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Tuesday, May 27, 2008
What's in an Agendum? (The Carsons Are Back)

The new proposal reportedly is more reasonable, but I wonder: Have the strong-arm tactics and the abuses of ecclesiastical authority ceased?


Two years ago today, I blogged a local LDS Church leader in American Fork who was exceeding his authority, using his pulpit for political purposes. The issue was a proposed change in the zoning of some Carson properties on the west side of town, along 900 West. They were zoned residential (and still are), but the change to commercial would have increased their potential sale value considerably and made it more likely that adjacent properties could be similarly rezoned, thus increasing their value, too.

The neighborhood was vigorously opposed. The Carson family chose for themselves the role of bully, swaggering around the neighborhood, physically intimidating and verbally abusing their opponents. The aforementioned local LDS Church leader used his pulpit with limited success to try to defuse the opposition, some of whom already knew that the leader had a large, indirect financial interest in the outcome.

Later attention to the matter here at the blog included a brief discussion of reasons why the property might best remain residential, and a lengthy description of the dramatic American Fork City Council meeting where the matter was decided. In the end, the combination of strong-arm tactics, skewed facts, and slippery logic failed to impress the Council, which voted against the change by a margin of three-to-one, with one abstention. I wrote at the time,

Despite eight months of drama, all that really happened is that a proposed zoning change was denied. Another could be proposed tomorrow. But in the meantime responsible, disciplined, adult politics have been vindicated, and spoiled, childish bullying has for now suffered the fate it so richly deserves.

It didn't happen "tomorrow," but nearly two years later the Carsons are back with another proposal.

The New Proposal

The new proposal for the property involves some of it being zoned commercial, but also seems to constitute a compromise between the two positions. (Two years ago, the Carsons were uninterested in compromise.) This proposal has appeared on, then disappeared from, published agendas for two City Council meetings. The phenomenon offers some insight into the internal processes of local politics.

The original published agenda for the American Fork City Council's April 13, 2008, meeting included action on proposed changes to the city's General Plan and zoning, involving these Carson properties. These items were not on the subsequent  amended agenda for that same meeting. What happened in the meantime was that some Council members objected to the items being on the agenda, because they had not been discussed in the previous Council work session. This is something Mayor Heber Thompson has generally required -- with the enthusiastic approval of at least some of the Council -- to insure that items are not presented for action without reasonable time for the Council to study them.

The matter came up for discussion at the next Council work session, on April 22. With that hurdle cleared, the same two items appeared on the original published agenda for today's (April 27) Council meeting. But then another amended agenda  appeared, which does not include these two items. Action has been postponed again, reportedly due to some of the Council's desire to seek more of a consensus among themselves on the matter -- one way or another -- than currently exists.

It was the late Councilman Jimmie Cates who abstained in 2006, for personal reasons. The only new face on the Council since then is Sherry Kramer, who was among the public opposition last time. The only vote in favor of the 2006 proposal was Councilman Shirl LeBaron's, and he might have voted differently had he foreseen the bad behavior outside the meeting after the vote.

The proposal will most likely return to the Council's agenda, probably in two weeks, at which point we will see whether the new proposal is sufficiently improved, and the Carsons' behavior sufficiently reformed, to move two or three votes and win them a majority. Stay tuned.

If Pigs Could Fly . . .

. . . At least, if I were on the Council, which I really have no desire to be, I would look carefully at the proposal's objective merits. If I were unsatified, I would vote no. If I were satisfied, I would still want to know a few things before voting yes. (Note that I am not yet persuaded of the proposal's merits, because I don't know the details; that I am open to the possibility; and that I saw a big, pink pig flying through air just the other day over American Fork, not for the first time.) I would want to ask:

  • Have the strong-arm tactics we saw two years ago recurred?
  • Has the abuse of ecclesiastical authority recurred? (It probably hasn't. Even so, it's hard to believe that the chilling effect from last time has fully dissipated. All else being equal, Mormons don't like to oppose their leaders. It makes them feel guilty, even if their leaders are, arguably, wrong in a given instance.)
  • As regards the neighbors who were opposed last time -- those who still live in the neighborhood -- are they content with the compromise, or at least less completely opposed to it than they were to 2006 proposal?
  • Has the Carson team dialed back its evident sense of entitlement a few notches since last time?

The Council doesn't need a specific reason to vote against a proposed zoning change. But if one side of the argument hasn't yet learned civility in the public square and restraint at the pulpit, I would be sorely tempted to see that alone as sufficient reason to vote against them.

It's hard to see in the heat of the moment, but sometimes the process matters more than the substance of a given issue.

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