OPINION — Last night (Wednesday) before City Council began, I had a conversation with a friend who had been away for the winter. Last year he had been in an accident in which he was unhurt, but his brand-new 2016 Toyota pickup had been totaled. He told me he’d replaced it with a 2017 Toyota pickup.
He said with a grin that the only difference between the 2016 and 2017 model is that the little sliding window in the back was now motorized and could be opened with the push of a button. We both had a good laugh — a motor for a window that may be opened once a year, if ever!
Something like a motorized back window might be nice, but is it necessary?
Shortly after this conversation occurred, the Cedar City Council had a discussion about continuing our membership with the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT).
As we talked, the same question that I asked about the little window came to my mind: Our membership is nice, but is it necessary?
Last year some serious charges were leveled at the ULCT from the Utah State Auditor, John Dougall. He showed evidence of a long string of financial improprieties at the hands of the ULCT director and his chief financial officer, both of whom have now resigned. I saw signs in his audit that the ULCT system of checks and balances was seriously lacking. We have been told by current leadership that all of those problems have been corrected.
I would like our city to suspend our annual payments to ULCT for at least two years to ensure that their statement is accurate. Others in the city leadership tell me that we need to maintain our membership with ULCT because of the benefits we receive from them.
Our annual dues to the League run about $16,000. Registration for their conferences run about another $3,500 each year. Membership in the League provides us with at least three benefits: Training for new mayors, council members, and planning-commission members; lobbying for Utah’s cities at the state Legislature; and the opportunity to meet and talk to officials from other cities when we gather at conferences.
Those are all nice things, but are they necessary?
On one occasion, we appointed some new members to our planning commission. They needed some training on the complexities of zoning laws. Instead of waiting for ULCT to come down and provide the training, Paul Bittmenn, our city attorney at the time (and now our city manager) conducted a workshop for them. I had previously been to a ULCT training on the topic, and Paul’s workshop was just as good if not better than theirs because he focused solely on matters pertinent to Cedar City.
On the second matter of lobbying, we have two very active, engaged and responsive legislators working for us — Sen. Evan Vickers and Rep. John Westwood. These gentlemen, teamed with input from Mayor (Maile) Wilson, have twice now been able to pass legislation that we as a council asked for specifically. This process is the correct, direct conduit for legislative action. Injecting a lobbying group like ULCT, (paid with taxpayers’ money) into the mix is one of the things that we as Americans most disdain.
Finally, meeting and making friends with other city official is nice, but is it necessary?
I served as mayor in Santa Clara for four years. I am a personal friend with the current mayor and several of the longer-serving council members. Not once have I called them to talk about any city-government questions. Why? Because our city’s needs are so much different from theirs.
If we say to someone in another city: How do you solve your water problems? They say, “Oh, we have a large reservoir in the mountains above our town.” Another may say, “Oh, we have a large spring bubbling out of the ground that provides us with pure, clean water 365 days a year.” And a third may say, “We’re going to spend a billion dollars to bring our water from far away.”
None of these solutions mesh with our water concerns in Cedar City!
So although it’s nice to have new friends, is it necessary? Do those friendships benefit our citizens in a direct and meaningful way? I am doubtful.
In conclusion, we pay almost $20,000 a year to the Utah League of Cities and Towns for some things that may be nice, but they are not necessary. In the meantime, many small, inexpensive projects that would benefit our city go undone due to the lack of funding.
This idea of sending so much money to someone for so little benefit seems a lot like going to a steakhouse every night and paying $60 — not for a meal, but just for the after-dinner mints because we like the taste of them.
These are my thoughts. Alas, this coming Wednesday night when this topic comes up on the agenda, I believe Councilman Cozzens and I will be outvoted.
Submitted by Fred C. Rowley, Cedar City councilman | Email Fred Rowley: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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