26 March 2014

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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Caucus

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!