Challenging works, skillful performances make for an exceptional theater season

 

03-14-2019

 

The performances the Snow College Theater Department pulls out of freshman and sophomore college students are always amazing, but the current theater season has been exceptional.

The faculty has selected challenging literary works full of metaphors, featuring complex characters, and posing moral, social and political dilemmas.

The opening play, the Shakespeare comedy, “Measure for Measure,” is an example. In the play, the acting duke of the country sentences a character named Claudio to death for having premarital sex with his fiancé.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella, who is preparing to enter a convent, goes to the acting duke and pleads for her brother’s life. In an ironic twist, the acting duke propositions her. He tells her if she will have sex with him, he’ll release her brother. She says “no.”

The director, Andrew Nagosky, who is chair of the Theater Department, explains that he chose the play because of the character of Isabella, who he describes in the play program as “a woman exceptional in her faith, fortitude and conviction.” He describes Isabella as “Shakespeare’s me-too heroine.”

The second play was “Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams, which had a cast of four and was presented in the intimate Haslem Black Box Theater.

Set in St. Louis in 1937, it is the story of a troubled family with a neurotic mother and disabled sister. The person telling the story is the son and brother, who wants to be a poet but works in a factory to support the family. The audience witnesses many painful confrontation among the family members.

Finally, with viewers silently cheering, the son and brother becomes his own person, leaves St. Louis and leaves the family permanently. Yet he expresses guilt for leaving his disabled sister behind.

“The close proximity of actor and audience means every single slung word and caught breath has a resonance and helps to forge connections with the audience,” Milinda Weeks, the director and a Snow assistant professor, writes in the program.

At Christmas time, the Theater Department presented “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. The department had presented the play the year before as well. But this season, director Brad Olsen, professor of theater and also dean of fine arts at Snow, readapted the script.

As Olsen notes in the program, “A Christmas Carol” is a timeless story. Above all, it is a character study in which “a miserly, unhappy, cold and tight-fisted old man” is transformed as he experiences “the magic of living life for the endearing values of family, friends, love and charity.”

Over the past few weeks, the Theater Department has wowed the community with possibly the most ambitious spectacle it has ever staged, “Phantom of the Opera,” complete with a live orchestra from the Horne School of Music. To kick off the production, there was a masquerade ball, followed by a six-night run, with a matinee added the final Saturday to accommodate the sell-out crowds.

The musical features an emotional plot in which the Phantom, a deformed man who has been ostracized by society, threatens violence unless the opera star Christine marries him. Ultimately, she shares passion with the Phantom, after which he releases her to her true love, Raoul.

In the play program, director Milinda Weeks accurately predicts that the Snow College versions of Phantom, Christine and Raoul “will delight you, infuriate you and astound you in ways that only this cast and this production could.” And, she writes, “That, my fellow theater goers is the goal.”

But wait, there’s one play to go. On April 17-20, Nagasky will direct “Our Town,” written by Thorton Wilder in 1938. Like the “Glass Menagerie,” it will be performed in the Black Box Theater.

The play is designed to portray everyday life in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. But we’re told the Snow College version will be about Ephraim, Utah.

The main character in “Our Town” is the stage manager, who addresses the audience, brings in guests lecturers, fields questions from the audience, and fills in playing some of the roles. We’re told some of the performers will be recognizable personalities who live in Ephraim.

Nagosky says Theater Department goal is to give theater students, over the two years they attend Snow, a range of experiences. This season has provided such experiences for more than 100 students who have appeared on stage and dozens of others who have been involved with scenery, costuming, sound, lighting, choreography and other aspects of production.

The choice of scripts and the professionalism with which they’ve been performed have enriched the lives of the community, thankfully without offending us.

Theater, Nagosky said, is a tool “for explaining humanity to itself.” The Snow theater season has done that.

Former Mt. Pleasant mayor, employees urge current mayor to ‘clean house’ following lawsuit

 

02-28-2019

 

In a recent court hearing, Judge Lee of the 6th Judicial District Court ruled that David Blackham, former Mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Sam Draper, former Public Works Director of Mt. Pleasant, and Jayne Banks, former Recorder of Mt. Pleasant, did not have “legal standing” to bring the lawsuit which they had filed to try and correct certain questionable and illegal practices in Mt. Pleasant City Government because they were no longer city officials. As a result the lawsuit was ordered to be dismissed without the court ever addressing the validity of the complaints of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs therefore are writing the following open letter to Mayor Dan Anderson because the judge clearly said that the complaints should be matters for him to address.

 

Dear Mayor Anderson:

 

Following our court hearing last week it became very clear that our efforts to address what we felt were very important concerns with the way the city is being operated should not have been brought in the courts, but instead should be addressed to you and the voting public, hence this letter.

The Judge did not address or rule upon the validity of any of our complaints. Instead he focused on whether we had the right to bring the lawsuit to address the appropriateness/legality of those issues. He made it very clear in his ruling that you, as the current mayor, are the proper person to address these issues to since you are currently charged with that responsibility as the appointed chief executive of the city. We acknowledge that Judge Lee probably made the right decision.

We are not going to fight this issue in court any further. However, we are addressing our concerns to you, Mr. Mayor, in this open letter in the hopes that you will do what is right to protect the interests of the citizens of Mt. Pleasant. We are certain that the voters in Mt. Pleasant will be watching to see how you address these concerns and the leadership that you demonstrate in resolving these problems.

 

In our lawsuit:

 

  1. We complained of nepotism in the hiring of family members and friends and neighbors of the sitting city council members to fill positions without accepting applications from other qualified individuals. We feel that this is both wrong and a conflict of interest that has harmed the city and continues to do so.

 

  1. We complained of the lack of implementation of fair and unbiased city procurement/contracting practices, which has had the result of benefitted sitting city council members and their businesses without allowing for any competition from other local contractors and or suppliers.

 

  1. We complained of the city council holding illegal closed session meetings without proper notice or accountability to the public.

 

  1. We complained of city council members holding unpublished city council meetings away from city hall and outside the scrutiny of the public view and without the keeping of any public record of these meetings.

 

  1. We complained of the city council using closed sessions illegally to attempt to put pressure on employees and elected officials to resign.

 

  1. We complained of city councilmen usurping the job of two elected mayors and interfering with their efforts to manage the city’s business and by doing so creating hostile work environments for city employees.

 

The judge admonished the city to pay a city attorney to advise the mayor and council in their council meetings so that these types of complaints can be avoided.

We leave it in your competent hands, Mr. Mayor, to clean house in Mt. Pleasant and make changes in the way things are being done.

 

Thank You,

 

David Blackham

Sam Draper

Jayne Banks

 

Dear Congress: Fix national park maintenance backlog this session

 

02-21-2019

 

In the past month, the U.S. Congress has started to demonstrate the ability to legislate the old fashioned way by forging bipartisan compromises and getting those to the House and Senate floors.

Two examples are the bill to fund the government that addressed the proposed border wall and the comprehensive public lands bill that passed the Senate. (The latter, which included some proposals that had languished for upwards of a decade, still awaits action in the House of Representatives.)

Now Congress needs to move legislation to fix the $12 billion backlog in maintenance at national parks, monuments and other U.S. Park Service properties to the top of its do-list. It needs to get a bill to the president’s desk this session.

A little of the history: The National Park Service manages more infrastructure than any federal agency except the Defense Department. There are 417 Park Service properties.

Meanwhile, the number of visits to these properties has soared, an indicator of their value to the American people. In 2006, the Park Service recorded 273 million visits. In 2017, there were 331 million visits. Of course, the same people often visit parks more than once per year. But to put the 2017 figure in perspective, the estimated population of the whole country in 2017 was $325 million.

In at least the past 20 years, appropriations for maintenance of roads, bridges, tunnels, sewer systems, water systems, other utilities, trails, campgrounds and many more assets have failed to keep up with needs, particularly with the wear and tear of high use.

In fact, one problem has been that Congress has put an increasing share of its appropriations into operations to help parks handle the increase in visitors.

Meanwhile, new parks, monuments and historic landmarks have been designated without a corresponding increase in appropriations, especially for maintenance.

In 2017, the Park Service published a list, by state and property, of the dollar amount of maintenance that had been deferred for more than one year. The total came to $11.6 billion. And the Park Service said that total was up 2.5 percent from the previous year.

Assuming costs have continued to rise by at least 2.5 percent per year since 2017, the Park Service budget is now just under the $12 billion mark.

On the 2017 list, Utah ranked 12th among the states with $266 million in deferred maintenance needs. That included $65 million at our beloved Zion National Park, and if you’ve spent any time there lately, the figure doesn’t surprise you.

The list showed $63 million is needed at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, $40 million at Canyonlands, $27 million at Bryce and $25 million at Arches. At Capitol Reef, the national park closest to Sanpete County, which, fortunately perhaps, gets fewer visitors than the other Utah parks, the tab is just $8 million.

We really don’t really need to make the case that Congress must come up with the money. The Park Service properties are our state and national treasures. People traveling through Sanpete and other central Utah counties on the way to the parks are an important piece of our rural economy.

The park service, with is wonderful rangers and interpreters, says its mission is to provide a world-class visitor experience. If it can’t take care of its assets, it can’t fulfill that mission.

In some cases, public health and safety is at stake. At the Grand Canyon, a water main broke 18 times between 2010 and 2018. The last time it happened, the Park Service had to shut off water in the sinks in public restrooms.

In 2017, a bipartisan bill called the National Park Service Legacy Act was introduced in the Senate. It would have directed money collected from energy development on public lands into a fund for park maintenance. The bill never got out of committee.

In 2018, the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund Act did make it out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But it never got to the floor.

Also in 2018, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Rep. Raul Grijavla, D-Ariz., at the time the chairman and ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced a measure called the Restore Our National Parks and Public Lands Act. The bill attracted 169 co-sponsors. But again, it didn’t go anywhere.

This is the kind of inaction (may we call it irresponsibility) that is very hard for us rank-and-file constituents out here in Utah to understand. Things need to change this year on this problem.

Fayette needs maturity among townspeople, skillful leadership to move on from Mellor episode

 

02-14-2019

 

It’s time for Fayette to move on from the Tracy Mellor episode. Doing so will require maturity and civility among townspeople, and skillful leadership in town government.

After reviewing the circumstances that made it possible for Tracy Mellor, the town clerk for nearly 20 years, to steal at least $300,000, the Utah state auditor suggested that perhaps Fayette should go out of business as a town.

We don’t agree. Fayette is a fairly compact residential development. It has a water system, streets, a cemetery, a city park, cityowned springs that are used for recreation and a town hall. Fayette is, in fact, a town and should continue to govern itself.

Last week, Brenda Leifson, who took office at the beginning of 2018, turned in her keys to city hall. We have to assume she resigned in response to pressure from behind the scenes. If so, it’s unfortunate.

Leifson, in fact, is the heroine of the whole Tracy Mellor episode. Probably a dozen people served as mayors or town board members between 2009 and 2017. In that time, no town offi cial detected the fact that Mellor was writing checks to her and her husband’s home-based business without the business doing anything for the town. None of those people figured out she was sometimes writing checks to herself for money she hadn’t earned.

It only took Leifson only a couple weeks after taking office to figure out Mellor was stealing, to confront her and to call in the Sheriff ’s Office. That led to Mellor being prosecuted, pleading guilty and being sentenced.

Ironically, a few months after Mellor was caught, members of the town board accused Leifson herself of financial impropriety. Th e Sheriff ’s Office launched another investigation.

The allegations against Leifson were a completely different breed of cat from Mellor’s behavior. It was alleged Leifson had given someone a deduction from his utility account in return for doing some work for the town. If that happened, it’s not the best way to pay someone. But the person who got the benefit did do work for the town.

There was also an allegation Leifson had spent too much on a hotel bill while attending a conference in behalf of town. Whether the bill was too high can be disputed, but if it was, the amount at stake was $100 or so.

Suffice it to say, the investigation of Leifson did not lead to any charges.

Since the state auditor’s report came out criticizing past town officials for insufficient oversight of town finances, some of those officials have jumped to their own defense.

At a meeting last week, a former mayor said a lot of state laws telling municipalities how to operate aren’t practical for a small town like Fayette where officials serve without compensation and where historically much of the work of the town has been done by volunteers.

We beg to differ. We don’t believe the requirements—such as posting minutes on the public notice website promptly after town board meetings and approving a register of expenses each month before checks are issued—are onerous. Rather, the laws are common sense. They are designed to prevent the very types of abuses Tracy Mellor has been found to have committed.

Fayette has followed many of the laws but been lax about some of them. Other towns in Sanpete with populations under 500, including Wales, Sterling and Mayfield, don’t seem to have problems complying with the laws.

Nonetheless, If Fayette has fallen short in the past, we say, “It’s water under the bridge.” It’s too late to point figures or make excuses. Th e agenda now must be to bring the town into compliance with all state requirements.

It seems apparent that some of the blaming, excuse-making and divisions that have come out at town board meetings and in the community have been a long familial lines. It hasn’t been the Hatfields and McCoys, but rather, some historic extended families defending their family members while other families have excoriated Mellor and her supporters.

With Leifson gone, Fayette needs a new mayor of the highest caliber, someone who can learn all about state law and best practices for running towns (the Utah League of Cities and Towns provides technical assistance and training), clean up the books, hire and oversee such employees (part-time or full- time) as the town can afford, and try to heal the social divisions.

There’s no reason Fayette can’t emerge from the Mellor fiasco in far better shape than in the past—even as a model small town in Utah.

And there’s some good news. The town can expect a windfall in the form of the $153,000 in restitution Mellor is required to pay, plus hopefully another $150,000 from insurance covering the rest of the money the state auditor’s office found she took. The new mayor, with the town board and citizens, gets to decide how to spend that money for the benefit of the town.

After years of fussing, Legislature must bite the bullet and provide health coverage for all

 

02-06-2019

 

 

The Utah Legislature has been debating, cutting, adding and equivocating about Medicaid expansion for at least five years.
It’s time to get the job done and make health coverage available to 100 percent of our citizens, including thousands in Sanpete County who do not have and cannot get insurance at a cost they can remotely afford.
There is growing sentiment in the nation as a whole that healthcare is a human right and should be available to all.
That sentiment was reflected in the November election, when 550,000 people, 53 percent of voters, passed Proposition 3. They voted to raise their own sales tax to enable Utah to fully participate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As written, Proposition 3 would qualify Utah to fully participate in the ACA provision that brings people whose incomes are up to 138 percent of the poverty level under Medicaid. In Utah, that’s about 150,000 people.
If Utah implemented Prop 3, the federal government would pay 90 percent and the state 10 percent of costs for the additional Medicaid enrollees.
People with incomes below 138 percent of poverty are not permitted to buy insurance on the ACA exchanges. But everyone above 138 percent who does not get insurance through a job can go online, during enrollment periods, and sign up for insurance. And if the insurance costs more than they can afford, they can receive federal subsidies. For thousands of families, that translates to health coverage for less than $100 per month.
The program as a whole offers the potential of 100 percent coverage. That’s a goal we not only can live with but must work toward.
In fairness, we conceded that Sanpete County did not vote for Prop 3. And the Messenger has always advocated fiscal responsibility. The state shouldn’t take on expenses it can’t afford.
And it hasn’t. That’s why Utah state government is showing a $1 billion surplus this year, with additional millions already socked away in half a dozen rainy day funds.
But now the Legislature is starting to gut Prop 3 in unconscionable ways. The Utah Senate has passed, and sent to the Utah House, a measure that would add 50,000 people to the Medicaid rolls and leave 100,000 with no access to coverage.
Ironically, the reimbursement from the federal government for those extra 50,000, at least to start, would be the same as what the state gets for current Medicaid recipients. Instead of a 90-10 percent match, the federal government would pay 30 percent and the state 70 percent of the costs.
Some aspects of the Senate bill have merit. It calls for an assessment on hospitals, which would be big beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion, because they would start getting paid for people they are now treating for free. The revenue would go to the Medicaid program.
The bill also requires the added recipients to work if they are not disabled, or unemployed but looking for work.
Robert Gehke, an editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, recently pointed out that if you combine Prop 3 with certain aspects of the bill the Senate just passed. you have a program that is pretty much a twin of something called Healthy Utah that Gov. Gary Herbert proposed in 2014.
The Utah Legislature must quit batting around the healthcare ball. The goal, as reflected by the vote on Prop 3, must be 100 percent coverage. And Utah, which is becoming a rich state, can and must find a way to afford it.

 

Leadership, community support key in revival of Spring City Fire Department

 

The success of Spring City in building its fire department from the ground up is an example for other communities to emulate.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Messenger reported that the Spring City Fire Department was hurting severely for manpower and equipment. In fact, the department was practically on life support.

As is often the case, leadership became the linchpin, and it came from Spring City’s police chief, Clarke Christensen. The city asked him, in addition to his police duties, to take over as fire chief.

Although Christensen admits he was a little overwhelmed with the double duty, he brought three decades of experience as a firefighter, lawman and EMT in Orem to the task.

Christensen tackled the problems, one at a time. First, he and Spring City Councilman Cody Harmer, who was also a volunteer fire fighter started looking for people.

Asking “anyone and everyone they could,” they spread the word through local wards and social media that the city needed volunteer firefighters.

“Man or woman, we have a place for you,” they said.

Men and women will follow good leaders, and men, women, couples and whole families stepped up.

Sixteen volunteers enrolled for the first fire training certification course. The department now has 25 certified volunteer firefighters, seven of whom are women. In fact, some of the most dedicated volunteers are female.

Christensen and Harmer went a step further. They encouraged Don and Cassy Chambers to found Friends of Spring City Fire, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Friends donated time and raised money to ensure that the volunteers had gear such as fire boots. They also supplied meals for the firefighters during their time at the fire academy.

With a dedicated group of volunteers, the department has faithfully and effectively served their city and its residents, fighting fires at home and lending its strength in fires that raged across Central Utah during 2018 such as Coal Hollow, Pole Creek and Hilltop wildfires.

Sometimes working 14 hours per day in the field, volunteers who helped fight these fires not only represented their city, but also earned income, which will go towards more resources and equipment.

The department continues to evolve as it matures. As chairman of the North Sanpete Ambulance Association, as well as police and fire chief in Spring City, Christensen is calling for his crew to get their EMT certifications to help improve emergency medical response times in Spring City. An EMT training course is scheduled to begin in January.

While other departments in the county struggle with lack of volunteers, lack of equipment, lack of resources and little or no budget, the growth of Spring City Fire Department, and the community support it has garnered, is proof that well-meaning people can rise to the occasion to improve and protect the lives of their entire town.

We applaud Spring City Fire for rising like the phoenix from the ashes. And we offer Spring City as an example to other struggling fire departments in the county.

Sentence of 45 days for taking $153K should be a wake-up call for Sanpete

 

The sentence of 45 days in jail for Tracy Kay Mellor, the former town clerk of Fayette, is hard to fathom.

Mellor was also ordered to pay restitution of $153,389.89, which was the total amount of money she was charged with stealing from Fayette, money she took by blatantly writing checks to herself out of town accounts.

But virtually everyone who had been involved with the case and who was in the courtroom at the time she was sentenced agreed the embezzlement, which went on for more than a decade, covered thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, more than was charged.

That’s because the thefts went back for many years, and the state could only charge as much as the statute of limitations would allow. Moreover, it wasn’t possible to retrieve all past records to determine how much, exactly, had been taken.

One might ask what would have happened to Mellor if she had been a garden-variety criminal who had stolen 15 cars worth an average of $10,000 apiece. Would she have avoided prison? How is theft of public funds any different?

On a week-by-week basis, the Messenger covers cases of addicts being arrested for drug possession and distribution, and for crimes that go along with drug abuse, ranging from burglary to domestic violence.             If money is involved in their crimes, the amount is nearly always far less than $153,389.89.

And as we said, in the Mellor case, $153,000 was undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg.

The majority of these addicts are poor, and many also have mental and emotional problems. Because of their addictions, which most people agree is a form of disease, many spend months in jail before their cases are even resolved in court because they don’t have money to bail out.

Once sentenced, these defendants may spend additional time in jail, be sentenced to what ends up being multiple years under intensive supervision in drug court, or go to prison.

While sentencing is an individual matter, the Mellor sentence is not consistent with other public funds cases in Sanpete County over the past 15 years. In 2007, a Snow College cashier who took what turned out to be $300,000 was sentenced to a year in jail.

And in 2004, Kimble Blackburn, the Snow College vice president who took somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000, was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $424,000 in restitution. The restitution went beyond covering the amounts the college could prove he had taken to include the state’s costs of investigating the case.

Mellor was in a special position. She was entrusted with handling taxpayer money with little direct oversight. She abused that trust. That fact should lead to an enhanced sentenced, not a lenient one.

Patricia Murphy, a town board member who represented Fayette at Mellor’s sentencing, said as much. “I thought the judge was extremely gentle and nice,” she said. “Especially for someone who had defrauded Fayette over many years.”

“I had requested an apology letter to pull the town together, especially for those who think [Mellor] didn’t commit a serious crime. Tracy presents a very good image, but the crime occurred, intentionally, over many years.”

What’s done is done. But we would like to see the case serve as a wakeup call for Sanpete County. Public funds are sacrosanct. Our community should not tolerate, to any degree, the theft or misappropriation of public funds, regardless of how “upstanding” the thief is.

 

 

Gunnison Valley residents should calm down, allow appropriate officials to respond to abuse case

 

Time for everybody who is up in arms about the apparent sexual assault to calm down.

We’re in no way diminishing the seriousness of the sexual assault that came to light in early November.

We’re as alarmed as anybody about information suggesting assaults similar to the intrusion reported by a GVHS freshman, assaults law enforcement officials say were perpetrated by the same youth who is the central figure in the early October case, have occurred at the high school for possibly three years.

It’s sobering to hear that there may be upwards of 20 victims of such assaults and to wonder how such incidents have affected young men and young women who apparently were too confused or embarrassed at the time to tell anyone about them.

Now that the information is out, or as much as can be released publicly when juveniles are involved, we believe it’s time to turn a corner.

Nothing will be accomplished by continued attacks on the school district superintendent, school principal, athletic director or football coach (who resigned, undoubtedly in part because of hysteria directed at him)

A lawsuit has been filed aimed at determining if any of these officials fell down on the job, and if they did, making them accountable.

Nothing will be accomplished by calling in an independent investigative panel. The law enforcement officers investigating the recent incidents, and past incidents, are independent of the school system.

The lead investigator is Sgt. Carl Wimmer of the Gunnison Valley Police Department, who is the school resource officer and who has wide support from students, parents and the community. He is backed up by Wes Mangum, the able assistant county attorney. These people are no patsies.

Nothing is accomplished by posting unfounded allegations on social media, such as allegations the school district planned to fire Wimmer in order to shut off the investigation. If you see a wild charge related to this case on Facebook or other sites, whatever you do, don’t spread them.

The judicial, educational and therapeutic organizations charged with responding to such a case are on the job.

The juveniles involved in the attacks have all appeared in juvenile court before Judge Brody Keisel, who is widely respected in this county. Since juvenile court is closed, we will never know exactly what the court finds. We should keep in mind that the juveniles involved in the incidents probably did not understand the seriousness of what they were doing. But we are confident they will receive consequences commensurate with their actions.

Superintendent Kent Larsen has called a meeting Nov. 28 with officials from the Central Utah Counseling Center and the Utah State Office of Education suicide prevention team.

The thing that may help most is the “Stand up, speak out” program outlined at the last school board meeting. The students presented a flow chart of actions and activities to make sure students at GVHS have someone to go to when they need to talk about problems, that no student is harassed and that all students feel happy at school.

To sum things up, capable people across multiple organizations are responding to these sexual assaults and taking actions to be sure no such incidents occur in the future, or if they do, they can be reported and stopped immediately.

Now people in the Gunnison Valley need to calm down and support the people who have the expertise in doing their jobs.

 

 

 

Draper, Bigler resignations do not leave Mt. Pleasant better off

Even though the Sanpete Messenger has a reporter at nearly all Mt. Pleasant City Council meetings, we’re not quite sure what’s going on in the city.

That’s a big part of the problem. Too many things are going on, such as a department being created and, apparently a department director hired, without open public discussion.

Those kinds of actions, apparently at the behest of some members of the city council, have now led to the resignations of Mayor Sandra Bigler and Sam Draper, long-time public works director.

Our strong impression, based on years of interaction, is that Mt. Pleasant will not be better off without Bigler and Draper.

Bigler was on the city council from the 1990s until 2009, when she was appointed as mayor after Chesley Christensen died. She filled out Christensen’s term, and then was elected to a term as mayor.

When David Blackham resigned last year, after apparently also having problems with some of the city council members, Bigler was appointed to fill out his term, and then ran and was elected mayor a second time.

During her service, she has shown herself to be an excellent people person. She has had good relations with city employees.

But she has also proven to be a tight-fisted financial manager. During her first elected term, when the city started showing deficits, she cut the staff, cut expenses somehow, and led the city out of the mess.

Draper has many years of experience and knowledge of public works functions that Mt. Pleasant can ill afford to lose. He has also acted as volunteer fire chief.

The root problem appears to be ambiguity, if not open disagreement, about who is supposed to run the city.

In any operation the size of Mt. Pleasant, with dozens of employees, someone has to be in charge. In 11 of the 13 municipalities in Sanpete County, as will as in cities the size of Mt. Pleasant around the state, the mayor is the CEO.

Two local cities, Manti and Ephraim, have paid city managers. If the city council thinks Mt. Pleasant needs to move to a full-time city manager, that idea needs to be fully aired. The present mayor and citizens should have plenty of input. The job must be widely advertised.

In fact, Mt. Pleasant and other cities should have ordinances on their books defining the roles of the mayor, city council and city manager, if there is one.

Again, we don’t know precisely what’s going on. We expect to investigate further to try to find out. But it appears to us that Bigler has tried, as she should have, to act as the CEO in Mt. Pleasant.

But the city council, or some on the council, have gone beyond policy making and legislating, and stuck their noses into day-to-day management. That’s a place those noses don’t belong.

In some cities, elected officials make a point of working together harmoniously and that tradition continues for years. Other cities are continually plagued by conflict and back-biting. Mt. Pleasant is starting to look like the latter. And that’s sad.

[Read more…]

Case of Centerfield sewer line break

shows complexities of local government

Nearly all city councils in Sanpete County want to do what seems right and fair. But as a situation that came up at the Centerfield City Council a couple of weeks ago demonstrated, doing so can be complicated.

In 2004, the city council adopted an ordinance saying that the city was financially responsible for main sewer lines going down the middle of streets.

But if a leak or break occurred on a lateral line going from the sewer main to a private property on the side of the street, the property owner was financially responsible, even if the break was located on city property.

Centerfield is not unique, Ephraim City, for one, has the same policy regarding lateral lines.

Recently, a break occurred right at the joint where the lateral connects to the main. The lateral serviced property owned by Roger Marshall, a well-like resident who has cancer. The city billed him $2,200 for the repair.

There have been allegations that installation of the sewer laterals years ago was a slip-shod job. Marshall wasn’t able to attend the city council meeting where his predicament was discussed. A neighbor spoke in his behalf. But in an interview, Marshall reported, “When we dug up the broken pipe, we found that whoever installed it didn’t even glue it to create a seal.”

Marshall can ill afford the $2,200 repair. The community has been raising money to help him with medical bills. To tab him with the cost of repair of a problem he in no way created seems almost callous.

But as Mayor Thomas Sorensen pointed out, rightly or wrongly, the ordinance currently on Centerfield’s books says property owners are responsible for laterals, period.

If the city approved a refund for Marshall, it could open Pandora ’s Box. Other property owners who have paid for repairs to portions of lateral lines that were located on city property anytime after 2004 could start asking for refunds. Who know how much that would cost the city?

Going forward, when other breaks occurred on city property, property owners could insist that the city fix them, because the city had done so for other owners. If the city said “no,” the property owners would have good grounds for a lawsuit.

Some council members wanted to give Marshall the refund. Such an action could have been justified as a gesture of compassion. But the mayor called for consulting with the city attorney first. “Let’s make sure we do this the right way,” the mayor said. Ultimately, the motion to give Marshall a refund was tabled.

In dealing with day-to-day issues such as a potential refund to Marshall, a city council must always keep the big picture in mind. Based on the memory of one of the mayors involved in installing the sewer system, it went in in the 1980s. It’s a given that a system in place for that long is going to start breaking down.

It is probably time for Centerfield to call in Sunrise Engineering, its consulting engineering firm, have the company evaluate the whole sewer system, and ask Sunrise to make recommendations for preventive maintenance or, potentially, replacement of parts of the system.

While not a perfectly fair solution, it might make sense for Centerfield to keep its existing ordinance on laterals in place for now. Once the sewer system is upgraded, and the potential for leaks and breaks has been minimized, the city can change its ordinance and take responsibility for portions of laterals that are on city property.

Adopting a new ordinance, of course, requires public notice for at least two weeks, followed by a public hearing, followed by a council vote.

The only plausible course would be to make the ordinance applicable to cases following adoption. Making the ordinance retroactive would create an administrative and financial hornet’s nest.

As we said, running a municipal government can be complicated.

We could understand why the city might want to refund the repair cost on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

Moroni City Council: Junk is serious,

so stick to your guns on cleanup enforcement

 

7/19/2018

                Is junk serious?

                That is the fundamental question facing the Moroni mayor and city council as they try to decide how far to go to clean up the town.

                We believe junk is very serious. It is a threat to health and safety, harms people psychologically, erodes the quality of life in a community, and can undermine the whole concept of community.

                For starters, junk cars attract skunks and raccoons, which can lead to terrible odors and can even spread disease. They can also become traps for inquisitive children. Old cars and other accumulations of junk can get hot, cause spontaneous combustion of the inevitable nearby weeds and lead to fires.

                We believe junk is also negative for the people who create it. It can be a manifestation of low self-esteem and lack of initiative. When people clean up, they feel better about themselves. Correspondingly, when people start feeling better about themselves for whatever reason, they tend to tidy up their surroundings.

                 Cleanliness, tidiness, green lawns, flowers—yes, aesthetic qualities— are cornerstones of quality of life in a community. They are also the pillars of stable property values.

                On the other hand, neglected property undermines the whole concept of community. If someone doesn’t have pride in his or her property, sooner or later the person may lose a sense of pride and connection with the community itself.

                He or she may become more  isolated, less likely to help neighbors, less likely to play a role in community activities.

                People who have junky properties often argue that they have a right to keep what they want on their lots. We agree that property owners have fairly broad rights. But as courts down through the decades have ruled, no right, including our cherished  Constitutional rights, is unlimited. The question is where to draw the line.

                Many people don’t like the looks of chain link fences and very high sunflowers. But if a municipality tries to ban those things, we would say they are going too far.

                On the other hand, if people, through neglect of their properties and hoarding of junk, create an environment that makes others feel uncomfortable walking down the street, the people with the unsightly properties are infringing on the rights of everybody else.

                Another question the Moroni council is dealing with is whether people who violate ordinances, receive warnings, ignore the warnings, are ordered to clean up, then do not comply with the orders, should be called into court, and potentially, sent to jail.

                That’s the easy one. The answer is yes.

                If someone gets parking tickets, even one parking ticket, and refuses to pay it over an extended time, and if the person is ultimately called to court but doesn’t show up, a warrant will be issued.

                One day, as the person is blithely driving down the street, an officer may pull him or her over. What happens next? The person goes to jail and doesn’t get out until the tickets, and all late fees, processing fees, etc. are paid.

                The same applies to speeding and other traffic tickets. Even refusal to comply with a civil court order can land a person in jail.

                Should the punishment be any less for someone violating zoning or nuisance ordinances?

                In light of the serious consequences of rural blight for a whole community, the Moroni City Council should make such violations of zoning, nuisance and related ordinances a Class B misdemeanor, which is the required tool for the city to realistically enforce the ordinances.

Sanpete needs to step up and meet the needs of its fire departments

 

“We’re trying to maintain the same standards as Salt Lake City and other big towns,” says Sam Draper, Mt. Pleasant fire chief and chairman of the Sanpete County Fire District Board. “In small towns, it’s hard to abide by those standards.”

If that isn’t the truth.

The fire district and local volunteer fire departments are grappling with increased costs for fire trucks, breathing apparatus, firefighter coats and pants, and a dozen other essential items.

At the same time, they’re having trouble recruiting the volunteers required to meet National Fire Protection Association and insurance industry standards

We all need to understand what firefighting costs and be prepared to dig a little deeper into our pockets to support our local fire fighters.

There was a time when some Sanpete County fire departments were not equipped to protect their communities. Fire trucks overheated in the middle of fires and would not pump water.

More than 20 yeas ago, people around the county had the foresight to come together and set up the Sanpete County Fire District. The fire district purchases fire trucks and some other high-costs items. When the district buys a new truck for a larger community, it may reassign one of that city’s older trucks to a smaller town.

The district is funded by a fee on everybody’s city utility bill. The fee was $3 for more than 10 years. In 2017, it was raised to $4.

The fire district can boast of successes in getting the 13 municipal fire departments in the county decently equipped. In 2016, the district got a $600,000 grant from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB). It added $644,000 its own accumulated funds and was able to spend $1.24 million on several new trucks.

Problem is, the CIB told Sanpete County the grant was the last it would make for local fire equipment.

The $4 fee brings in about $350,000 per year. But in most cases, that’s not enough to buy even one new truck. So the fire district has to save up to buy trucks.

That’s why the total fire district budget for 2018 is $922,000. The district has been saving up to buy Ephraim a new ladder truck, a truck Ephraim must have to be prepared to fight fires in multi-story dormitories and off-campus student housing structures, among other buildings.

Bids were opened a couple of months ago. The cost of the truck and ancillary equipment: More than $900,000.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of variation in city and town budgets for their fire departments. The proposed fire department budget in Ephraim for FY 2019 is $249,720. That averages out to about $125 per household.

In the Gunnison Valley, where one fire department serves six towns—Gunnison, Centerfield, Mayfield, Fayette and Axtell—the proposed FY 2019 budget is $76,000. That averages about $50 per household.

In Fountain Green, some fire fighters are using “turnouts” (coat and pant sets) that are 20 years old, even though the lifespan of such clothing is supposed to be 10 years.

The turnouts cost $1,700. The town has 13 fire fighters. And the town’s fire department budget only covers replacement of one turnout per year.

And because of difficulty of recruiting fire fighters, two departments in the county, Mt. Pleasant and Ephraim, have started paying fire fighters token amounts for coming to drills, attending out-of-town trainings required for special certifications, and responding to fires.

Fire fighting is public safety. It is one of the basic functions of local government. Costs have to be covered. We can never go back to the day when the only fire truck in a community breaks down in the middle of a fire.

 

Let’s hang on to tradition and keep up our yards

(including curb strips)

 

 

Sometimes it seems that shared community values are breaking down all around us, including in Sanpete County.

In times past, one of those customs was keeping up one’s yard, the area around one’s home, as well as possible, and ideally, as well as other homes in the neighborhood.

Everyone planted grass, watered their grass and mowed their grass. Most people also had well tended trees, flowers and usually vegetables on their home lots.

The expectation that people will have landscaping around their homes is reflected in our zoning ordinances, which almost universally require a defined setback from the street, side yards and back yards.

Yet on many, perhaps the majority, of blocks in Sanpete County, there is at least one home where the entire yard is being permitted to go to dirt and weeds, eroding the quality of life for surrounding neighbors, harming property values, and contributing to a general breakdown of community pride.

We’ve even heard people suggest that one of the “benefits” of living in a rural area is that you don’t have to keep up a yard if you don’t want to. We say, “Baloney.”

Typically, local ordinances do not require yard maintenance, only that weeds be trimmed below a defined height.

We believe the ordinances need to be reviewed. Unkempt yards, often with junk in the yards, are no more acceptable in a rural area than anywhere else.

Often, yard deterioration starts with the curb strip, sometimes called the “mow strip,” between the sidewalk and road. The strip is typically city property, but by longstanding mores, the abutting property owner maintains it.

The photo on the left was taken in Lehi, where 100 percent of curb strips on Main Street north and south of the downtown area are weed-free, irrigated and mowed. All yards in front of businesses and residences north and south of downtown are also nicely maintained.

In about five blocks of downtown, the city has installed pavers and planter boxes. So there is no grass on those blocks. The grass strips pick up again south of downtown.

The result is that a visitor is able to drive or walk along Main Street for about 20 blocks past nicely maintained properties.

We weren’t able to determine if Lehi City mandates yard care along Main Street, or if the city itself maintains the curb strips. If the city is taking care of the strips, we say, “The view is worth the expense.”

Contrast that with the photo on the left taken at the north end of Ephraim near the city entrance where the majority of curb strips, including in front of businesses and one federal agency, have gone to weed.

We’re not singling out Ephraim. It’s happening in almost every town. In Moroni and Fountain Green, where, in the past, virtually all curb strips along the main streets were maintained, weeds are cropping up on many of the strips.

We have to ask, “How long before mores change and weeds start spreading up to front doors?”

We hope it’s not too late to recover our traditions, gather up our pride, get off our rear ends and maintain our yards.

 

Mayors and councils should understand their roles and perform them with civility

 

In small towns that can’t afford to pay the mayor to work full time or pay a city manager, there can be some ambiguity about who is in charge of the city day to day. Is it the mayor? Or the city council?

If it’s the mayor, what actions can he or she take without approval and what actions does the mayor need to run by the city council?

Ambiguity about roles and authority was at the core of unfortunate exchange at the last Moroni City Council meeting. The low point in what nearly deteriorated into a shouting match came when Mayor Paul Bailey told Councilman Justin Morley he needed counseling, and Morley called Bailey an ass.

The conflict had been brewing for months, but came to a head when Bailey persuaded two businesses to contribute about $500 apiece for a new identification sign in the city cemetery. The mayor says the old sign was broken. In our view, the new sign is much more attractive than the old one.

The problem was that Bailey put in the new sign without telling Morley, the person Bailey had appointed a few months earlier as the council liaison with parks, the cemetery and other public facilities.

But back to the core question of who’s in charge. Under the mayor-council form of government outlined in Utah law, the mayor is the CEO of the city. That applies to Gunnison, Moroni, Mt. Pleasant and Fairview. It fact, it applies to all of our towns except Ephraim and Manti, both of which have a full city administrator or manager.

What does being CEO mean? It means all department heads report to the mayor. The mayor hires and fires. Whether it’s police, fire, parks or roads, the mayor is the primary person formulating and approving work plans, and overseeing implementation of those plans.

What about new initiatives, such as rebuilding a water system or putting in a new park? Typically, those, too, start with the mayor. If it’s a major project, the mayor frequently brings in engineers or planners from the city’s consulting engineering firm.

What if a council member wants to push a project or initiative? The sensible approach is for the council member to talk about the idea with the mayor, who may put it on the council agenda for further discussion and input. In most cases, the mayor will need to drive the project because he or she will be the person coordinating implementation.

So what does the council do? The council is the legislative arm of city government. It approves or rejects the budget, taxes, utility rates, zoning changes, subdivisions, conditional use permits, policies, resolutions and ordinances. The mayor must see that all of those directives are faithfully executed.

In nearly all our towns, the mayor appoints council members as liaisons with various arms of city government. One council member might be the liaison with the city planning commission, another with the library board, another with the fire department, etc.

Apparently state statute is a little unclear on whether the mayor, at will, can rescind the appointments, or shuffle them to different council members, at will. We believe he should have that power.

If state law is unclear on the power to appoint or other powers, a city should do as Ephraim and Mt Pleasant, and possibly other Sanpete County municipalities have done: The city council should pass an ordinance, applicable to that city only, further defining the government structure and powers of officials.

The primary role of a council liaison is overseeing what the department is doing to make sure leaders are following policies and not wasting money. A secondary role is communication. The liaison reports back to the mayor and council on what is going on in the department and what problems have arisen that might require budgetary, regulatory or administrative action.

Is the council liaison with the fire department in charge of the department? No. The mayor is in charge of all departments. Does the fire chief report to the council member who serves as liaison with the fire department? No. The fire chief reports to the mayor.

There’s another aspect of municipal governance that isn’t written into statutes or org charts but should be common sense. The mayor and city council need to work together.

The mayor needs to inform the council about what he or she is up to. If projects the mayor proposes are worthy, we would expect the council to support them wholeheartedly, especially if they can be financed by donations. If there’s a lot of opposition to a given project, possibly the mayor should not move ahead with it, even if he or she has the power to do so.

In the final analysis, communication, civility and compromise are the lubricants of a progressive municipality.

High School leaders to be commended

for their focus during Walkout

 

Mar. 22, 2018

 

The leadership at North Sanpete High School should be commended for their cool handling of student participation in the recent mass social movement, National Walkout Day, on Wednesday, March 14.

The school’s leadership must have been faced with a quandary when a number of students approached the high school’s administration to see if they would get in any trouble from participation in the event.

Nan Ault, the school’s principal, sent out an email to the parents of the school with a message to make them aware that, although it would not be a school-sponsored event, she would be allowing willing participants to gather on the track so they had a safe place to exersize their right to free speech in the walkout.

The event was to be optional, Ault wrote, but not sponsored by the school.

Instead of the school officially sponsoring a movement she said has some politically charged agendas attached to it—specifically the antigun agenda being demanded by National Walkout Day organizers, Women’s March Youth EMPOWER—she turned to the school’s student body officers and asked them to help support the students who wanted to participate.

In short, the climate was to be one of support and inclusion where the youth of the school would not be punished if they wanted to stand up for their beliefs, but school lessons would not be interrupted.

Social media response to the Messenger’s advance coverage of the event was a mix of outrage and enthusiasm. This was clearly a sensitive matter to some people in Sanpete, and people on both sides of the fence had something to say.

In some of our Facebook responses, parents said they would not allow their children to participate. Some people showed disappointment in the high school they themselves attended as youths. Still others were upset because they felt stricter gun control was clearly the endgame for this mass movement, and the youth of North Sanpete High should not be involved in it.

On the other hand were the supporters of the walkout.

Some people said they felt it was important that the students be given the opportunity to participate—even people who said they wished some other schools were allowing participation as well. A healthy portion of the social media responses boiled down to, “Where’s the harm?”

Some other predominantly conservative school districts such as Harford County, Md., threatened punishment for participation.

The superintendent of the Needville Independent School District near Houston warned students last month they faced a three-day suspension for “any type of protest or awareness” during school hours.

Approximately three-dozen students gathered on the track field at North Sanpete High School at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14.

The student body officers, who prepared a message of support for participants, made a conscious effort to steer the discussion away from local hot-button issues like gun control and instead encouraged support and inclusion.

Hawks were allowed to walk out.

The whole thing went off without a hitch, and the participants, while not many in number, were allowed to exercise their right to free speech.

Bravo.