Good Numbers, Bad Numbers

In politics, as in work and life generally, I’m a longtime fan of getting the right numbers, getting the numbers right, and understanding what they tell us and what they don’t. My recent essay, Water Bills, Fees, and Our Politics, applied that to local politics.

It also left me thinking that some illustrative, more general examples might be useful or at least fun. They’re not all from politics, let alone the current local election cycle.

Using Numbers Wrong

Let’s warm up with a softball.

The other day, I saw something like this floating around the Internet (I’m paraphrasing): “An orchestra consisting of 80 musicians can play a Beethoven symphony in 30 minutes. How many minutes would it take an orchestra of 120 musicians to play the same symphony?”

orchestra

If you don’t think about the situation, you might just make a calculation and say 20 minutes. Your math would be right, but your answer would be wrong. A moment’s consideration will reveal the obvious: the number of minutes will be approximately the same, no matter what size the orchestra. It’s not like asking how many more Toyota Tundras you can make if you have three identical, adequately staffed and supplied Tundra factories instead of two.

Water Bills, Fees, and Our Politics

One thing I’ve learned to watch for in candidates for local and national offices is how good they are at doing the math and connecting the dots. When I hear a candidate who knows what the numbers mean and what they don’t mean, and who understands and can explain causes and effects, I know I’ve found one who deserves my careful attention and likely my vote.

It’s not so much a question of native intelligence or college degrees, or of being articulate and clever. All these things can help – or hurt. It’s that I know she’ll do her homework on complex issues, if elected, because she’s already doing it. I know he’ll reason carefully in difficult matters, because he’s already doing it.

Water Bills, Water Bills Everywhere

In my small city, American Fork, Utah, water bills are a sore subject and have been for several election cycles. They’re mentioned in virtually every debate, and over the years we’ve seen the full range of responses, from the shallow and the knee-jerk to the well-reasoned and historically aware.

dripping faucet

Two Reluctant Farewells

It’s a sad week for American Fork. We lost two icons — one you probably know, another you might not.

Happily, they didn’t die. One retired, and the other resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Both have been public employees. Both have distinguished themselves in their professions. I have had the honor of knowing and working with both.

Yesterday, after 30 years as American Fork High School’s Director of Bands, Mr. John Miller conducted his last performance in that position, when the AFHS Wind Symphony played at commencement. Much praise has been heaped on him this year, whether he liked it or not, and he deserves all of it.

Wednesday was Chief Lance Call‘s last day at the head of the American Fork Police Department, after ten superb, understated years. He leaves more quietly, deserving but not wanting a lot more praise than he’ll get.

The two are very much alike. Both prefer to stand back and let others — staff or students — shine. Both have my gratitude and my admiration.

Snowbird, American Fork Canyon, and Property Rights

It’s now common knowledge in northern Utah County: Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort wants to develop property it owns in American Fork Canyon, over the ridge from the existing resort. Setting aside the controversy over who wasn’t involved or informed as this plan was developed, it comes down to a question of property rights – as so many local issues do.

Mineral-Basin-American-Fork-Canyon

According to this recent Fox13 News story, Bob Bonar, President of Snowbird, asserts that Snowbird’s plan is within the rights of the property owner.

This is still the United States of America, after all, where we acknowledge and protect fundamental rights. Property rights are among these; we speak of them in the same breath with life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and freedoms of speech and religion.

On its face, it might seem simple. Snowbird owns the land, and property rights belong to the owner. That should settle the question, right? Can’t we just dismiss any opposition as grouchy politics, or as acronymic, nuisance sentimentality in a league with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), NOTE (Not Over There Either), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), or NOPE (Not On Planet Earth)?

Actually, it’s not that simple. (You saw this coming, right?) Land ownership doesn’t settle the question legally or philosophically. Let’s talk about why.

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.

Learn Before You Vote: afelection.info

Folks, if you’re in American Fork, you’ll want to check out afelection.info for information about candidates and issues in next week’s municipal election. We keep adding more, so keep going back. You’ll find infographics, audio and notes from meet-the-candidate events, explanations of some of the popular misinformation coming from AFCitizens (again) and their pet candidate (but less, as he learns that their numbers are often bad).

This weekend will also bring the 2015 edition of David’s Handy Little Election Guide. Stay tuned.

American Fork: 4 Candidates, 3 Seats, 2 Public Events, 1 Friendly Request

Election Day is two weeks away, early voting starts today, and this is my first blog post about the American Fork City Council election. Granted, there was no primary, but I’ve still been slow doing my homework this year.

This post is informational (except, arguably, for the “1 Friendly Request” at the end). I’ll post some event notes, commentary, and recommendations after this week’s candidate events.

4 Candidates, 3 Seats

We’ll be choosing three candidates to serve four-year terms on the American Fork City Council. Each voter may vote for up to three on the ballot, and the three with the highest vote counts win. There is no districting in this race; all candidates run citywide.

There is no substitute, in terms of conscientious voting, for personal contact with local candidates. Here are the candidates, with the contact information I have for each. (If I’m missing something, please let me know, and I’ll add it ASAP.) They’re in alphabetical order by last name, not necessarily in the order of my preference.

Why I’m Walking Tomorrow

[Slightly revised after first posting. I do that.]

A couple of weeks ago, student-leaders at American Fork High School latched onto the idea of honoring Sergeant Cory Wride on the first anniversary of his death. That anniversary is tomorrow, Friday, January 30, 2015.

They immediately began to think big.

I helped last year with some press releases and a smaller, more permanent piece of writing, when American Fork City undertook to honor and remember Sgt. Wride. So I suppose it made sense to invite me to help with this too. Soon I was meeting with student-leaders, other adult volunteers, and City officials whose assistance is essential, even though the Wride Memorial Walk is not a City-sponsored event.

Before we were done — and we’re not quite done — there was a web site (wridewalk.com); a six-minute, professionally-produced video about the people and the event; two hash tags (#wridewalk and, for tomorrow night, #irangthebell); a Facebook event; a videotaped statement of support from the President Pro Tem of the United States Senate (with more endorsements still on the way, we think); numerous inquiries and expressions of support from other schools around the state; and growing buzz about the event on social media. I don’t deserve credit for most of that; these students and the other adults who are helping are amazing. And this isn’t about credit anyway.

What you and I are doing here — and thanks for being here, as in reading — is noting the reasons why I’m attending the Wride Memorial Walk tomorrow evening, and the reasons why I should attend. I leave it to you to ponder the reasons why you should join the Walk, whatever they may be.

Guest Post: Bruce Call – Let’s Start Acting Like Employers

Bruce Call

[Bruce Call is a former mayor of Pleasant Grove, Utah. I saw this on Facebook just before Election Day and thought it insightful and well written — and applicable to a lot more cities than just Pleasant Grove. He kindly gave permission to reprint it here. As you will see, he moves past the immediate issue very quickly, and on to a crucial lesson for all citizens.]

To my friends who haven’t yet decided on the public safety bond issue:

It won’t come as any surprise that I am 100% in favor of the bond. It was the right thing to do last year, and it’s still the right thing to do. But with all the information, misinformation, and disinformation out there, let me give you a perspective that most of us fail to consider.

I often hear citizens say, “The police and fire employees need to remember that they work for us.” I agree — and I know they do remember that every single day.

But I would like all of us to turn that concept around and understand what it means. The citizens need to remember that they employ the public safety personnel. You are their employer. And having employees comes with obligations.

One of the major obligations of any employer is providing a safe workplace. We do not do that. It is our obligation to provide a safe workplace, and we simply do not do that. If a private company delivered the working conditions that you do for your public safety employees, the world would hold that employer’s feet to the fire in a loud and public way until changes were made.

Imagine an employer who not only won’t fix deplorable conditions, but scoffs at his employees and calls them selfish.

Imagine an employer who doesn’t even know the extent of the miserable conditions of the work environment he supplies, because he’s never even visited.

Imagine an employer who can’t be bothered to talk to his employees or get to know them on any level before deciding that they’re just fine with what they already have.

We want the police and fire to remember who they work for. Okay. So if we want to be thought of as employers, let’s start acting like employers. Responsible employers.

It’s time to step it up and do what’s right by the people who work for us.