Tax Transparency is important, even (especially) during election years

Seth Profile PhotoI’m excited to share that I have decided to run for city council again!  The last election was a fantastic experience, and I learned so much about myself and the folks in our growing-but-little city.   Here are a few updates on key issues:

What have I been doing since the last election?

Since the last election, I’ve attended city planning committee meetings, work sessions, and City Council meetings. I’ve continued to volunteer at the food pantry & Valley View Elementary, and I update my Facebook page very regularly to share official information about Bountiful City news, work opportunities, and local businesses.  In my view, our community benefits from deliberative communication and kindness.   If my campaign were to have a “platform” I think that its most important “plank” would be “kindness.”  I am also currently teaching both American Government and Introduction to Comparative Politics courses at the University of Utah.

Tax Transparency is important, even (especially) during election years:

I support annual “Truth in Taxation” meetings and view them as important taxpayer protection.

The Utah State Legislature designed the “Truth in Taxation” process such that local school districts and municipal governments are required to host a public meeting with the express purpose to share with taxpayers any proposed tax increases prior to holding a vote.

The “Truth in Taxation” law requires an automatic adjustment of property tax rates once property values experience a decrease or increase, assuring that Bountiful City collects the same amount of money from year to year.  In this way, this process maintains the Bountiful residents’ tax burden constant regardless of year.  The exception to this process is when the Bountiful City Council (our local legislative body) opts to raise taxes after notifying the public and holding a public hearing.

Last year, Bountiful City held a “Truth in Taxation” hearing, which can be viewed here.  This meeting was important, because it outlined a proposed property tax increase, and also explained the essential services it would pay for – services that we share as a community.  There appeared to be a consensus from the City Council to continue holding these meetings.

In the most recent city council meeting on June 11, 2019, Bountiful City staff shared detailed information regarding Bountiful City’s taxes in preparation for a “Truth in Taxation” meeting and proposed to schedule this meeting for early to mid-August. The stated purpose for the Truth in Taxation meeting was, “In order to ensure that property revenue maintains its buying power and the City does not over-rely on less stable revenue sources, it is the intent of the Bountiful City Council to review property tax annually and hold a Truth in Taxation hearing each year.”

In this meeting, city staff proposed a few options, including a new property tax rate of .000880 up from our current rate of .000814.  A few more items from the staff presentation: An 8.1% increase to Bountiful residential city tax rate was proposed, which would mean a $13.46 per year increase for a home with a $371k value, equating to $1.12 per month.  In the city staff presentation, they explicitly suggest that “City Council should indicate if they would like the Truth in Taxation notice to include this rate” and “City Council should also set a date and time for the Truth in Taxation Public Hearing” while recommending the date of August 13th, 2019 at 7 pm.  It’s important to note the professionalism and collaborative nature of city staff.  Staff also echoed sentiment previously expressed by the city council in open meetings of the importance of holding such a meeting annually, even when the council votes to not raise taxes.  

(See photos below for this quote & details shared above.)

Here are a few photos from the presentation:

 

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Unfortunately, the city council unanimously voted to not follow this plan, possibly punting and not holding a dedicated Truth in Taxation special meeting this year.  There appeared to be a consensus for a variety of reasons, including the timing of the meeting and a feeling that it is not needed.  They will revisit the issue in the upcoming meeting.  I hope they reconsider and hold a special “Truth in Taxation” meeting, with amplified time for the public to comment.

Now retired State Senator Howard Stephenson is quoted as saying, “Some officials said after taxpayers showed up with pitchforks and hanging rope, they would rather run across the state naked than go through Truth in Taxation again.”

While this is a funny quote, I view all members of the current City Council and the Mayor with high regard and am addressing the substance and normative value of holding an annual Truth in Taxation meeting as important taxpayer protection. 

Whether a Bountiful resident is a fiscal conservative or progressive, their voices deserve to be heard by our city council just the same.

Even if the property tax rate is raised to .000815 (a suggestion made from some council members during the meeting was that even if it is not being seriously considered), a Truth in Taxation public hearing is important taxpayer protection.

This being said, I support holding “Truth in Taxation” meetings annually, even in election cycle years.  They are critical to Tax Transparency. 

Transparency Update:

When running in 2017, a core component of my grassroots campaign focused on increased transparency via the live-streaming of city council meetings. Although I didn’t advance the last election, I feel encouraged that the first live-streamed meeting was on January 9th, 2018, the first city council meeting directly following the campaign.   In aggregate, Bountiful’s YouTube channel has posted videos of 22 City Council Meetings, 4 work sessions, 1 RDA meeting, and 1 Special Session.  In aggregate, these videos have been viewed 1,410 times!  Here is a table at the end with dates, meeting types, and the number of times the videos were viewed on the official Bountiful YouTube channel.

  Meeting Type # of Views on YouTube
Jan. 9, 2018 City Council 44
Jan. 23, 2018 City Council 26
Feb. 13, 2018 City Council 119
Feb. 27, 2018 City Council 42
Mar. 27, 2018 City Council/RDA 85
Apr. 10, 2018 City Council/Work Session 51
May 8, 2018 City Council/Work Session 68
May 22, 2018 City Council/Work Session 50
June 12, 2018 City Council 64
June 26, 2018 City Council 26
July 10, 2018 City Council 19
Aug. 7, 2018 City Council 160
Aug. 28, 2018 City Council 33
Sept. 11, 2018 City Council 26
Sept. 25, 2018 City Council (two videos) 33
Oct. 9, 2018 City Council (two videos) 35
Nov. 13, 2018 City Council 24
Nov. 13, 2018 Work Session (two videos) 49
Nov. 20, 2019 Special Session (two videos) 233
Nov. 27, 2018 City Council 31
Dec. 11, 2018 City Council (three videos) 44
Jan. 8, 2019 City Council 37
Jan. 22, 2019 City Council 31
Feb. 12, 2019 City Council 80

This being said, more can be done in two areas:

First, video streaming all of Bountiful City’s open meetings, including Planning Budget Committee meetings, Public Safety Budget Committee meetings, Water Budget Committee meetings, Finance & Administration Committee meetings, and Streets & Sanitation Budget Committee meetings.

Second, creating a culture of political participation will pair transparency (openness) with more opportunities for public comment.

Offering childcare (maybe as community service?) is an interesting way to meet a gap in digital civic engagement, while also positioning city council meetings as encouragement for folks to not only participate in local government but also to run for office in the future!  What do you think? Would you, or perhaps someone you know, be more likely to attend a meeting if childcare was available (either on-site or in the home)?  Here’s a link detailing how some cities are experimenting with this already.

Finally, due to construction on city hall, meetings are NOT currently being live-streamed.  I feel that citizen streamers – folks like you and I – have an opportunity to live-stream the open meetings with our smartphones.

 

Transparency Update August 11, 2017: Campaign Disclosure Nuance

  • How is X candidate able to afford so many political signs?
  • Why don’t I see more literature from Y candidate?
  • Who is funding Z candidates campaign?

Financial disclosures were submitted on the 8th of August, and they offer a window into each campaign. There is quite a lot of nuance to discover, and I’m going to share a few observations made at first glance- starting with my own financial disclosure.

Who contributed to my campaign?

I have eleven donors to my campaign. All donors are private parties – I have no corporate donors.

Who is my biggest campaign donor?

Melanya & Mnatsakan Zadikyan are my biggest campaign donors, having contributed $200 – who are they? They are my in-laws!

I have multiple family members who have contributed – Aaron Wright, Mary Halverson, and my mom Lisa (Frances) Wright. They are always supportive and give great feedback.

Two colleagues from the University of Utah’s department of Political Science donated – Zachary Stickney and Nadia Mahallati. I am honored to receive their support, and to be associate with them – they make me better as a scholar and person.

People whom I have met over the course of the campaign – either in person or virtually – also donated to the campaign. Darlene Thayne, Kathleen Dennis, Jesse Smith, Zig Sondelski, and Jeff Noall all donated – I can’t tell you how much this means, and it humbles and encourages me to keep campaigning our message of open governance and transparency.

Please note: it is difficult to express how grateful I am to my family for their support during this campaign. Although it isn’t shown on the financial disclosure, my family is my greatest “donor”- thank you Hripsime, Noah, and Hayk.

How did I spend campaign dollars?

This is a great question! I registered my domain with godaddy ($15.41); paid an application fee to run for office to Bountiful City ($25.00); and purchased a voter list from the Davis County Clerk (57.87).

I also purchased signs from Renaissance Signs Marketing & Design ($233.79); door hangers from Vistaprint ($109.47); and made some photo cards to pass out at events from the Walmart Photo Center ($30.00).   Here you can see the door hanger, pass along card, yard sign, and two really handsome kids:

 

In total I have received $700 in donations, and have spent $471.54. These next few days are crucial to the campaign and I will make the most of every dollar donated.

Here’s my full financial disclosure:

 

There is a lot of nuance in a campaign financial disclosure (as seen in my own). To see all Bountiful campaign financial disclosures, visit https://www.bountifulutah.gov/Election-Information

I invite residents to look at all the disclosures and ask the same questions I did:

  • Who contributed to the campaign?
  • Who is the biggest campaign donor?
  • How were campaign dollars spent?
  • How does X candidate’s spending compare to other candidates?

Let’s explore for example:

 How does my spending compare to other candidates?

 Bountiful City Council Candidates Spending:

  • Kenny Knighton                                $10,767.79
  • Chris Simonsen                                 $6,106.54
  • Bret Hutchings                                  $1,714.25
  • Kendalyn Keyes Harris                    $1,682.62
  • Clint Halladay                                    $1,350.93
  • Mason Mulligan                                 $780.12
  • Seth Wright                                         $471.54
  • Alex Densley                                        $225.00

How much money have mayoral candidates spent?

Bountiful Mayoral Candidates Spending:

  • Randy C. Lewis                                  $12,212.48
  • Jim Clark                                             $5,646.94
  • John Pitt                                               $4,400.19
  • Nicholas Dean Price                          $2,838.17
  • Dean Collinwood                               $2,439.53
  • Bob Lindsay                                        $1,333.87

I submit that campaign disclosures offer windows into how candidates may later make decisions as elected officials. Agree? Disagree? Comment or e-mail me – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Transparency Update July 28th, 2017

Do you want to understand Bountiful City’s current solar energy policy better? Is Bountiful City “solar friendly”? How does solar energy production impact low income families in Bountiful? Can existing Bountiful solar customers have their grandfathered rates changed?

These questions are addressed (and more) – in July 25th’s Bountiful City Council & Power Commission joint work session. I made it to City Hall just in time to film, just missing a quick introduction of all the speakers. I did my best to subtitle names of people as they speak – All members of city council attended, as did the mayor. I did my best to keep the camera as static as possible, with minor adjustments to help understand who is speaking.

I especially recommend watching the last half hour or so!

 

Bountiful City Council and Mayoral Debate Videos (Updated!)

Updated!

Here is the debate between candidates for Bountiful’s City Council. I subtitled everyone’s name at the opening and then closing statements, and then also each question as it was asked.

Here is the video of last night’s Bountiful City’s Mayoral debate.

I subtitled all candidate names at the beginning and end of the debate, and also numbered and transcribed questions being asked.

Special note- prior to the candidate’s closing remarks, the camera tripod is bumped by an attendee – this moves Mayor Lewis out of frame briefly.

While Mayor Lewis is giving his closing statement, another attendee notices the problem, and then adjusts the camera position to move Mayor Lewis back into frame (thank you!). This is all noted in the video as well.

 

 

Bonus Transparency Update: July 11, 2017

I was also recently contacted by the Better Bountiful Committee.  My understanding is that several candidates running for both City Council and Mayoral positions are founding members of this committee.  I appreciate their reaching out and requesting candidate info to share with their group.  Now more than ever, civil discourse is needed, and I deeply appreciate their e-mail.  Below please find the Better Bountiful Committee’s e-mail, and my reply:

Transparency Update: July 11, 2017

Recently I’ve been contacted by a few organizations that have invited me to participate in surveys, and will then assign me a “grade” depending on how they score the survey.  They then comment that depending upon the grade they give me, I may receive a public endorsement and even possibly financial donations.

These invitations are valued, however carry with them opaque, indirect elements.  For example, there is no grading rubric provided, nor am I informed on these e-mails who will be be doing the grading and what qualifies them to do so.  I prefer a more deliberative, transparent, and direct discourse.

Currently, I am tabling these surveys due to the concerns I list above.  Early in the campaign I replied to questions from the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, and have the same reservations regarding that survey that I’ve expressed in a different post.  As the campaign progresses, I am learning more and more about how these third party organizations work.  What do you think?  I’m open to and welcome feedback.

 

The first organization is the Utah Cultural Alliance – here is a screen shot of their e-mail:

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The next organization is Equality Utah- here is a screen shot of their e-mail:

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 5.16.51 PM