Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Let the Sunshine In

A reader recently posted this question here at the blog:

I have always been diligent about watching American Fork's issues as they used to be published in the Thurdsay American Fork Citizen's "public notices" section. Because that paper is no longer published, I feel like I have lost my connection to the issues coming before the city. Could you tell me where/when these public notices are published now? Also, would it be possible to simultaneously publish these notices on American Fork's website? It would be nice to provide a no-subscription-required access to these important notices anyway.
Public notice is not just a good idea; it's the law. Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act states that the government exists to conduct the people's business and must therefore both take action openly and conduct its deliberations openly.

The act accomplishes this by requiring all public bodies to provide not less than 24 hours public notice of each meeting including the agenda, date, time, and place. In addition, each public body must publish its annual meeting schedule at least once each year.

"Public body" is defined as "any administrative, advisory, executive, or legislative body . . . [which] expends, disburses, or is supported in whole or in part by tax revenue; and is vested with the authority to make decisions regarding the public's business." This includes not only the city council, but also the finance committee, the planning commission, and all of the City's various volunteer boards and commissions such as the Arts Council, the Beautification Committee, or the Library Board.

This means that whether you have a general interest in how your tax dollars are spent, a local interest in how the vacant lot on the corner will be developed, or even a personal interest in, say, library collections, you are entitled to notice of any and all relevant meetings. What's more, you are welcomed and encouraged to attend.

This is heady stuff, people. This is what empowers our American vision of democracy. This is what it means to have a voice and a right to participate in government.

So, how to follow public notices now that there is no more American Fork Citizen? Three ways:
1. At the Utah Public Meeting Notice Web site. Go to this site, type in "American Fork" under "entity" at the search box, then click on "see results." You'll see several pages of results showing notices for each of the City's public bodies dating back to May 2008. Click on the name of any of these public bodies, and you'll be given an option to subscribe either via RSS feed or email.
As of 2008, this is the only form of public notice required under Utah State code. However, American Fork City is committed to the principle of public notice and goes above and beyond the requirements of the law. Hence, notices may also be accessed --

2. Physically, on the bulletin board in the vestibule of the City administration building at 51 East Main.

3. Electronically at the City's Web site, though notices are harder to find here than at the Utah Public Meeting Notice site. For council meeting agendas, choose the quick link entitled "Minutes and Agendas," which is located on the left-hand side of the home page. For the planning commission, choose "Planning Commission" under the government tab, then look for the minutes and agendas link. Other City boards and commissions post their agendas on their own pages (access them through "Boards and Commissions"), but these are hit-and-miss.

Additionally, council meeting agendas only (because of expense) are published in the Daily Herald. The Open and Public Meetings Act states that public bodies must notify "at least one newspaper of general circulation within the geographic jurisdiction of the public body." American Fork now submits its notices to the Daily Herald, but as the law does not require the Herald to publish them, it generally does not do so unless the City pays for the service as a legal ad.

Legals can be expensive. I saw a recent city council notice which cost $239 to publish. One could question whether the expense is justified in a tight City budget, but the mayor has rightly decided that the City must value the seasoned judgment of seniors and others who continue to follow the print edition of the Herald.

I hope this information empowers more of my gentle readers to follow and attend City meetings. Remember what John Adams said: "The government ought to be what the people make it."

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Stay-cationing in American Fork

Looking for your summer fun? Consider the many benefits of a stay-cation in American Fork. You'll save on gas, lodging and travel time, and you'll get to know your own home town.

Here are a few stay-cation opportunities sponsored by the City:

1. Fun at the Fitness Center. Take advantage of the summer pass sale for three months' unlimited access to all facilities. These include the track, racketball courts, swimming pool, and much more. Purchase before June 19 for a great rate.

2. Be Creative @ Your Library. This is the library's theme for its many summer activities. Story time with the kids followed by a picnic at Robinson Park and a book under a tree -- life doesn't get any better than this. Patrons can also support their library by donating books or flats of annuals. Learn more at the library's Web site.

3. Go to the park. In American Fork's 27 parks, no two playgrounds are alike. Establish a Friday night tradition and plan a picnic at a new park each week. Don't forget to bring bubbles and a frisbee!

4. Go to the state park. Through an innovative partnership with Utah State Parks, the American Fork Public Library is able to check out an annual pass to patrons for a week at a time, free of charge. The pass grants free admission to all state parks but two and entitles the bearer to discounted camping. Use it to "revitalize and inspire children's interest in nature and encourage creative outdoor play." Full details at the library's Web site.

5. Children of Eden. See your friends and neighbors perform Stephen Schwartz's popular musical under the very talented direction of Neal Johnson. Performances are scheduled for June 25, 26, 27, and 29 at American Fork High School.

6. Steel Days, July 11-18. This year's many fun events include the Tour de Donut bike race, free swimming, the quilt, doll, and art shows, the parade and carnival, and much more -- but no Big Show. (No comment.) Full calendar at this link.

7. Concerts in the Park. Cold Creek, Debra Fotheringham, Sam Payne, and the AFHS Marching Band are just a few of the many popular acts presenting this summer at the amphitheater. This free family concert series runs Monday nights through September 14, starting at 7:00 p.m. each night. Full line-up at this link.

American Fork's many arts and water lovers may also be interested in the free Friday night concert series at the Central Utah Water Conservancy District's display gardens, located just above Krispy Kreme in Orem. Concerts begin June 12 with Fiddlesticks. Whether or not you take in the series, be sure to visit the gardens, which are dedicated to showing the incredible beauty that is possible in a Utah landscape through use of native plants and limited watering. Garden hours are 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and admission is always free. You'll be surprised at how much you enjoy your visit, but be warned: If you're not careful, you'll end up learning something.

Thought for the Day

Who is wise? He that learns from everyone.
Who is powerful? He that governs his passions.
Who is rich? He that is content.
Who is that? Nobody.

-- Benjamin Franklin