12 April 2014

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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!
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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.

Decision

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.

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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.

Decision

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

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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.
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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.