Friday, May 17, 2013
Friday, May 10, 2013
To Bond or Not to Bond: Please Weigh In
- Two narcotics detectives
- A $30,000 increase to library collections (half that amount was awarded)
- Ongoing tree planting and pruning funds (deficient by $14,000)
- A full-time economic development director
- Road maintenance
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The ordinances were previously discussed in a November work session and will be discussed once more tomorrow. On Tuesday night at 7:10, they will become the subject of a public hearing. Later that evening, they will proceed to the council's regular agenda for discussion and action.
The ordinances may be viewed in their entirety at the following links.
Many questions have been raised, which I now answer, begging forgiveness from those who prefer short posts.
What are the ordinances in question?
The two ordinances, which mirror those passed in Salt Lake City and endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, make it punishable as a civil matter for businesses with more than fifteen (15) employees or landlords with more than four (4) units to make hiring and firing decisions or deny housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
What do the ordinances do?
They provide a way for someone who feels they have been discriminated against in rent or employment (such as being evicted or fired), because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to submit a complaint to the city. The city arbitrates between the complainant and the landlord or employee. If the complaint is found to be valid, and no resolution is reached, a fine is imposed. The fine would be $500 to $1000, depending on the size of the organization.
Are there exemptions?
Yes. Landlords with fewer than four (4) rentals, employers with fewer than fifteen (15) employees, and religious organizations are exempt. This provides protection to landlords or families who may just rent out part of their house, or small businesses who cannot afford the time and effort of an arbitration process. It allows churches and other expressive associations (for example, the Boy Scouts of America) to make hiring decisions consistent with their values.
What don't the ordinances do?
They do not address the issue of gay marriage. They do not allow for lewd or harassing behavior. They do not create a protected class.
I have been told by the Sutherland Institute that these ordinances do create a protected class, and that they raise other constitutional challenges.
I disagree with the Sutherland Institute. I see no constitutional violations.
To quote from the text of both ordinances: "This chapter does not create a private cause of action, nor does it create any right or remedy that is the same or substantially equivalent to the remedies provided under federal or state law. This chapter does not create any special rights or privileges which would not be available to all of the City's citizens, because every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity."In other words, this legislation creates no protection that isn't available to all.
Elsewhere, the Sutherland Institute has argued that the ordinances violate the freedom of speech and, by extension, the freedom of association. Again, I disagree, for two reasons. First, religious institutions and expressive associations have been carefully exempted from the ordinances. Second, I look to these ordinances to protect religious freedom by granting two basic human rights to people of all beliefs, even those whose beliefs and practices differ from my own.
Is there a need for this in American Fork? Will these ordinances result in an expensive and burdensome caseload for the City and the taxpayer?
I address these two seemingly unrelated questions together, because their answers seem to contradict each other.
Yes, there is a need in American Fork. Statistics provided by Equality Utah suggest that four percent of the population at large is gay, lesbian, or transgender. This by itself suggests a significant LGBT population in American Fork. I have been lobbied by constituents asking for protection. I have reviewed anecdotes submitted by the gay community of numerous acts of employment and housing discrimination, all taking place within Utah County.
What I have found most personally persuasive are the funerals I have attended -- including one in American Fork -- of gays who have taken their own lives. Yes, there is a need.
However, the need does not translate to a burdensome caseload. In the eleven Utah cities where similar statutes have been adopted, the caseload has averaged one every two years.
Will this create undue hardship for employers and landlords?
Again, with an average caseload of one every two years, this should not create unwieldy or expensive burdens. The terms of the ordinances are quite gentle, favoring conciliation, with prosecution sought only as a measure of last resort.
Most nondiscrimination laws are enacted at the State and Federal levels. Why is American Fork considering this legislation?
The Utah State Legislature made a decision not to address the issue, preferring to leave it in the hands of local governments. The city council is addressing the issue at this time because constituents have requested it.
Don't you see this as out of step with Utah's values?
According to a 2011 poll, 71 percent of Utahns approve of these measures.
The Sutherland Institute gave other reasons to oppose the ordinances.
The Sutherland Institute said, "Policies that give legal protection to such ambiguous, self-defined concepts as 'perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,' without equally strong protections of an individual's sincerely-held religious beliefs, have in practice eroded religious liberty."
A reading of the ordinances shows that the concept is clearly defined and religion is carefully protected.
The Sutherland Institute said, "Creating a legal mandate of non-discrimination singling out 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' for special protection would have unintended consequences for employers like forcing them to choose between getting tagged as 'discriminatory' by the city or being sued by customers, without solving any real social problem."
The ordinance protects proceedings as confidential and, in my view, solves a real social problem, as I have already discussed.
The Sutherland Institute said, "These non-discrimination ordinances will impose substantial costs on business in the city through the threat of litigation, training, fines, etc."
Litigation and fines are listed as a course of last resort. In practice, the caseload in Utah cities has been small, and all have been resolved through conciliation.
Have these ordinances been given adequate time for public discussion?
Yes. As I stated at the onset, these ordinances will have been discussed in two work sessions and one hearing before the council's vote. In American Fork, the usual practice is for an ordinance to be discussed only once in a work session prior to deliberation and vote.
You mentioned the LDS Church. Is that appropriate in a government setting?
First and foremost, I value the separation of church and state. I represent a pluralist constituency, and my record will show that I vote to protect that diversity. As I am elected by the people, I must answer to the people, not to the church.
On the other hand, as we are learning from the media frenzy surrounding Mitt Romney, religious values do shape beliefs, and they can't always be separated from political discussion. I am a devout, conservative Mormon, as are at least half of my constituents. We share a commitment to sexual purity, and the LDS church is one of the last remaining champions of this standard. It is nearly impossible to address this issue without some discussion of the values of those I represent.
Do you think a vote will change the morality of homosexual behavior?
The ordinances in question will not make homosexual behavior moral or immoral. They will determine how the law treats gays who have been discriminated against in matters of employment and housing.
What are your personal views on the subject of nondiscrimination?
I understand that it can be difficult for many to accept or discuss homosexuality. Heterosexuals find it repugnant, and Mormons in particular are committed to a standard of sexual purity. I don't expect these ordinances to change any of this.
However, when I consider how I must treat my homosexual neighbors, I find myself influenced by the example of Jesus when He reached out to the lepers, who were the outcasts of His day. I remember His complete and total forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery.
I therefore find myself in complete agreement with the LDS Church in the statement it made before the Salt Lake city council. The occasion was the passage of the two ordinances on which American Fork's are patterned. The date was November 10, 2009. I quote in part:
I have witnessed first-hand the fear that homosexuals live with when it comes to employment, and I have seen how it interferes with their ability to earn a living wage.
In drafting these ordinances, the city has granted common-sense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations, for example, in their hiring of people whose lives are in harmony with their tenets, or when providing housing for their university students and others that preserve religious requirements.
The Church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage. They are also entirely consistent with the Church’s prior position on these matters. The Church remains unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman.
I represent a church that believes in human dignity, in treating others with respect even when we disagree – in fact, especially when we disagree. The Church’s past statements are on the public record for all to see. In these comments and in our actions, we try to follow what Jesus Christ taught.
Twenty years ago, I worked as the assistant manager at a bookstore in upstate New York. We had a vacancy to fill, and the manager came to me with a question. He had just interviewed an excellent candidate, but he had only one reservation. The candidate was gay. Knowing my religious background, he asked me: Would I be willing to work with a gay man?
This was the early 1990s, and gays were not "out" in the mainstream to the extent that they are today. I had never confronted the issue before, but I could see no reason why a gay man couldn't sell books. I had myself, as a Mormon, been on the receiving end of discrimination, and couldn't bring myself to join the delivery end. I told the manager to make the hire; I would have no problem.
He was the best hire we ever made. He was honest and hard-working. He was great with the customers. He took a real interest in the books. As for his being gay, he never did or said anything even remotely inappropriate.
I was shocked when he came to me six weeks later and announced he would be leaving. "Please," I said, "Don't go. Why are you leaving?"
I was shocked again when he confided in me that he was gay. "Once the manager finds out I'm gay, I'll be fired," he explained. "And I think he's catching on."
I protested. I tried to explain how the manager was already aware, that it hadn't affected the hiring decision, that we hadn't mentioned it to the other employees, that he was the best worker we had ever had. To no avail. His fear of being fired was palpable, and he couldn't live with it. "Federal anti-discrimination laws protect you as a woman," he said. "They do not protect me."
I watched him, after that, light from job to job in the mall, never staying in one place very long. I have wondered whether his fear of discrimination hurt him more than any actual discrimination. As I have considered this case, and others like it, I have come to believe that the mere existence of a protective law on the books will give people like him a better chance at making a decent living.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Unfortunately, I will be travelling on business the day of the hearing. I am doubly interested, therefore, in any comments you may wish to leave here at the blog or on Facebook. I will also listen to the tape of the hearing before I cast my vote.
Here's a birds-eye view of the proposed budget.
The good news is that no property tax increase is proposed. Property tax will actually come in two-tenths of a percent lower than last year, thanks to the mysteries of Utah's Truth in Taxation law, but other revenues will offset the decrease. Overall, the general fund shows an increase of 6.9 percent, owing in part to stabilizing sales tax receipts, but mostly to increased revenue from the Fire and EMS department.
That's the good news. The bad news, from a revenue standpoint, is that growth is still slow and impact fee revenues are correspondingly weak. This threatens the pressurized irrigation bonds, which depend to a significant degree on impact fees for their repayment. I still don't know the extent of the damage, but I have thrown my support behind a water rate study that will help us find the best way to make up the difference.
It goes without saying: So long as the water bill continues high, the City must do all it can to keep other taxes low.
The largest increases in the proposed budget are three: a new fire truck, a cost-of-living increase for employees, and the creation -- and funding -- of an Advanced Officer position in the police department.
I view these as necessary, preventive expenses. The fire truck will replace a 1978 model that OSHA cannot certify, a truck that risks break-down on every call it makes. As for the employees, the taxpayers make an investment every time the City hires and trains a specialized employee, and they take a loss every time an employee leaves to make more money in a neighboring city. Nowhere is this problem so evident as in the police department. American Fork cannot continue to absorb the financial cost of training young officers for other departments.
Road maintenance, another significant preventive expense, will be maintained at $500,000 per year, which is the level the council approved when it passed the 2008 property tax increase. American Fork's drivers need no persuasion as to the need. City streets have deteriorated due to extreme weather conditions, a high average age, and street cuts from repair and installation of sewer and water infrastructure. We cannot cut back on road maintenance without incurring higher costs in the future.
Many quality of life projects will go begging this year. Sidewalks will limp along at the rate of $110,000 per year, enough to do full frontage at four or five houses. Library collections (books, primarily) will still receive half the funding accorded the same in Pleasant Grove and Lehi. Cemetery expansion, parking at the fitness center, public restrooms at the parks -- still pipe dreams.
Sadly, these projects must take a back seat to financial realities. The City must be sensitive to the economic hardships of its residents. Unemployment is still at 7.5 percent, even in Utah. Gas is $3.50 per gallon, milk $2.33, and water bills have exceeded $100 per month.
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In all, I feel the proposed budget is frugal and balanced, with preventive expenses receiving priority and luxuries taking a back seat. It's a prudent approach and I'm prepared to endorse it, but I'm interested in your thoughts. Please log in and tell me what you think.
Friday, May 27, 2011
American Fork Fire and Rescue
Here are a few good facts about these good men and women:
To top it all off, these dedicated emergeny responders make our Memorial Day breakfast each year. Continuing a tradition that began in the mid-1940s with the Fire Ladies Auxilliary, the department now serves up more than a thousand plates each year. Breakfast is served from 6 until 10 a.m. and costs $5 for adults and $3 for children. The doors to the ambulance bay are thrown open, and residents are invited to mix, mingle, and marvel at the tight ship run by this outstanding department.
I look forward to seeing you there!
* Facts are taken from "American Fork: Celebrating 100 Years of Dedicated Service," a feature article in the January-March 2011 edition of Straight Tip, the magazine of the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Happy Arbor Day!
It's been an Arbor Day to remember. In fact, in American Fork, it's shaping into a month to remember.
The mayor's remarks:
On January 4, 1872, J. Sterling Morton proposed to the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture a tree-planting holiday to be called "Arbor Day." An Arbor Day Celebration was held on April 10, 1872 with prizes offered to counties and individuals who properly planted the largest number of trees on that day. It was estimated that more than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.
In 1885, Arbor Day was named a legal holiday in Nebraska and April 22, Morton's birthday, was selected as the date for its permanent observance. According to accounts from the Nebraska City News, April 1885, the city celebrated Arbor Day with a grand parade and a speech by Mr. Morton. Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be especially cared for by that grade.
During the 1870s, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day, and the tradition began in schools nationwide in 1882. Today the most common date for the state observance is the last Friday in April, and several U.S. presidents have proclaimed National Arbor Day on that date.
Arbor Day was originally a more material celebration than sentimental. In the treeless states of Nebraska and Kansas, the lack of forests was severely felt, both in the scarcity of native timber for building purposes and in the irregularity of rainfall. Trees were needed to conserve and increase material wealth.
In pioneer days, a forest seemed an obstacle to development rather than an aid. Trees were often viewed as enemies to progress and civilization and only seen as firewood. Their beauty was not appreciated until the development of cities and towns and then they were no longer viewed for just material purposes.
Arbor Day takes its place with Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays and other national holidays. One difference with Arbor Day as compared to the other national holidays is that Arbor Day is the only occasion devoted to the future, rather than the past. Its purpose is to accomplish something which, in years to come, will benefit the community at large.
Arbor Day does not just stand for planting trees, although this is one of the primary objectives. It also stands for improving civic conditions, a movement in behalf of more beautiful surroundings, and educates the youth about trees and flowers, and encourages people to take delight in their cultivation.
As a Tree City USA, American Fork City strives hard to plant new trees and to maintain our existing trees in our parks, on City-owned land, and encourages residents to also plant and maintain trees. I am excited to be here today to celebrate Arbor Day and participate in planting new trees that will be enjoyed and appreciated for years to come.
May you enjoy this Arbor Day and become actively engaged in planting and caring for trees and encouraging others to have a deep respect and appreciation for the material and aesthetic values that trees provide our great community.
Thank you, Mayor Hadfield, for supporting Arbor Day in American Fork.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Laps vs. Pages
Patrons of the library and patrons of the fitness center are, even now, engaged in mortal conflict. At stake is our personal honor -- and a lot of money.
The library is tallying the number of books checked out between March 28 and April 2.
The fitness center is recording the number of laps run, walked, or swum on those same days.
The winner will receive, for use in its programs, the proceeds from the "Go the Extra Mile" 5K Run/Walk, scheduled for next Saturday, April 9.
Much as I love my agressive, victory-obsessed brothers and sisters at the fitness center (I count myself among them, from time to time), I would be deeply humiliated if, in the contest of brains over brawn, it had to be said that American Fork had more brawn than brain.
So head on over to the library, my reading friends, and check out a pile of books! The contest continues through tomorrow. What better way to spend Saturday morning than at the library with your family?
P.S. Do also please sign up to run in the 5K by following this link. Registration is $15 through today, $20 hereafter.