17 November 2014

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

On Mistakes Made

Twenty minutes can make a pretty big difference. The problem is that you don't always know how bad your decisions are until you experience their consequences.

Such principles were presented to me in stark relief at the beginning of this summer when I was scouting out a location for our annual wilderness survival camp out.

I had recently learned that there was a canyon nearby that wasn't super-high in elevation and had access to water. It was on BLM land. Score.

I didn't have to be to work until 11am, so I decided I'd wake up early, drive to the canyon and check it out. I arrived at 7am to a dirt road inside the canyon that led to the spot I'd located on Google Maps. I was in my Expedition, so the road wasn't a problem until I reached this rocky section that looked like someone had scraped all the dirt part of the road off. I'd seen this at scout camps where rocks filled in gaps in the trail. Very bumpy, but manageable.  It took about 30 seconds to cross.

After about a 1/4-mile more, I made it to what appeared to be the end of the trail. There was another field of rocks, this time much larger, and no apparent trail on the other side. I stopped the car and got out.

I walked another 1/8 of a mile and found the water source. This was a very cool area to do a survival camp! I was pumped because I knew the boys were going to have a great experience here.

I hurried back to my car. It was a little after 7:30am at this point.

I started my car and considered how to get out. The road in was too narrow to turn around in and there were a but of level-looking rocks in front of me. While the rocky field probably wasn't a road, I thought, "I'm in my Expedition, I'll be fine". I pulled forward to turn the car around.

It turned out that the field was not so level.  There were a lot of rocks around and the car would occasionally kick back at me. I would turn or give it gas as I thought necessary, but I was starting to sense that I was in trouble. After about 30 seconds, I hear a metal CLUNK, and I was stuck.

Now, these rocks were not all that big, so I was more confused than anything, but I hopped out to see what was wrong. It seemed like it would be something simple; I even left the car running.

I looked under the car, and lo, I was somehow high-centered on a rock. A big rock about 5 feet around. I had just walked across these rocks minutes before; they weren't that big. What happened?

Upon closer inspection, the car was leaning ever so slightly on this big rock and looked like it had dented the metal casing around the gas tank.

I began to get a little nervous.

For a few minutes, I pulled small rocks out of the way to see how big the rock was that I was stuck on. I pulled out one special rock and water started to seep around the rocks nearby it. The light started to come on.

I was in a river bed.

The reason I'd become high-centered was because my car had pushed the rocks down around it and exposed this larger rock. With just the right circumstances of the minor sinkage and the big rock, I was now super-stuck in the middle of a canyon.

Of course at this point I was reminded that I had no cell phone reception and was around a 3-hour walk to get cell phone reception. I decided to try fixing this ordeal on my own.

My entire vehicle was on top of the rocks, so I didn't feel comfortable using the jack. The riverbed went downhill perpendicular to my vehicle with the big rock being on the downhill side, so it was precarious to be pulling rocks out; while it was a bit of a long shot, pulling out the wrong rock could send my vehicle toppling over me.

Still, I very carefully began to pull more rocks from around this big rock.  Rocks are not forgiving to skin, and are not always very quick to come out. Sometimes, I had to go meta and pull rocks out to pull other rocks out to finally pull a rock out next to the big rock.  My hands quickly became muddy and raw, and after 30 minutes, they ached. My body felt tired from the physical and emotional exertion.

Occasionally, I'd give the rock a tug to see if it would budge. The ground that I crouched and eventually sat on was slightly lower than the rock and the car. This lent itself to digging at the foundation of the rock but not really to pulling at it since it made me hang precariously over a downward plane. (Nothing like hitting your head on a bunch of other rocks after heaving a rock out that is now rolling over top of you!)

However, after a long ordeal, the rock came lose and rolled down the river bed 1-2 feet and then stopped. The car leaned a little bit more to the driver's side (downhill), but I was free. Phew.

I got back into the car and decided that a river bed was not the place to try and turn around. I put the car into reverse to try and get back out. Due to the ordeal, I was nearly perpendicular to the road, but due to my concern now about the river bed combined with the plenitude of trees, I wasn't in a position to turn while backing up. My plan was to back my car onto solid ground, and then carefully reorient myself with some point turns until I was parallel to the road again.

This might not have been a great plan, but I was rather frazzled at this point. The space was very tight, and I still had stark images of being stuck here for hours in my mind. At one point, my determination to turn around without getting my entire car back onto the river bed caused me to push too hard against a tree and I shattered my rear windshield.

I have never been so close to cursing in my life. I said about every flip, frick, and marshmallow word I could think of.

After I had my say, I stopped to think. The patch of solid ground was too small to turn the car on. I figured I was going to have to get onto completely onto the rocks in order to have enough room to back up. I scouted out the rocks and found what seemed to be a good path. I pulled forward more carefully this time.

The river bed had more to throw at me though.  I sunk again, and I got stuck again.

At this point, I was a bit panicked. I had just spent somewhere around an hour getting just to this point. How many more rocks was I going to get stuck on top of? What happens when its one that I can't get out from under my vehicle. I started having this recurring image in my mind of some grouchy authoritarian complaining to me about having to haul my sorry butt and my sorry vehicle out of the canyon, cuz .

Was there no way out of this short of hiking down the canyon and expending an exorbitant amount of money to get some guy to swear at me for being an idiot and haul my car out of this mess?

(In fact as I type this, even months later, I still feel that same zing of nervous adrenaline and same pit in my stomach.)

This time, luckily, the car was in a less precarious spot. The back axle was over solid ground. Excellent, I can use the jack. I pulled out the jack and very carefully jacked up the car. This rock was probably about 50% bigger than the last one, though a different shape; instead of being mostly round, it was more like the top of a very big mushroom. There was no way to move it, especially after I'd expended so much energy removing the last rock. I looked at my hands and they were shaking. I took a break and ate some of my lunch.

I said a prayer, which included several apologies for being an idiot. After a few minutes, I felt better and went to the task of digging this rock out. Rock by little rock, I removed the foundation from under this huge rock. I will not admit how many times I found half of my body under the vehicle in order to get the right angle for this or that rock. Another 30 minutes pass, and finally, the rock tumbles away. I remove the jack and get back into the car.

Another prayer. I carefully give the car some gas. It doesn't budge. I give a little more, and it doesn't budge. What's wrong now?

There are no rocks anywhere under the car; I have at least 8 inches of clearance everywhere.

Then I check behind the axle. Rock number three.

This one was on the trail and was just high enough that when I was going it reverse, the axle couldn't clear it. There was also a small metal bar on the other side of this rock. (I looked at diagrams online, but couldn't locate one that showed me what this bar is for.) I wasn't precisely high centered, but I still wasn't going to be able to move without moving this rock.

How did this rock get in between my axle and this other bar? Probably when I removed rock #2, the car settled just enough to settle around rock #3.

I don't think it is perception; I'm certain this rock was the biggest of them all.

I began to feel my will slip away. I was out of energy. I figured the dirt would be hard and packed and that digging would not be much of an option. In my mind, I was working on the best way to explain my situation to my wife, my employer, and whatever individuals in the city I was going to have to call to get this all worked out.

While I waited for my mind to work, I went and picked up the glass from the accident. There was glass everywhere, but at least it was something that I could detect progress on. I tossed it all into the back of the car and mechanically pulled out the jack to lift the car back up.

About that time it occurred to me that I could use the jack screw to break up the soil and perhaps leverage the rock out the ground. It's worth a try.

I ate some more lunch, now with hopelessly dirt-caked hands, and came back. Picking with the screw was followed by digging with my hands. Pick, dig, pick, dig.

The rock was too far underneath for me to effectively tug with my hands, so I would periodically push with my legs. Of course, the rock was blocked by the rear driver-side tire, so I was going to have to pull it slightly up the trail in order to push it out of the way. Miraculously, after 20 minutes of picking, digging, and kicking, I was able to pull the rock the few inches necessary, and then shove it out of the way with one final blow.

I was completely paranoid at this point. I stood up, and I scouted every nook and cranny under my vehicle as well as about 5 feet around it. I still needed to go straight another 10 feet in order to be at the right angle to back myself back onto the trail.

I said another prayer. I carefully drove forward two feet.  Then, I stopped and checked under the car.  No problem. I drove another two foot and checked again.  Still okay.  Drive two feet, check, drive two feet check. I got to the point where I needed to be and put the car in reverse. I kept checking every two feet until all four wheels were on solid ground.

I was out.

I carefully backed down the trail about 200 yards. It was narrow and difficult driving to make sure I didn't run into any trees or anything else.  After 200 years, I saw something that I ought to have noticed on my way up:  A turn-around spot.

I used it.

Eventually, I reached the other small rock patch. I drove with much whiter knuckles and much less confidence than I had the first time through. I prayed again. I was through.

I stopped the car and checked the clock. It was 10:00am. It had taken me 2-1/2 hours to get out; I had a busted rear windshield, a dented undercarriage, and a damaged pride, but I was going to be okay. I prayed.


I was once told that all failures are good when you learn from them. Now that I look back, I still get the jibbies when I think about it in a lot of detail, but I did learn a few things:

1. Always take a buddy.
2. Always tell someone when you should be back so they can realize something is wrong early on.
3. Cars aren't invincible, especially their windshields
4. Take breaks and stay calm
5. A shower feels really nice after wallowing and scraping in a river bed for 2-1/2 hours
6. Don't wear nice shoes when going to explore a scout camp site.

Oh, and:

7. Don't ever complain to your scoutmaster that something is too hard! He's probably been through a lot worse!

15 November 2014

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

I don't know you from Adam OR How to Tie Yourself Back to Adam in 150 Easy Steps

Last Sunday, I was working on my genealogy on familysearch.org, a free site provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for doing pretty extensive family history. While looking for information about a Thomas Neal, I found an individual who had done a bunch of work on his family including is tie into the Garland family, which tied in through Thomas's wife.

So, while I was pondering what to do about Thomas Neal (who's parents I still haven't found), I clicked up the Garland line. It was pretty cool because it went really far back; it's always fun to see that there were real people who you are really related to back in the 14th century or what not.

As I worked my way back through the tree, I noticed it dead-ended at Sir Thomas Morieux, who, according to the chart, was the maternal grandfather-in-law of Humphy Garland (b. 1376).  The name sounded pretty official, so I thought I'd Google him. I learned from Wikipedia that Sir Thomas Morieux married Blanche de Plantagenet in 1381.

I added Blanche de Plantagenet and found that a great deal of research had already gone into her line. In fact, it was there that I learned that Blanche was the daughter of John of Gaunt who was one of the five sons of King Edward III. How exciting!

At that point, I just started clicking around seeing how far back a kingly line could be taken. Click by click I would go further and further back, Henry III, Alfonso IX, and on and on. I alerted my wife who was, at the moment, unimpressed. "It's a royal line," she kept saying.

However, she and I both started to become intrigued when we saw that the line stretched *way*, *way* back. We found ourselves in the 800s, the 600s, the 200s. We had followed the Plantagenet family's ancestry through Spain, Portugal, and France until we came back to England through King Coel (yes, Old King Cole).

We somehow found ourselves looking at the record of Bran the Blessed, son of James the Just. We didn't really know what we were looking at until we reached two names, the parents of James the Just, who were "Joseph Ab Heli" and "Mary the Virgin".

My first thought was:  "That's pretty ostentaceous, naming your daughter 'Mary the Virgin'. I'm pretty sure that's already taken."

Then, it began to dawn on me:  James, the brother of Jesus. I pulled out my Bible and looked up the genealogy for Joseph and for Mary. To my amazement, there in my family tree, were THEE Joseph and Mary!

Of course, you can't stop there. Now, there are 70-something generations listed right there in the Bible for the taking. And so it was:  I clicked back until I saw "King David", and continued on to "Abraham" and the tree finally stopped at "Adam". :)

(Funny thing about software, by the way; it allowed me to add a mom and dad each for Adam and Eve. :))

So now, of course, I was obligated to work my way back and do some counting. How many generations are there between me and Adam, the father of man? It turns out that you can put a number to something like that and it turns out to be 141.

141? That seems low. Given a 30-year generation gap, that would put only 4230 years between me and Adam. A quick check at the bible, though, shows that there are 1556 years between Shem (one of Noah's sons) and Adam, which is much larger than the 300-year gap that it would be where the generations 30 years apart.

So, now we are at 5486 years, which is a bit closer to what the bible claims. From Shem to Abraham, there is a 417 year gap, again, higher than average, but only by a bit. That puts us at 5633 years, closer still.

Remembering that Abraham was 100 years old when he had Isaac gives us another 70. At that point, it's close enough for me to be about right on the number of generations, even if the chart isn't quite right...

So, is it all correct?

Well... As I fairly quickly found out, many genealogies online borrow from other online genealogies instead of going back to the primary source, much like reading someone's blogs or tweets without doing background research as to their authority.

The first thing I looked up was who Bran the Blessed was. There is a legend embedded into English Christian history that St. Phillip sent a commission of brethren including Joseph of Arimathea over to Britain in order to introduce Christianity to the masses. The story goes that Bran married Joseph of Arithmathea's daughter Anna, also called Enygeus, and was instrumental in converting the island to Christianity. Decended from this lofty heritage are the legendary Grail Kings of Briton.

Is this true? Well, there is no real record of it other than tradition, so historians say "no". Oral traditions have a tendency to evolve over the years, but maybe.

On a couple of different lines, I'm tied back to King Coel. There are a couple of different ways to get there, but one is based on a claim that Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, was King Coel's only daughter. The belief is that this is where she was trained in royal traditions and where Constantine became a Christian. There is a book that claims that Constantine "picked up" his Christianity in Britain, but nothing that states that she was British herself. It seems like the most likely birthplace for Saint Helena is in Drepanum, Bithynia, Asia Minor since that location was renamed to Helenopolis by Constantine after her death.

Once we get to King Coel, the theory is that we tie back to Bran the Blessed through a couple more generations.
In my research of the legend, I found a fascinating pedigree chart entitled the Desposyni which claimed not only that the British royal line was descended from Joseph of Arimathea and that Helena was descended from King Coel but also that Jesus had descendents! These included great-grandson Aminadab who was the ancestor of the Grail Kings of Briton from the paternal line.

Given all of that, folks who tie back to the Fisher Kings (as my genealogy purports) have at least some people in the world who would then assert that they are *both* descended from Jesus and from his brother James. Wow.
It all sounds pretty apocryphal from my vantage point, but I learned about entire faith traditions that firmly assert this pedigree. There is even a book from Latter-Day Saint Vern Swanson that asserts that Joseph Smith's father and mother both descend from Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Well, what about the rest of the line?

Okay, so this is going to take a bit to unpack, but for now I'll start at the beginning of the line.  Going back to original records, there seems to be some doubt that not Elizabeth Morieux is actually the daughter of Sir Thomas Morieux. The argument, basically, is that Thomas married Blanche de Plantagenet in 1381 and died in 1387, leaving no issue. Further, Edward Lucas was born after they were married (by about 25 years). There is a different Morieux, though, referenced in the visitation records: One Sir John Morieux who was born in 1310. It clearly states that Elizabeth is the daughter of John. This basically shoots the entire line out of the water unless John Morieux is somehow related to the rest.

Well, darn.
This precipitated more research; I wasn't able to find Sir John Morieux's spouse, but I found another line via my maternal grandmother that goes back through the Singletons into the same general mileau. It turned out to be pretty easy. So, then I started thinking...

Is this really that special?

While doing my research, I fell onto an article entitled "The Probability of decscending from Edward III". Sounds very intriguing, no? It turns out that the probability that a specific ancestor of mine is Edward III is about 0.52%. On the other hand, the probability that *none* of my ancestors is Edward III is near 0.0003%. So, it is almost certain that I and anyone of significant British descent will be related to King Edward III.

However, I believe it *is* cool, because I found my particular story. Using similar research strategies (from other lines that didn't have the Morieux linkage problem), I found that I'm descended from Richard II of Normandy, William the Conqueror, Rei Alfonso Henriques, and more. Probably most people have a way to tie back to these individuals, but discovering my own branch was ethereal.

It was totally awesome seing Rei Alfonso Henriques in my lineage because he was born in Guimaraes or Viseu, Portugal, died in Coimbra, and was the first King of Portugal. These are all areas in the Portugal Porto Mission where I served from 2000-2002. It's neat to think about the Portuguese, whom I served, were likely my distant relations.

Find your own story

This was so much fun researching my family line and finding some pretty amazing people in it. It was a complete paradigm shift for me to even think about there being real people who lived and died in a part of the world and in a time that was completely out of my peripheral vision.  Quite honestly, short of a handful of historical individuals, I have always packed the years from about 400 AD to 1000 AD into the same basket as I did Herriman, Utah before I moved there myself ("what, there are people that live there?").

Oh, and for my own family, if you want to find what I found, look along the Singleton line through Great-Grandpa William Shelton. If you don't mind suspending reality for a minute, I haven't disconnected the Edmund Lucas -> Thomas Morieux line yet, which you can find through Thomas Neal, through the Laker line from Grandma Dora LaRee Laker.

15 June 2014

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Useful Truth

This morning our stake got a new stake president.  In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, local congregations are presided by a lay minister (not professionally trained, unpaid) called a bishop and several congregations are presided by a lay leader called a stake president.  IMHO, lay leadership is one of the amazing parts of the LDS faith, and it is always cool to be part of a transition that happens in each stake about every 10 years.

Our now-released stake president, President Nielsen, was a man that I came to look up to over the years.  He was a staff in a changing landscape that I could always look to for a reference.  Specifically, my appreciation for him grew when I received a personal email from him about a month ago.

Back in August 2012, I sent the stake presidency an email with a question:
Dear Presidents - 
I've been pondering a question for a long time, but haven't come up with a good answer.  Elder Jensen recently said that more people are leaving the Church today than at any time since the Kirtland period.  I can't help but wonder who in the stake might be on their way out the door or have already left due to issues surrounding Church History. 
How can we create faithful settings for members to discuss the literature that they are inevitably finding online and in books? In the past, when I have come upon a Church History fact that doesn't jive with what I've learned/been taught over the years (whether the writer's intent was malicious or purely historical), I feel the following emotions: 
1.  I probably shouldn't bring this question up in Gospel Doctrine because people will judge me for being doubtful2.  I probably shouldn't bring this question up in Gospel Doctrine because it might hurt/confuse a fellow member with a more fledgling testimony3.  I wonder who else has struggled with this particular issue?4.  I wonder how I could generate a faithful setting where fellow members could come to discuss what concerns they have and find some resolution? 
Years ago, I taught seminary.  The seminary classroom was my faithful setting where youth could bring up their concerns about Church history, science vs. religion, and anything else that was bothering them.  I don't know of any avenue that adult members have other than a conversation with their bishop. 
I think that the extra focus that has been placed on the Church over the last 18 months has probably magnified this issue.  To that end, I have joined mormonvoices.org, keep a devotional blog of my own, and engage people faithfully in online discussions, but I feel like there is more that can be done at the ward or stake level.  What do you think?
I never heard a response, and I forgot about it.  However, on May 21 of this year--nearly two years later-- President Nielsen sent me an email explaining that I'd inadvertently sent the email to an outdated email address and my message had only been recently recovered by the their secretary when he was digging through old email archives (secretaries do that??).  Once he saw the email, he responded immediately, asking (due to the email's age) whether or not I had anything to add.  I replied saying:
President Nielsen, 
I'm very impressed that this email found its way back to you given the circumstances and even more impressed that you took the time to respond to it. Thank you. 
The only thing that I would add is a bit of my own personal story. It may be of some help to others.
I am a Latter-Day Saint to my bones. When I was 16, I had a personal witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, and nothing has ever been the same since. 
Three years later, a few days before I was turning in my mission papers, I found a website online that was antagonistic towards the Church. It attacked my faith on the grounds of some things that Brigham Young had taught as President of the Church. As I read, fear, anxiety, and bitterness filled my heart until I ran upstairs into my room to cry for what seemed a very long time. The Church was like a dear friend to me, and in that moment, I thought I might have lost her. 
To make a long story short, I turned in my mission papers by sheer force of will.  About two months later, I finally chose to talk with my stake president, to whom I owe the 15 years that followed. It hadn't occurred to me that President Riches would know about what I had read; I simply knew that I needed to talk to someone or I was going to burst. He showed love, reserved judgment, and came from a position of faith. More importantly, I was overjoyed to find out that he had answers to some of my questions.  He had helped me find room for faith, and I was able to use that as a springboard to a faithful mission. 
During that time as well (between my call and my send-off), I took an Institute class from Craig Frogley at the U about the Prophet Joseph Smith.  He also came from a position of faith. He talked very openly about some of the "less-glamorous" parts of church history. It was from him that I learned about the stone in the hat, the four accounts of the First Vision, the issues with the translation of the Abrahamic Papyri, and on and on. He taught them with as much faith as he did the Three Degrees of Glory, the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and all the wonderful parts of church history that make our legacy so beautiful. 
Fast forward about 10 years to 2010 where I had a second crisis of faith. My mother died after lingering in a hospital bed for six months. This time, my concerns were much more fundamental than whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet or not  Being the computer geek that I am, I scoured the Internet for advice and counsel. I read The Reason for God, The Language of God, The God Who Weeps, several C.S. Lewis books--The Great Divorce, The Weight of Glory, The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters (and the movie The Shadowlands was also very helpful :) )--and more. I blogged about my faith, participated in online discussions, and read countless FARMS and FAIR articles, testimonies on the Mormon Scholars Testify blog, and still more. I kept a journal of my thoughts and even went to counseling for a few sessions with LDS family services. I prayed. 
Eventually, I found answers to my questions and room enough to exercise faith again.
In March 2011, I wrote a letter to Elder Holland (that I never sent) describing my turmoil and asking for guidance. Imagine my joy when he, in April 2013, as he has done so many times before, scooped me up out of the audience of 15 million, took me by the hand, and told me the story of the uncertain father who told the Lord "help thou mine unbelief". Oh, President, no talk has ever resonated with me so powerfully as that talk! An incredible release of pain, hurt, and bitterness completely left me. I felt peace! 
I stand on solid ground again. My testimony is firm. I love the gospel more every day.
If you have read this far, you have earned even more respect from me! I don't expect you to take so much time on my story. I relate it, though, to demonstrate what principles worked for me: 
- Talk with church leaders (President Riches)
- Find open settings where issues can be approached from a position of faith (Brother Frogley)
- Find faithful literature from our faith and others'
- Trust and Lean on church leaders (Elder Holland)
- Share what you know (this letter, my blog) 
I hope you find the above helpful.  Thank you again for your example of faith and devotion.
His reply was immediate, heartfelt, and sincere.  I felt peace as I read his message of faith and encouragement that he'd taken the time to personally write despite his admittedly busy schedule.

This came up so late in his presidency that I doubt he was able to do much with it.  It's likely that this was a minor issue in the closing weeks of President Nielsen's service.  Still, he took the time.

Over the next few weeks, I thought more about his question and whether or not I did have anything more to add.  I remembered Richard Turley's recent explanation about why the records regarding the Council of 50 had not been made available for scholarly study until recently if everything in them was relatively mundane:
Near the end of the session, a question was posed as to why the minutes have not been made available for study until now, as they seem rather innocuous. 
“I think the best answer is tradition,” Turley responded. “I think over the course of time, people kind of lose understanding about the significance of things, and when they lose that understanding, there is a sense of uncertainty that surrounds it. When there is a sense of uncertainty, people can be very conservative about how they handle it.”
Combine this with what the Salt Lake Tribute quoted Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens having said about our approach to Church History:
For those who discover unwelcome information about the church's history online, Bushman said, "the whole picture changes in a flash — like those optical illusions that show a beautiful woman and a hag."
The best way to prevent this from happening, Bushman said, is to give Mormons "the whole story from the beginning. If the disruptive facts are worked into the history Latter-day Saints learn as they grow up, they won't be turned upside down when they come across something negative."Indeed, said Givens, "if you tell a 12-year-old child that Joseph Smith used a 'peep stone' in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon, he'll think that's cool or interesting." 
But when Latter-Day Saints find out about that on the Internet at age 50, he said, they'll ask, "Why didn't the church tell me?"
I began to wonder about why certain elements of Church history are largely unknown to the mainstream members of the Church today.  The time when Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon to me seems like historical minutiae, and in an effort to simplify the message for a global audience, that piece fell out of the oral tradition.  Now, when an adult member of the Church finds it, he may "be very conservative about [he] handles it."

Imagine, for example, if the gold plates themselves had fallen out of the oral tradition over the years.  Of course, it still happened, but for one reason or another, it became a fact that was little known by most LDS.  How would a church member react when they found out about the "gold bible" from a less-than-favorable source? Would they experience the same cognitive dissonance, feelings of betrayal and doubt, etc. simply because it was different than what they'd read up until that point?

And so, I recently made two decisions.  1.  When presented with history, the best thing I can do is to try and find out what really happened.  If it happened, no amount of worry or hand-wringing on my part is going to change what happened.  2.  When I teach youth, I'll do a better job telling the "whole story".

I believe I'm in line with what the church is currently undertaking.  Over the last several months, the church has published many articles about various historical issues, including an explanation of Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Priesthood Ban.  Church leadership is sending the clear message that it is better to talk about these issues from a position of faith than it is to allow those who "lie in wait" to pounce on faithful members with sensational information.

I experimented recently with this at a recent priesthood lesson that I taught to our ward's deacons and teachers.  We were talking about the various worries or concerns that a young man has when he is deciding whether or not to serve a mission.  I told them about two of mine.  One was when I was about their age.  I was nervous about having to be responsible for running my own life (e.g. I was a home body).  The other came--can you guess?--a few days before I put in my papers for my mission.  (Read my first message above for a brief outline of my experience back then).

We got on the topic of Joseph Smith and my personal testimony of the reality of his vision.  In the course of my telling, I related the fact that over the years there were recorded four different accounts of his vision, one of which only mentions Jesus Christ.  Because they learned about it from a faithful individual, they took it in stride.

(My wife reminds me at this point that this is precisely what we do with our children when they turn eight.  Along with the other special things that happen when our children turn eight--baptism, the family budget, etc.--we take our child out to a special dinner where we have the birds and bees conversation.  We do it at eight years old so that they hear it from us first instead of via dirty jokes on the playground.)

There is still more to think about; I feel like this is a good approach to prepare the rising generation, but what about that 50-year-old who learns about a nuance of Church history that upsets his testimony.  Where can he go? What can he do? While the "crucible of doubt" has been helpful to my testimony, the path I took through it in hindsight seems to have been unnecessarily lonely and riddled with hazards.

I think Terryl and Fiona Givens's "Crucible of Doubt" firesides are a good idea.  I'm unsure if there is enough of a knowledge base at the local level for most bishops to do the questions-in-the-tissue-box thing.  What could be done during the second hour of church alongside Gospel Doctrine? Maybe a "Gospel Questions" class?

12 April 2014

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Greg Hawkins - County Auditor

No meetings

Greg Hawkins and I never met.  I went to four county-level meet-the-candidates meetings, and he did not attend any of them.  I suppose that he felt, being an incumbent, that it was unnecessary.  Unfortunately, this meant that I have yet to be able to discuss issues with him in person.

I will try and meet with him at convention this morning.

More detail soon, but I've got to run!
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Mel Nimer - Candidate for County Council at Large

First Meeting, 25 March 2014

My first meeting with Mel lasted about 2 minutes and unfortunately contained very little information about what he would do as a county council member.  Essentially I had time enough to hear him state that he is currently an accountant and as such would bring additional fiscal discipline to the table.

Second Meeting, 31 March 2014

After listening to several very predictable speeches from other candidates, Mel was a surprise.  He is a very amiable fellow and an engaging public speaker.  He is very approachable.  These traits alone place him higher on my list.

He stated that his first item of business was to clean up the budget by prioritizing

He also said that he asks three questions when deciding whether or not he will give his vote for adding an item to the budget:  Can we afford it? Do we need it? Should the county be providing it?  He stated that if he gets a "no" on any one of those items, then he is not for adding it to the budget.

On those grounds, he stated that he was against any plans for the county funding the Convention Center Hotel.

Third Meeting, 9 April 2014

For the first time, I had more than a few minutes to talk with Mr. Nimer personally.

Mr. Nimer wants the budget to be more open and accessible.  Specifically, he says that while the budget is available online, there is no real opportunity for dialogue with the citizens about budget items online.  He'd like to see a way where citizens can provide feedback over the Internet about the budget.

Regarding the budget specifically, he stated that 75% of the budget is currently to pay employees.  For him, this is far too high.  Weekly in council meetings, the agenda contains a list of employee vacancies that need to be filled.  In Mr. Nimer's estimation, the council rubber-stamps (my word) these vacancies without asking whether or not this position is actually still needed.  He stated that he would advocate a position that any employee vacancy have a 6-month moratorium placed on it.  If after the 6-month moratorium the office could still justify the position, then it could be refilled.  He said that South Jordan city currently uses this policy in their offices.

He also stated that there is a need longer term to sit with the city mayors in Salt Lake County and discuss with them the future of the county's assets.  He says that it concerns him that the county's budget goes up while the population in the unincorporated parts of Salt Lake County goes down.  He would like to find a way to assign stewardship of county services and facilities over to the city mayors. "Sandy City, you are in charge of Unified Fire," for example.  Mr. Nimer said that the plan would include something similar to the county paying the city to take care of this service, which would allow each city, which has a more reliable tax base, to staff and manage the service or facility.

Clearly, he has a laser focus on the budget, which is something that I really like.

He talked for a few minutes on incorporation.  He referenced a time when Taylorsville annexed a portion of Kearns into their city.  This portion was a large section of commercial area with almost no residential area.  The purpose obviously was to give Taylorsville a higher tax base.  Mr. Nimer stated that this style of annexation should not be possible.  He believes that it is within the county council's current assigned powers to state that cities within the county would would like to annex a currently unincorporated area would need to annex a certain proportion of commercial, residential, and industrial.

He also stated that he feels he has the best chance at beating Jenny Wilson because he has a personal connection through a family member.

At the tail end, there was an individual there that was strongly advocating for Mr. Nimer, and he stated that he also felt that Mr. Nimer would be good because he would be a good complement to Richard Snelgrove who has apparently done a great deal in the last two years to clean up the council's books.


I'm late to convention, so I'll be brief here.  However, I will be voting for Mel.  I really like his strong focus on the budget.  He has poured a lot of thought into how to reduce the budget and make it manageable long term.  Also, he is a super-approachable guy.  He is an individual that I'd have no problem bringing a question or concern to were he on the council.

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Scott Tingley - County Auditor

First Meeting - 31 March 2014

Actually, my very first encounter with Scott Tingley was to read a brief fire fight between him and his opponent, Greg Hawkins.

Mr. Hawkins first sent an email to county delegates with the somewhat cryptic subject of "Unfortunate Intrigue".  I had Mr. Hawkins as a high school teacher many (not so many...) years ago, and I recognized this as just part of his personality.  Its contents, however, disappointed me as it contained a tired and worn out political strategy that claims Mr. Hawkins opponent is not a genuine Republican and is running only to make it easier for the Democratic candidate to get elected.  His justification was that he learned that Mr. Tingley had registered as a Republican for the first time in order to run for this race and was previously a Democrat.

Mr. Tingley replied also with an email to county delegates.  He first stated that he was not a career politician like Mr. Hawkins who has "run for political office over and over again, hoping that each run will be a stepping stone to a higher office in the future."  This is Mr. Tingley's first time running for public office and his motivation, as stated in the email, was due to his frustration at seeing people elected who are not qualified for the job and that he believed such was the case with Mr. Hawkins.  Mr. Tingley explained that while he was a registered Democrat in the past, in the last 20 years of active voting he has been unaffiliated.  On February 25, 2014, he registered with the Republican Party so that he could attend his caucus meeting in March, and on March 14, 2014, a few days before caucus, he made his decision to run for office.  He explained that he chose to run under the Republican ticket because it aligns with his core values of "traditional family values, the right to worship without government interference, fiscal conservatism, less government, lower taxes, and an individual’s right to self-defense and the right to bear arms".

I left more impressed with Mr. Tingley than I did Mr. Hawkins.  However, I know Mr. Hawkins personally, so I'm inclined to give him a little bit of slack

Second Meeting - 9 April 2014

My second meeting with Mr. Tingley was at the Meet The Candidates meeting in Herriman.  Through his website, I had found several articles about some controversy between his opponent and the county council.  Apparently, Mr. Hawkins had sued the county council and it had gone poorly (more detail about this on my Greg Hawkins page).  I wanted to hear from both candidates personally about it.

Mr. Tingley explained two things about the law suit.  First, he explained that the suit and the manner in which it was executed was evidence of Mr. Hawkins's lack of qualifications for the office; he indicated that a qualified auditor would not have made such mistakes.  Mr. Hawkins didn't follow protocol when he filed the suit, and it ruffled some feathers.  Second, he explained that the suit in general soured the relationship between the auditor's office and the county council.

Briefly, the lawsuit was intended to block the county council from moving the budget office from the auditor's office to the mayor's office.  Such a move would make the mayor the CBO and would reduce Mr. Hawkins's staff.  Mr. Hawkins argued that the council didn't have the power to do that, and he sued.

Mr. Tingley explained that he was supportive of the move made by the county council.  I asked him about balance of power, and he said that there are a great many counties whose budget responsibilities are with the Mayor's office.  In the past, when Salt Lake County was smaller, the county decided to place the budget office under the auditor's office.  As the county great, the Mayor's portfolio grew (rec centers, golf courses, etc.) and now each facility has its own accountant, hired by the Mayor's office.  These accountants would keep the books, and send their data to the auditor's office.  An independent body found out that the auditor's office was not checking the accountants' work, but instead simply redoing all the books.  As I now understand it, this was cited as an inefficiency, so it was proposed, among other changes, that the budget office be moved.

Most of the conversation among the delegates and Mr. Tingley was focused on frustration with Mr. Hawkins.However, with respect to Mr. Tingley's own qualifications, he believes that he will be more engaged than any other candidate, including the candidates from the Democratic party.  He indicated that Jeff Hatch was his boss years ago, and that Mr. Hatch is typically very unengaged.  He stated that he feared that Mr. Hatch would be an "absentee" county auditor similar to Mr. Hawkins.

Unfortunately the question cycle began again before he had a chance to finish, but he stated that his primary goal was to repair the relationship between the county council and the auditor's office.  I believe he sees the same writing on the wall that I do, which is that if it is Jeff Hatch vs. Greg Hawkins, Mr. Hatch will be able to heavily leverage the bad press about the lawsuit against Mr. Hawkins.  Otherwise, the race will be about two candidates that have no political record to attack.


After this meeting, I made my decision to vote for Scott.  I was impressed with his demeanor, especially his humility, and that I was actually able to meet him in person (some candidates have not made these meet-the-candidate meetings a priority).  Mostly though, I like the idea of having an auditor in the position and I agree that it may be time to give the office new blood because of the tension currently in the office.

03 April 2014

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Micah Bruner - County Council At Large "A"

First Meeting - 31 March 2014

Micah Bruner's background is as an attorney, he currently serves as general counsel for a local small business.

In the few minutes that I had to talk with Mr. Bruner, he spoke on a handful of items:

First, he talked about the county council's approval of improvements made to the South Towne Expo Center.  There was $500,000 worth of signage improvements approved to convert an existing sign into a digital sign and also add a new sign on another corner of the property.  Mr. Bruner stated first that he believes the county government shouldn't be in the business of owning and maintaining an expo center.  Regarding signage, he disagreed that a digital sign was necessary to attract more patrons since the conferences that the Expo Center hosts are niche enough to not require it.  He said something to the effect of "Those who were going to attend the Gem Faire already all knew about it." He stated that he would liquidate the center given an opportunity that would be profitable for the county.  In general, he stated that he is opposed to the county competing with private business.

Second, he indicated that he disagreed with the freezing of county lines by Ben McAdams, but I was unable to determine if he was pandering to a Republican audience or not.  He did express a fairly balanced view on whether or not to allow Millcreek to annex out of the county and incorporate into Cottonwood Heights.  He agreed that it is a complicated issue and that the services provided by the county would need to go down if Millcreek leaves.

He outlined what would be his strategy to defeat Jenny Wilson.  For the most part, the discussion surrounded the notion of simply wanting one more Republican voice on the council; I would still like to hear more about how specifically Mr. Bruner's principles would be different than Ms. Wilson's.

Mr. Bruner is definitely the most articulate of the three.  He so far seems the most conservative; I lean more towards supporting him or Mr. Nimer.
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Brett Helsten - County Council At Large "A"

First Meeting - 31 March 2014

Brett Helsten is a distribution manager for a welding supply company.  He lives in Kearns and currently serves on the Kearns community council.

Unfortunately, I had the least amount of time with Brett, but I did have a chance to talk about a few items.

He is a strong advocate of revive volunteerism at the county level.  He states that today the county spends money on hiring service providers where volunteers could do the job just as well.  Specifically, he mentioned the aging and elder care services that the county provides.  He didn't offer a lot of detail on the viability of getting a reliable stream of volunteers for any service, but simply stated that the county isn't trying that route at all in the first place.

In this regard, he reminds me of Jake Parkinson who wants to "go back" to more old-fashioned ways.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won't.  I failed to ask him what kind of success he has had in rounding up volunteers at the city level (Kearns); so far, I don't have any concrete evidence from him that his idea is anything more than that.

Mr. Helsten advocates moving the county council meetings to the evening so that the public can attend them more often.  He stated that there have been times when he has taken a half-day off at work so that he can attend meetings where he wanted to have a voice.  In his view, this is impractical for the majority of working adults.  Mr. Helsten went as far as to say that if he couldn't get the meeting time changed he would sit in the hallway of the county building himself in the evenings so that citizens could come express their concerns.

Along the same lines of community outreach, he mentioned that he would allocate some of his evenings to visit communities to find out their concerns and needs.

The stance that Mr. Helsten takes seems to have grown out of him being a "community man" who has felt the pain of trying to get the county to listen to him while serving in the Kearns community council.  Again, something that I need to verify with questions and more time.

Mr. Helsten's political stance (other than his stated party) is somewhat opaque to me at this point.  His larger issue seems to be making sure that the council is visible and is listening to the communities it governs.

Second Meeting - 9 April 2014

At this meeting, Mr. Helsten and I discussed more of his service on the Kearns community council and what to do about unincorporation.  At a very high level, Mr. Helsten is of the opinion that the county council can make incorporation unattractive by giving more local control to the unincorporated areas by elevating them to townships and giving them more local control over services like snow removal, zoning, etc.

He is definitely influenced by having served on the Kearns community council for several years; he knows the concerns that unincorporated areas have and would be an advocate for them.

Personally, I believe this message is good but not as important as the message that Mr. Nimer is advocating.

More detail if I get a minute.

26 March 2014

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Jake Parkinson - Candidate for the Salt Lake County Assessor

First Meeting, 25 March 2014

Jake Parkinson is currently serving as the Appraisal Supervisor in Tooele County.  He has worked as an appraiser in public and private positions for about the last 10 years.  You can read more about his background on his website.

Mr. Parkinson's general position seems to be that the existing management structure in the Salt Lake County Assessor office has been around for too long (he cites that it has been in place for 18 years) and that this longevity is stifling change.

He, like Mr. Jacobs, cites that appraisals in new growth areas in Salt Lake County are currently of inconsistent quality.  While Mr. Jacobs feels that appraisers with regional expertise will fix the problem, Mr. Parkinson feels that revising the statistical model used to appraise homes is a better approach.  At the risk of oversimplifying, Mr. Parkinson believes that more trust in data will fix the appraisal issue while Mr. Jacobs believes that less trust in data will fix it.

Mr. Parkinson cites a statute that the assessor office is currently not following that is costing the office about $500,000 annually.  (I haven't had a chance yet to hear Mr. Jacob's position on this.)  Mr. Parkinson distills this down to the office effectively disobeying the law, though that part of his position seems to be a bit of hyperbole.

Mr. Parkinson generally feels that the $12.5 million budget that the assessor office has is too high.  The one detail that I gleaned in our five minutes was the above statute, if followed, would cut the budget down to $12 million.

Mr. Parkinson was in the process of listing innovations in other assessor offices around the state (nation?), but I only heard one of them which was that when an appeal on the part of the homeowner succeeds, their home will not be reappraised for five years (I didn't fully understand this; I need more information to find out why this doesn't balloon the number of appeals in those areas).  Overall, I need more information to be able to comment on the amount of substance that his ideas have.  Certainly, though, his ambition and desire to make change is clear.

Generally, Jake is passionate about change.  He has been in the trenches for many years and believes that his front-line experience has prepared him sufficiently to run the assessor's office.  I'll have more information in a few days.
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Kevin Jacobs - Candidate for Salt Lake County Assessor

First Meeting, 25 March 2014

Kevin Jacobs and Jake Parkinson are both vying to be the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County Assessor.  A few months ago (September if my memory serves), the former county assessor, Lee Gardner resigned.  There were four names that were being considered and both Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Parkinson were on the short list.  Mr. Jacobs was appointed by the Republican party and has been serving there for the last 6-7 months.

Lee Gardner served in that position for 19 years preceding his resignation; Mr. Jacobs worked in the assessor's office during that entire time (23 years total).

I only had a few minutes to talk with Mr. Jacobs, and I'm planning on going to a second meet-the-candidates so that I can get more time with him.  However, here is what I was able to learn in those few minutes:

Mr. Jacobs believes he is the better pick due to his experience in the office.  Having worked in the largest county for the last 23 years including 7 months in the position he believes proves that he can do the job and do it well.

Specifically, he believes that the scale at which he operates in Salt Lake County introduces elements to the job that aren't present in Tooele County, where Mr. Parkinson has been operating.  He cited Salt Lake County requires organizational support for monitoring of assessors and quality assurance of their assessments, which a small county like Tooele wouldn't need.

An issue that the assessor's office is coping with right now is new growth.  In the areas of new growth--for example, Daybreak--there is a great deal of assessment to do (new homes being built, etc.), and it is difficult to get accurate assessments.  One anecdote shared by Mr. Parkinson was a successful appeal for a 25% reduction in the home's value.  Mr. Jacobs proposes to fix this problem by organizing assessors into units of geographic expertise, combating misleading statistical data with personal intuition.

I had a moment to talk with his wife as well.  I gleaned that in the past 24 years, Kevin Jacobs has served strictly in management positions in the assessor's office.  He has never been an appraiser himself but has his appraiser's license.

A question in my mind is if the Republican party picked Mr. Jacobs 7 months ago over Mr. Parkinson, what would I need in order to effectively overturn that decision? I need to do more research to find out their motives back in September.

Mr. Jacobs general attitude seems to be that the changes he's orchestrated over the last few months should be sufficient.  He asserts that seven months is not enough time to disprove his ability to resolve the concerns Mr. Parkinson raises.

Second Meeting - 9 April 2014

This meeting convinced me to vote for Mr. Jacobs over Mr. Parkinson.  The meeting was actually with Mr. Jacob's chief deputy.

We discussed some falsehoods (which I have personally verified) that Mr. Parkinson has been stating to demonstrate his ability to run an office better than Mr. Jacobs.  Specifically, I believe his dollars per parcel comparison to be incorrect, his statement about the SLCo office defying statute to be incorrect, and his promise to fix the appeal process to be half-empty (since the appeal process isn't under the direction of the SLCo assessor).

Sadly, I'm running late for convention.  More on this later.
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Wanda Amann - Candidate for Salt Lake County Clerk

First Meeting, 25 March 2014

I met Wanda Amann at the same time as Steve Nelson and Jake Petersen.

I don't have a lot to say except that I am disappointed that this is the best the Republican party could come up with to challenge Sherrie Swensen.

Wanda is very new to politics and as far as I can tell worked very hard on the Romney campaign.  Other than that, she hasn't worked in the County Clerk's office or any other government position that would help her to understand what the job would entail.

She gave a short pitch about herself as a candidate which amounted to her stating that she was a Republican several times over and that she would bring innovation to an office that hasn't seen a change in over 20 years.  She (perhaps inaccurately) came off as reasoning that she deserved the position because she was not a democrat.

She half-heartedly mentioned that she felt there needed to be more automation in voting, but failed to describe what that meant.

Delegates at the meeting were the ones that brought to Mrs. Amann's attention the fact that Sherrie Swensen consistently places the democratic candidate at the top of the ballots, which they felt was unethical.  (To be fair, Mrs. Amann may have already known this, but she did not bring it up herself.)

I was pleased with the contributing role that she played throughout the evening to bolster Mr. Nelson and Mr. Petersen's positions.  She was good at offering anecdotes and statistics to support their points.

Mrs. Amann currently is an excellent individual contributor, and would be a great asset in a cause she believes in.  In time, she may gain enough experience to lead, but if she were to be placed in the clerk's position at this point in time, I believe she would get eaten alive.
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Jake Petersen - Candidate for Salt Lake County Sheriff

First Meeting, 25 March 2014

I met Jake Petersen at the same meeting that I met Steve Nelson.  They both strongly endorse one another, and honestly, Steve's endorsement of Jake is what keeps my ears open.  I was very impressed with Steve, but I remain unsure about Jake.

For the most part, Jake comes off as a bit naive and idealistic.  Throughout the evening, he fell back onto stories of his childhood regarding hard work, e.g. his mother making him dig trenches, to outline his principals of small government, a more personalized police force, and more efficient use of funds.

There wasn't much discussion of what Jim Winder is doing "wrong" or what Jake could do better.  The only comparisons were offered by the delegates and they were all ad hominem in nature.

Mr. Petersen did express some ideas that I'd like to hear him elaborate on somewhere down the road.  The first he mentioned was that public in-person contact between officers and citizens needs to be increased.  The police force leans more heavily on phone calls and other technology to perform their jobs more efficiently, but Mr. Petersen feels this ultimately decreases trust between citizens and law enforcement.  He feels like the default response should be in-person contact and that phone calls, etc. should be the exception.

He feels there is not enough focus on impaired driving.  For example, he states that there is no dedicated DUI police squad for Salt Lake County and that this should be changed.

He feels there is not enough focus on getting reformed criminals back on their feet and back into society.  At the very least, Mr. Petersen says that those who have committed crimes should receive a phone call from an advocate on a monthly (or periodic) basis.

He feels that there is a need to expand the community service program so that it is a greater part of a criminals reformation.

There was some discussion about ankle bracelets and non-violent offenders.  Both Mr. Petersen and Mr. Nelson (at the meeting together) advocated that the Corrections Facility should ideally only house perpetrators of violent crimes (okay, ideally, it would be empty but you know what I mean).  Mr. Petersen stated that an ankle bracelet costs $19 a day whereas a night in a cell costs $72 a day.  Currently, the sheriff's department places perpetrators in jail (when the statute merits it) by default and does not consider the option of placing them in an ankle bracelet instead.  It wasn't clear to me if Mr. Petersen would need to encourage legislation to make that an option for the sheriff's department or if it is currently just a matter of policy.

In the last few minutes, Mr. Petersen was asked what he felt the current office was doing wrong, and he mentioned two things.  The first was that there is currently a lot of pressure applied by the Unified Police Department on small towns and cities to join the unified force.  He feels like this would relinquish the local control that this town or city has over law enforcement, and they should seek it out if they want it instead.  The second was fleet maintenance.  As I understood it from him, police cars, etc. are maintained internally at an internal rate of $90 per hour, regardless of the service being done.  Mr. Petersen feels that the office should allow the fleet to perform simple maintenance (oil changes, etc.) through private businesses where it is cheaper.

For now, Mr. Petersen has a lot of ideas, but I get nervous about how much he wants to add and how little he wants to take away in exchange.  This may just be my impression, so I will wait and see how the next few weeks unfold.  I wonder how many of these ideas he will actually be able to execute on before the end of his term.

Also, while I don't like mudslinging, etc., it is important to me to understand why I should "fire" Jim Winder and put Jake Petersen in his place.  It was a lot of fun to imagine a better world there with Mr. Petersen for a few minutes, but why is he more capable than Mr. Winder at executing on it?
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Steve Nelson - Candidate for Salt Lake County District Attorney

I've pondered how I'm going to organize all this information, and I've decided to have a post for each person that I meet.  Whenever I get more information about each person, I'll add it to the end of the corresponding post with the date attached.

First Meeting, 25 March 2014

I regret to say that my very first impression of Steve was that his picture looked a little "aristocratic".  When I went to the meeting, I thought I'd be hearing from someone that had a high opinion of himself, etc.

Boy, was I surprised.  Within a few seconds, I realized that I had just met a fervent, well-spoken, thoughtful, hard-working servant of the people.  He is currently employed by the SLC District Attorney's Office as the Unit Chief of Violent Felonies, having worked as a prosecutor overall for 11 years.  He is directly involved in a number of drug-endangered children initiatives and is endorsed by the Federated Brotherhood of Police Officers as well as the SLC Police Association.  You can read more about his background in a blurb on hit Vote for Steve page.

It was readily apparent that there were several police officers and retired police officers at the meeting.  There was a lot of anti-Sim Gill sentiment in the room, probably driven by these individuals.  One police officer who serves in Davis County mentioned that some of the decisions that Mr. Gill made have taken the Davis County police force to a point where they will not cooperate with Salt Lake County when SL County calls for assistance on SWAT.  Another said that what many officers are thinking when they are pointing a gun at someone is not "how can I protect myself and this individual" but instead "what's the district attorney going to do to me if I pull the trigger?" (Such a sentiment may not be completely without value since accountability is extremely important, but this individual was saying that he thought this was out of balance.)  Mr. Nelson stated that there is very little trust and a great deal of bureaucratic distance between Mr. Gill and the rest of his office, citing specifically that Mr. Gill has a level of management between himself and his prosecutors.  Mr. Nelson expressed that this caused Mr. Gill to make decisions without anyone in the room who is actually doing the work.  Perhaps due to this bureaucratic distance, Mr. Nelson stated that several cases were dismissed by Mr. Gill where Mr. Nelson has "no idea" what process Mr. Gill followed to do so.

There was a great deal of concern with regards to how Mr. Gill has used the media during his term.  In the room, the voiced consensus was that his motivations may be to use this position as a stepping stone to greater political positions instead of giving this position its due.  A specific instance was cited where Mr. Gill held a press conference with a stack of paper beside him at the podium to symbolize the number of cases they were processing.  Mr. Nelson expressed that this showed disrespect for settling cases in the court.

Aside from the long discussion about Mr. Gill's approach to the office, his cadence, etc., Mr. Nelson cited issues with Mr. Gill's policies as well.  Mr. Nelson believes that the district attorney is currently not doing enough to stop domestic violence.  At the beginning of Mr. Gill's term, he dissolved the department (or group) that was focused on domestic violence.  Mr. Nelson believes that this should be reversed and a new focus on the matter reinstated.

Another was drug-endangered children.  Mr. Nelson obviously feels strongly about drug-endangered children, e.g. children who are affected by their parents use of meth, etc.  When asked a question about cyberbullying as an indirect crime that needs prosecuting, Mr. Nelson gracefully answered the individuals question and then used it as an opportunity to explain his intentions to add a new focus to the office on behalf of these children.  He stated that few individuals are well-informed with regards to the consequences of, for example, what happens when the former tenant in an apartment cooked meth there and the new tenants have a couple of kids.  He affiliates with the National Alliance for Drug-Endangered Children and feels very strongly about raising awareness of the issue.

Mr. Nelson is a promoter of victim's rights.  An individual asked him about his views on Paul Cassell, he stated that he agreed with Paul on the need for victims to be informed when their perpetrator is released from jail, has court dates, etc.

On those lines generally, Mr. Nelson feels that the barriers currently in place in the District Attorney Office's bureaucracy need to be broken down.  He attests to his current pattern of giving his phone number to all victims, keeping as much contact with them as possible, and maintaining an open door policy to help increase trust.

Mr. Nelson cited Mr. Gill's "Early Case Resolution" process, which Mr. Nelson believes is leading to a revolving door.  Interestingly, this was brought up when Jake Petersen, a candidate for County Sheriff, brought up the amount of time it takes to cite an individual for a DUI.  The process takes about 3 hours, and Jake said that he wanted to see that go down.  Mr. Nelson brought up that while efficiency is admirable, we cannot elevate it past the need that many of these perpetrators has for treatment.  He stated that the Early Case Resolution process is moving cases so quickly through the system that they are being adjudicated without consideration for treatment of the individual committing the crime.  In his opinion, this creates a revolving door, increasing recidivism.

Overall, it was a very informative 45 minutes that we had with him.  I was very happy that I went.  I need to see what I can do to find the other side of the story, but I will say that Steve Nelson appears to be of excellent quality for the position and would be happy to see him serving there.
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business


Last Thursday, I did my civic duty by attending caucus.

My job, as I perceived it, was to sit with a few dozen politically-far-right citizens and vote for the ones that appeared to be the most open-minded and closest to center.  This has been difficult in past years since caucus typically attracts the most politically convicted among us; however, I hoped to find several atypical attendees due to President Thomas Monson's request that LDS church members attend caucus.

In our area, they announced the starting time as 6pm.  Caucus actually started at 7pm, so those of us who were told the incorrect time had a lot of time to get to know each other.  (By the way, Fort Herriman Middle School's band room is way better than I ever had!)

My first foray into the conversation was a bit of a microcosm for how the night was going to go for me.  The current Precinct Secretary said, "I wonder how the democratic caucus went."  Of course, I can't be sure whether she really wanted to know or not, but I piped up and said "it was poorly attended.  I was the only one from our precinct there."  A couple people asked questions about it, and I answered, but the important takeaway was that there was an attendee among them who was definitely a moderate.

(For the record, I'm fairly conservative, but when the prophet asks me to do something (attend caucus) I'm happy to fulfill that to the best of my ability.  I was available both evenings, so I went both evenings.)

I ended up chatting with a few folks who were very concerned about the land parcel north of the Heritage Place development in Herriman where the landowners are planning on putting in a large set of apartments.  To my surprise, one individual endeavored to link it up to Agenda 21 (would her opinion change if she knew the land in question was owned and being developed by the LDS church?).  Others were a bit more reasonable, citing that it was more likely the latest incarnation of the city's strategy to bring commercial development into Herriman (following the theory that more residents leads to more commerce).

The conversation turned to Common Core, which brought out the most impassioned members of the group. One member handed out a flyer that she had prepared that cited the 10th amendment as her reason for opposing Common Core, another member said "they are trying to take our children away from us."  To the former, I would say (but did not actually), "let's amend the constitution, then, to grant the government power to impose the common core, do you still oppose it?" The latter's words struck me as hyperbole or perhaps fud.  At the end of the day, it seems to me that many Americans (myself included) just don't like being told what to do.  A post for another day.

I probably could have summarized my opinion like this:  "I listen to Nightside, not Glenn Beck."

Any, I digress.  The meeting began, and nominations were open for state delegate.  Based on our initial conversations, I was completely shocked when someone nominated me for state delegate.

There were five nominated for three positions, so we all got up to stump for 90 seconds (ouch) each.  We were asked to summarize our opinions on the 1st and 2nd Amendment, Common Core, Count My Vote, Fiscal Conservative or "Big Spender" (yes, those were really the words written on the easel!), County Platform: Agree or Disagree, Any Candidates You Already Support, and Children's Rights vs Parental Rights.  (Phew! All in 90 seconds!)

Three were very typical candidates--Ryan, Eric, and Alden--who basically spoke the party line.  I know two of these individuals personally, though one is decidedly too ambitious and too convicted for my taste.  One member invoked a list of credentials (member of this conservative group, affiliated with that conservative group, etc.), which annoyed me a bit.  Another was the individual who cited the constitution earlier in the evening, Elise.  Again, very convicted and ambitious.

I was the black sheep, having painted myself that way throughout the evening.  I definitely came off as being very surprised to be up there.  I followed Ryan, and the first words out of my mouth were "I'm more moderate than Ryan."  I suspect that most folks heard nothing more of what I had to say, which may have been subconsciously what I wanted.  Still, I spoke on as many items as I could in the short time I had.  The only things that I remember saying were that I didn't like Common Core, I thought the Count My Vote compromise voted on by congress was interesting and provided a good experiment on an alternative to caucus, and I didn't really agree anymore with the Tea Party.  I was unique among the candidates on the last two items.

The vote went as expected.  The three that spoke the party line got the most votes.  The convicted constitutional individual was next, and I was a distant last.  (The fellow next to me said, "Don't worry, I didn't vote for you.")  If you are curious, I did vote for myself!

We moved on to county delegates.  We needed eight delegates.  A nasty social experiment appeared in my mind.  Most people wanted to go home at this point, so the general consensus was that we would only nominate eight people and move on without stumping.  I turned to Kristi and said "I'm going to nominate myself as the eighth person.  I want to see if anyone will nominate a ninth person in order to kick me out."

It would have been an interesting social experiment, but it didn't pan out.  For some inexplicable reason, someone nominated me as the fifth county delegate! Once we got up to eight nominations, the precinct secretary asked if there were any other nominations, there were none, and so it was official.

We also voted on Precinct Chair.  I voted my conscience again, picking the individual that seemed the most open-minded, the least ambitious, etc., etc.  I was happy to see my choice make it through.

In the end, it was cool to be a part of the political process.  I may gripe about conspiracy theorists and those that think that democrats are guided by the devil, but it is energizing to be among people that "show up" and that want to make things happen.

So, over the next few weeks, my goal is to post my findings as I go to meetings, etc. so that we can all hopefully be more informed voters.  See you at the polls!