Last night, while everybody else was enjoying the Allies dinner, I decided to head over to the Millcreek Township debate to learn a little bit more about the issue. I am happy to report that the first thing that struck me was just how packed the auditorium was; although I knew this was an important issue to the people in the area, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people willing to engage in the democratic process…but I was also struck by, shall we say, some of the more interesting elements of the debate.
I should preface this by saying that I really don’t care one way or another about how this turns out – not so much because I don’t think the issue is unimportant; but simply because, at the end of the day, I am still a Salt Lake City resident and whether Millcreek is a city or remains a township has no direct impact on my access to services.
For the most part both sides were civil, a refreshing change from most political campaigns these days, but the way each side approached the debate was like night and day. While both sides expressed passionate arguments for their point of view, it was clear from this outsider that there is something more going on with the pro-incorporation camp. In particular, I found the urgency in which the pro incorporation group presented its information some what off-putting and suspicious. If I had to use an analogy, I would say that the pro-incorporation camp was acting like a a used car salesman, constantly asking what they had to do to get you into that car today; and my gut feeling was they are acting this was is because they know they are selling a lemon and want to get the money and run.
Their representative, Jeff Silvestrini, tended to use a lot of phrases such as “trust me,” “they (meaning newly elected officials) should act this way,” “we must act now,” and “we send a terrible message if we vote against this” to sell his point – very much the hard sell designed to make you act right away – my personal favorite was when he said, and I quote, that he sees a “Utopian future” if the residents vote for incorporation. Now I know this is hyperbole, but the broad brush strokes he painted during the night made it seem as though selling incorporation to the public was an afterthought, and that their reason for doing this is a mile wide and an inch deep. In short very wishy-washy language that frankly would put me it quite a bit of unease if I were voting to fundamentally change my government.
Another point of suspicion focuses on the fact that the pro-incorporated camp personally funded a second “viability” report that painted a much rosier picture of the financial future of “Millcreek City.” This, despite the fact that they had access to an updated, free, report to be funded by Salt Lake County. The paid report uses only the past six months of taxation data (as opposed to the five years of data used in the independent report) to say that Millcreek City would be rolling in money.
Finally, I was concerned about how they seemed to have an inconsistency when talking about interaction with state government. There was great doom and gloom about how the Utah State Legislature would create a land grab for surrounding cities to annex the area, lowering the bar to make such a scenario an inevitability - on the other hand, they seemed to gloss over the fact that the legislature made the petition process much easier for the pro-incorporation camp to place an incorporation question on the ballot. With that in mind, I would mention that the legislature can pass just about any law they want at any time, regardless of your status as a city, town, or township that directly affects how your city is run (just ask Salt Lake City re: electronic billboards, historic preservation zoning, anti-idling ordinances, anti-discrimination ordinances, etc.).
Something about all of this just does not pass the smell test. I’m curious to see who exactly has been bankrolling the pro-incorporation side. The pro-incorporation people admit that they have roughly three times as much money on their side – and with the zoning upheavals that can take place when creating a new city, it is not hard to imagine that there are some lucrative business deals that could take place once a new city is founded.
At the end of the day I think I am now strongly anti-incorporation as it seems hard pressed to find someone who is truly upset with the county services that they are currently receiving (in fact even a pro-incorporation people seated the fact that county government isn’t all that bad) the only argument that hold any water is that it is difficult for some to access representatives, but even this argument falls flat when we consider that, at times, it is equally hard to access city services when you do live in a proper city. Tangentially, a good point was also raised that this will further fan the flames of the classic East/West discrepancies that are starting to develop in the valley and that the area is taking on a “I got mine, now screw you” attitude if they vote for incorporation.
Right now, as near as I can tell from the audience, it’s anybody’s guess as to how the incorporation issue will turn out, I also get the feeling that I’m not done writing about this topic…