If I may make just one recommendation for Utah County…

Dear Utah County Employees,

Please take just one minute to read this.

If I may make just one recommendation for Utah County, it is to learn how to conduct “Six Thinking Hats” focus groups.

You may not like or agree with the following summaries but my solutions are correct.

Problems:

Commissioners and their secretaries are overloaded.

The Commissioners’ Meetings allow for public input but the commissioners would rather citizens not ask questions, nor do they wish meetings to turn into Q&A forums or interrogation sessions.

The Community Development Staff are law-recommending central planners. They actively refine their thousands of regulations but mostly in a vacuum.

They do not have enough qualified employees to scale their services should demand increase rapidly. Neither do Public Works or the Health Department.

Public Works needs three times their budget to maintain the roads.

When challenged, Environmental Health Department employees are not interested in science, the Golden Rule or explaining their regulations. They practice unrighteous dominion and hide behind their lawyers.

Once passed, county regulations become law and are enforced by penalty of taxation, fees, forfeiture, denial and even prison.

Few regulations are ever abolished. Good employees are those who follow regulations. Regulations stifle and often abolish innovation.

Many non-government engineers and developers have told me they will not do business with Utah County. Some say whenever they’ve tried things took longer than expected and cost them too much money. Change requests were frequent and sometimes ridiculous. Extreme frustration is common.

Government employees are rarely fired for poor customer service.

Successful Provo businessman Stephen W. Gibson who wrote articles for Deseret News has a great rule: He asks himself if he would be displeased if an employee is fired. If he answers no then he fires them without hesitation.

Citizens don’t understand how bad things are until they try and get something done that requires dealing with Utah County.

The Solution:

The best solution is to get completely out of the services business. Let free-markets professionals take over so citizens may choose the best service provider for the best price.

Whether you stay in the services business or not, all Utah County employees should learn how to conduct a “Six Thinking Hat” focus group and then hold them regularly.

Focus groups are like charrettes — meetings in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions.

Unlike in America where the most dominant person prevails in meetings, using the “Six Thinking Hats” approach, problems and solutions are evaluated from six angles.

For example, for six minutes attendees will wear a red hat which represents emotion. One at a time, attendees discuss the issues from an emotional standpoint.

Next, the moderator may choose the white hat which represents facts and figures and the process is repeated. No comments other than facts and figures may be discussed during that time.

Dr. Gary Rhoads at the BYU Marriott School discovered it is best for the moderator to conduct exit interviews to gather new and summary information.

Think how much better county meetings, hearings and disputes would be if conducted using the Six Thinking Hats approach.

I guarantee that if you will buy Six Thinking Hats books for yourselves and employees, read it and conduct your meetings using that approach, great things will come from it.

Governments Should Cease Monopolizing Services?

by Robert John Stevens, January 8, 2018

My experience with the Utah County Health Department is that I don’t think their employees like when citizens question their rulings or regulations. To me, that’s another reason for them to stop monopolizing services and permit businesses to take over. When free-market businesses are asked questions, they usually answer them promptly, know other customers probably have the same questions and then either train their staff to answer those questions, improve their products so the questions don’t need to be asked or are no longer issues, or post questions and answers on an FAQ web page.

Regulations are Destroying the United States and Utah County Where I Live

by Robert John Stevens, May 2, 2017

Noxious weed regulations aren’t important to most people but can be used as an example of why regulations are destroying the USA and our counties.

To develop a 5.25-acre parcel in Utah County, Utah, a developer must buy a noxious weed certificate declaring the land is free of noxious weeds. I got mine from Buffo’s Pest Control in Provo for $500.

Who benefits? Pest control businesses.

Utah County, where I live, is 2,144 square miles in which 2,003 square miles is land and not water; 96% of land in Utah County is outside of the incorporated towns. In such a vast, undeveloped area, temporarily clearing a single lot of noxious weeds is of little to no value. Statistically, it is of no consequence.

This morning, at the public Utah County Commission Meeting, changes to new subdivision regulations for noxious weeds were presented to the Utah County Commissioners1 for approval.

During the public comments period I asked the commissioners, “Who makes regulations? Help me understand the process. I see staff recommendations and your approvals but have any developers been consulted? Is there a meeting where developers and farmers are brought into a room for discussion?” Commissioner Bill Lee responded, “Sure, lots of them.”

I doubt any farmers and developers were consulted.

“Has anyone inquired about how long it takes for weeds to return? I mean, wind blows seeds around.” They just stared at me.

I then asked, “Suppose I laser level my 5.25 acres. That pushes the dirt around and destroys noxious weeds at least to the point where living plants aren’t visible. Should I still be made to pay for a noxious weed certification?” Commissioner Lee responded, “This meeting is not a question and answer session.”

Immediately after the meeting, government employee Bryce Armstrong2 told me that the changes to the noxious weed regulations were for out-of-season bonding. A developer cannot get a noxious weed certificate after September so during the fall and winter months Utah County requires a bond $1,000 per acre for noxious weeds. That’s $5,250 for a 5.25-acre parcel.

Bryce also said there is a Planning Commission Hearing where public questions are allowed.

Regulations are destroying America. Unelected central planners think it is their job to create regulations to control every aspect of our lives. This is not the America that the Founding Fathers devised. In fact, before 1913 there were almost no regulations in the United States because the founders and subsequent lawmakers knew it was essential to protect liberty which is “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.3

Since God is the creator of noxious weeds and nobody knows the extent of how many there are in 96% of 2,003 square miles, and the wind blows seeds all around, does it really matter if 5.25-acres are cleared from noxious weeds? It does to our county central planners.

School children are still taught to recite the pledge allegiance which concludes with these words, “with liberty and justice for all.” There is no liberty when central planners regulate every aspect of our lives.

Wouldn’t it be better if whenever a regulation is proposed that the government actively invites stakeholders to a meeting? Posting a meeting agenda on a government website isn’t enough to gather farmers, land developers and pest control owners who have a stake in noxious weeds.

If no stakeholders come to a planning meeting then no regulation changes should be made other than their elimination.


1The commissioners in attendence were Bill Lee, Greg Graves and Nathan Ivie.

2 Bryce Armstrong is the Associate Director of Utah County Community Development

3 Google’s dictionary also defines liberty as freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control and freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

Costs and Regulations Keep New Farms From Emerging in America

by Robert John Stevens, April 25, 2017

Today I attended the 9:00 a.m. Utah County Commissioner Meeting and when public comments were requested, I walked to the guest speaker’s pulpit and read to the three commissioners1, Google’s definitions of:

liberty — “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views”

oppression — “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.”

I highlighted the words oppression and prolonged in relation to the fourteen years I’ve worked on developing my 103 acres in Utah County. I told them that before I finish I will have sold more than half of my land just to pay the utilities and government fees required to live on my remaining farmland at a cost of more than $2 million.

I reported that Commissioner Lee and I sponsored a team of BYU students this winter semester whose mission was to determine how unused county lands can be used for agriculture.

After interviewing dozens of farmers, orchard growers and residents, the students reported that the remaining farmers are elderly and their children don’t want to continue farming.

Unless an American grew up on a farm, it is highly unlikely he or she will want to become a farmer.

Today, costs and regulations have made it impossible for most citizens to buy land, build a home and start a farm.

Contrast that to the Utah pioneers who after paying $1.50 for recording and surveying fees, moved onto their property and went to work.

Pioneer families struggled. Hard work was required to get ahead. Employers today would love to hire children that grew up on farms but few can be found.

One BYU Professor friend tells me that he can’t wait to retire because students today do not know how to work.

Because excessive governmental regulations crushed competition, almost no new farms have emerged in Utah County for decades.

The students discovered that most food grown locally is exported outside of Utah County and most of the food we eat is imported. Because regulations protected farmers and halted new farms from forming, big corporations filled the growing public’s need for food. Walmart, Costco and supermarket chains have access to worldwide markets and buy our foods from farmers and distributors thousands of miles away.

Fruit is tracked to the very tree where it was grown.

Utah County won’t remove any regulations unless mandated by the state of Utah—Employees say to change or remove a single regulation would require them to conduct a study to see how that would affect all their other regulations.

A citizen may request a regulation wording change for $300 and will have the opportunity to discuss the issue publicly at a commissioner meeting. Most likely the wording change will be denied. To make matters worse, county employees will not re-word it for acceptance.

I told the commissioners that if I ever ran against them, I’d print their 292 pages of land-use ordinances, and staple them together as one long scroll so voters can see its length. Commissioner Graves laughed and said there are many more regulations than that.

He’s right of course. Add the Utah County Health Department regulations, the state regulations, and more.

Commissioner Graves said all those regulations exists because there were lawsuits.

County regulations aren’t footnoted. Many are probably out of date. Fear and uncertainty also prevent changes.

It has become obvious to me that politicians highly favor large institutions and very wealthy people. If an American wants to do good for the human race, he probably first needs to educate himself, develop a product or service and become wealthy.

As my son Andrew so wisely states, “We are a big-business society. The little guy is only cool when he stops becoming the little guy.”

Footnotes

1 Commissioners Bill Lee, Nathan Ivie, and Greg Gregs

Mike Pence Nailed It: Why Most Government Should Be Abolished

by Robert John Stevens, February 8, 2017

To rephrase Vice President Pence’s quote below, “Citizens should not be trapped in a system that puts the status quo ahead of their success.” Anyone who has tried to get anything done knows how government employees put regulations over reason and common sense.

Friends,

Today, I cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos.

The vote the President asked me to cast wasn’t just for Betsy – it was also for America’s future.

Our nation’s success depends on the education of our students. In Betsy DeVos, we have one of America’s foremost advocates for educational opportunity and excellence.

For nearly three decades she has devoted her time, her talent, and her treasure to ensure that every child in America has the best shot at a better life. Countless students have benefitted from her efforts to promote an educational marketplace defined by innovation, opportunity, and real, meaningful choice.

The President and I agree that our children’s futures should not be determined by their zip code. Students should not be trapped in a system that puts the status quo ahead of a child’s success.

Betsy DeVos will have great impact as Secretary of Education. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a public school, a private school, a parochial school, a charter school, or any other kind of school – she will help ensure that every student has access to a good school.

We are grateful to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and all the Republican Senators who stood with us on this important vote.

The President is fully committed to this mission. Today’s vote was the first of its kind in our nation’s history, but the real history will be made through our unwavering dedication to America’s children – and to America’s future.

Thank you for all your help and support.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Pence
Vice President of the United States

Utah County Monument Markers for New Subdivisions: More Regulations to Cut

by Robert John Stevens, February 1, 2017

In Utah County, Utah, two monument markers are required for each subdivision whether the subdivision consists of one or more parcels.

To restate, if a subdivision is comprised of just one parcel, two monument markers are required. If a subdivision is comprised of one hundred parcels, still only two monument markers are required.

But according to Barry Prettyman at Cole’s Surveying and Engineering in Salem, Utah, surveyors don’t use the monument markers—instead, they survey from the section corners.

So why does the Utah County Land Use Regulations require two monument markers per subdivision, especially if others are nearby and surveyors don’t use them?

Monument markers are not easy to install. They require 6″ PVP pipe filled with cement and a brass monument placed on one end so its top is flush with the top of the PVP pipe, information etched into the brass and then buried in the ground. Installing them in asphalt is particularly difficult.

Monument markers are another reason to footnote the Utah County Land Use Regulations and cut the ones that don’t make logical sense.

The Utah County Public Works monument marker inspection fee is $390, which is required before the county engineer will sign my mylar plat. That is in addition to the $500 bond I already paid them. Since the bond didn’t allow us to get subdivision approval while we delayed the monument marker installation, there was no reason for bonding.

Barry Prettyman at Cole’s Surveying only charges $250 to build and install a monument marker. Since my wife and I bought the materials and had the bronze cap stamped, I hope he’ll charge less. 🙂

Should Regulations be Gradually Mandated Only as the Population per Square Mile Increases?

by Robert John Stevens, December 1, 2016

Utah County, where I live, needs more sophisticated scrutiny of subdivision regulations so farmers can build on their own land without incurring huge expenses and years of kicking against the pricks.

Ezra Taft Benson said it best—If an individual citizen requests something of his neighbor and his neighbor refuses, is he justified to use the force of government to make his neighbor comply?

If we started government over again and Utah County was only populated by a few families, at what point would we mandate Utah County’s current 270-pages of land-use ordinances upon each other?

Here’s an idea—if regulations are to exist, what if they are gradually mandated only as the population per square mile increases?

See Report: Utah needs more sophisticated scrutiny of business regulations

Can Community Standards Replace Government Regulations?

by Robert John Stevens, June 23, 2016

Community-established regulations may work better than government-establishment regulations because government-established regulations are usually created by government employees who don’t personally experience the need, pain or side effects.

In software we enjoy free-market, community-driven software standards. For example, web browsers work because of community standards in HTML, CSS and Javascript. These standards were not created by governments but by people. And they are continually evolving as good ideas are implemented and bad ideas are deprecated.

Years ago when Microsoft tried to create their own standards for Internet Explorer (IE) they created problems for millions or programmers. Today most programmers wish IE would just disappear. Fortunately it continues to lose market share.

The United States was established as independent states where each can innovate without interference and the best ideas are independently tested and adopted by other states.

It would be a very interesting test to see if community standards can replace government regulations. If one town, city, county or state successfully embarked on it, even with a small subset of their regulations, it would be a role model and case study for the rest of the nation.

Government would again be returned to the people, its rightful owners. The size of government would diminish. Innovation would flourish. The act of replacing government regulations with community standards may go viral.