sydney Reynolds and the Visual Arts Board.

Framed and hung throughout the building, gallery fashion, the 37 watercolors paint a vivid picture of American Fork's past. For years, I've been listening to Juel Belmont, Chair of the Historic Preservation committee, talk about what American Fork used to be -- but, in all my drives about town, I could never see what Juel described. Now, thanks to Ms. Johnson's beautiful work, I have a cherished mental image of American Fork's idyllic past.

The Arts Council keeps the building humming most of the week. The Council Chambers are used by the Toastmasters of American Fork and for rehearsals of the Timpanogos Chorale and the American Fork Children's Choir. Classes in subjects like figure drawing, water and oil painting, and sculpture are taught downstairs. Also located here is the Arts Council's main office, whose restored, 1903 safe (now used for office storage) is worth a visit all by itself.

In short, the restoration is a beauty to behold. If you haven't taken the occasion to visit City Hall since December, please do. It's usually open during the day -- but you can also visit during a meeting of the City Council any second or fourth Tuesday, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Please be sure, if you do this, to tell us during the public comment period how much you like it!)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Morsels from the Budget Hearings

The Mayor and City Council spent two days in hearings last month taking budget requests and justifications from department heads. Here are just a few morsels of insight gleaned from the hearings:
  • LaVerkin, population 5,000, pays much more for its City attorney than American Fork, population 26,000.
  • $1,000 at the library will buy 72 nonfiction, 132 fiction, OR 148 children's titles.
  • The number of citations issued in American Fork increased from 3,922 (2005) to 6,945 (2006). Arrests have doubled from 425 (2005) to 837 (2006).
  • The swamp cooler at the cemetery office leaks. It collapsed the ceiling twice last year.
  • Blue stakes requests doubled this year. Two full-time employees, one in the water department and one with the broadband system, are needed to mark the five to fifteen requests that come in each day. The Council proposed cross-training one employee to make both markings, freeing up one full-timer for other work.
  • Circulation at the library is up thirteen percent since the catalog went online last summer.
  • The reason for delaying the railroad crossing at 560 West is NOT political will, as some have stated, but the want of $1 million.
  • Cemetery employee Mark Kawahara has saved the City thousands of dollars by sharing his knack for small engine repair. This year's budget proposes a $6,000 line item to stock parts and allow Mark to work his magic on fleet maintenance.
  • Chief Call, in St. George last month, was named Police Chief of the Year for intermediate-sized departments by the Utah Chiefs of Police Association -- after his first year on the job.
In all, budget requests came in at approximately $1.1 million above revenues. This does not include the $1 million needed to bridge the gap between our wages and fair market wages as identified in a recent wage study. So the shortfall is $2.1 million.

$2.1 million is only six percent of the City's $35 million budget. But it will be difficult to decide which six percent to shave. Very few requests could be called fluff. Most are items that have been sorely needed and sorely neglected for years.

On the other hand, our revenue stream, in my opinion, is the most we can justify asking of our taxpayers.

We can't fund everything this year. The situation calls for a master plan -- a road map that shows, over the course of time, which things must be phased into the City budget and in what order. Fortunately, Mayor Thompson has created the framework for such a plan. The Council's job, in connection with the budget process this spring, will be to plug in the priorities and the numbers.