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.

Utah County Commissioners Delay a Clever Scheme to Fool Citizens to Eliminate Competition for West Mountain Gravel Pit and Mines

by Robert John Stevens, January 9, 2018

Summary

A scheme was devised to eliminate competition for the Kilgore Gravel Pit and the other existing mining and earth excavation operations on West Mountain.

The failed attempt influenced the Planning Commission to recommend to the County Commissioners a friendly new zoning designation named the Grazing (G-1) Zone. Citizens took the bait and passionately supported it at the meeting.

Once the new zone was approved, the next item was to approve regulation for the entire mountain be protected under the new grazing zone except for the Kilgore Gravel Pit, adjacent lands to expand their operation, and the other existing mining and earth excavation operations on West Mountain and to disallow future competitors.

The Article

Passionate public comments made at today’s Utah County Commissioner’s Meeting delayed the approval of new regulations that will eliminate future competition for the Kilgore Benjamin Gravel Pit and the other existing mining and earth excavation operations on West Mountain, at least for another week.

The diabolical scheme was cleverly disguised as desirable by first establishing West Mountain as a new grazing zone which has great appeal to county residents who adamantly oppose the Kilgore Gravel Pit and then eliminating future competition.

To understand, imagine you acquire a permit to establish an operation to extract and sell gravel from a beautiful mountainside. Neighbors who live in the area become infuriated. They hate the large trucks travelling to and from the pit, the noise, air pollution, dust, crop damage due to the dust, and the permanent scarring of the mountainside.

You know the road has no shoulders and wasn’t built to accommodate large trucks. Although you can command your drivers to be careful and obey traffic laws, you know other truckers are paid by the load and are therefore motivated to drive faster because if they carry more loads they earn more money.

Additionally, the speed limit is 50 mph through a four-mile equestrian/residential area and in many places along the road the adjacent land is three to five feet lower — definitely hazardous for pedestrians, bicyclists and smaller vehicles to compete with large, heavy trucks. You certainly don’t want to bear the enormous expense required to widen the road.

Angry citizens demand the county government require you to cease operations, perhaps by denying renewal of your permit.

Now just suppose you could create a scheme to fool the public, disallow future competitors and expand your operation all at the same time. Here’s how:

Influence the Planning Commission to recommend to the County Commissioners a friendly new zoning designation named the Grazing (G-1) Zone. Citizens will easily take the bait and passionately support it. Once approved, you then request the entire mountain be protected under the new grazing zone except for your gravel pit, adjacent lands to expand your operation, and the other existing mining and earth excavation operations.

Once approved, you’ve eliminated future competitors. No new mining or earth excavation operations may be formed on your mountain. Your operation is now an established monopoly.

I didn’t make these things up. Read the evidence:

The Utah County Commission has asked the Planning Commission to review a proposed new zoning designation, the Grazing (G-1) Zone, which is part of a separate application. This new zone would maintain the grazing of livestock on the open range and the location of activities and land uses not appropriate near urban centers in the dry mountain and desert areas of the county, while preventing any new earth extraction operations and other potentially incompatible uses with residential and agricultural uses from commencing operation.UTAH COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION STAFF REPORT for November 21, 2017

The meeting this morning was packed with angry citizens. When the public hearing began, I stood up first and opposed approval of the new zoning designation. I explained that a new zoning designation for grazing would create monopolies; however, knowing the population growth forecasts and that the commissioners want the Kilgore Benjamin Gravel Pit to remain in operation, I argued that in a free society, anyone should be allowed to sell excess dirt off their property and that the proper role of government is not to create monopolies.

A lady stood up immediately after I concluded my comments and said that was the stupidest thing she ever heard.

Later in the meeting, Robert Moore the Utah County Attorney explained to the commissioners that nothing they could do at today’s meeting would change the status of the Kilgore Gravel Pit and that the existing operations could expand within their boundaries.

Did the Planning Commission Staff work in collusion with the applicant? Why does the Planning Commission Staff Report designate the applicant as the Utah County Commission?

Although clever, this scheme follows a well-established pattern of deception by first getting a law passed to authorize illegal activities, and then to authorize otherwise illegal operation under the new laws.

When I discovered the scheme, I was amazed it had gone so far as to be recommended by the Planning Commission Staff for county commissioner approval.

Well-polished Commissioner Bill Lee, who graduated in Political Science from BYU, was wise enough to delay the commissioner vote until next week after being told by Attorney Moore that he had no authority at today’s meeting to appease the angry citizens and shut down the Kilgore Gravel Pit. He must have realized he couldn’t approve the regulations and create monopolies without immediate consequences. Commissioner Nathan Ivie seconded the motion.

Delayed political decisions are usually done to avoid public outcry. Some are pre-decided and just put off to be later passed unnoticed.

If there was no collusion, how can the Planning Commission Staff be so stupid to not recognize the scheme? Will citizens demand an independent investigation?

What will already angry citizens do when they realize they were fooled and led like sheep to support the opposite of what they want?


Supporting Documents

Pop and Dwelling Unit Forcast for Gravel Study West Mtn – Final

UTAH COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION STAFF REPORT November 21, 2017

County commission pushes back decision on rezone of more than 10,000 acresby Katie England, Provo Daily Herald, January 10, 2018

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.

Is Requiring Water Rights for New County Subdivisions Absurd?

by Robert John Stevens, January 2, 2018

Suppose Utah County requires every vehicle buyer to purchase so many gallons of fuel a year.

During inversions when our air is dirty and unhealthy, some want the government to force people to drive less but what do we do about vehicles that consume less fuel?

Some citizens rarely drive and some have shorter commutes to work.

Some may want regulations for vehicles to be clean so they are pleasant to look at. If owners of dirty vehicles won’t comply then does that sound reasonable to pass regulations forcing them to wash their vehicles? Should we bless the owners of car washes?

Do any of these ideas justify a government one-size-solution?

Probably not–reason suggests there are too many variables to adopt such regulations.

Likewise, we like to see green farms; therefore, should we pass regulations requiring any new subdivisions in Utah County to have so many water rights?

But what months must their farms be green? Even irrigated alfalfa fields turn brown in the fall.

Some vegetables and plants can be planted in the late fall or winter months. For those willing to grow peas and flowers with natural rainwater and harvest them before spring, should they be required to have a minimum number of water rights that they won’t need?

What about the want-to-be farmer who wants to build vertical gardens or use hydroponics?

What do we do about innovators who study water recycling and water reuse and claim better agricultural productivity?

I’d like for the government to get out of the business of water rights for new subdivisions. It is hostile to want-to-be farmers and innovators. It keeps families from settling on farmland and children from growing up on farms.

Do we want more farms and more farmers? Do we want more or fewer food imports?

Just as it makes no sense for Utah County to regulate how many gallons of fuel a buyer must purchase, it makes no sense to require more than culinary water for a household.

See water Use in Utah (149 pages)
See https://water.utah.gov/OtherReports/WaterReuse/WaterReuseAA.pdf

–Robert

Should Governments Seize Property and Ruin The Lives of Citizens Who Fail to Pay Their Property Taxes?

by Robert John Stevens, December 22, 2017

If you fail to pay your property taxes, should the government seize your property?

I’ve sat in several Utah County Commissioners’ Meetings where citizen appeals are reviewed. Each time county employees testify to the county commissioners that they sent property tax notices and still the taxes weren’t paid. Each time the commissioners unanimously deny the appeal and ruin lives.

This scene always reminds me of French revolution movie scenes where tyrants send innocent citizens to the guillotine.

Google, “What percentage of mail gets lost by USPS yearly?” How many times have you received someone else’s postal mail? Did you always promptly forward it? What if you are experiencing financial distress and cannot pay your property taxes?

There are approximately 600,000 citizens in Utah County. Guestimating 20% own property, that’s 120,000 property tax notices per year. If 1% of those are lost or stolen, then 12,000 landowners face property seizure.

Shockingly, the citizens who filed for appeals were not at the meetings. Why not? Probably because they felt they submitted valid reasons and expected mercy, forgiveness and civility.

Commissioner Bill Lee told me on Wednesday that it is the duty of every citizen to pay his or her property taxes and the tax notices are just courtesies. I have a great deal of respect for Bill Lee. He’s a fine person who has acquired a great deal of wisdom. At first, Bill’s argument sounded reasonable to me and then I remembered that most citizens in Utah County are Mormon, Catholic or Protestant and expect the county commissioners to Follow the Golden Rule as commanded by Jesus Christ and reiterated by modern apostles.

“Followers of Christ should be examples of civility…We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence…We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them’ (Matthew 7:12).”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—Follow the Golden Rule.

If I were a commissioner I would never vote to seize the property of citizens who failed to pay their taxes. To exercise equal justice, I would approve appeals contingent upon reasonable accrued interest, not to exceed what local banks impose. There is no reason found in Christianity for governments to seize property and ruin the lives of citizens who are late paying their property taxes.

When are County Government Expenditures Justified?

by Robert John Stevens, December 12, 2017

I embrace Ezra Taft Benson’s rule of thumb for government spending—that if I ask my neighbors to pay for something and they deny my request then I am not justified in using government to force them to pay via taxation, forfeiture, penalty and/or by gunpoint. So when I talk about government theft, that’s what I am talking about.

I always thought county property taxes were used to build and maintain roads, bridges, water treatment systems, pay the sheriffs and to meet the necessary expenses of limited government.

The government of Utah County, Utah spends $78 million annually.

Utah County has approximately 600,000 residents.

This morning at the Utah County Commissioners’ Meeting, we watched them discuss five alternative plans for compensating county employees. A 5% across-the-board increase was proposed for non-elected officials. I had to leave early so I don’t know how it turned out but I spoke out again.

Today we learned they spend $55.5 million on county employee salaries and benefits or $91.66 per citizen. If only 20% of county citizens actually own land then on average they each pay $458.33.

Ask landowners if they want to pay $458.33 annually for county salaries and the majority will probably say no. Ask if they are willing to increase salaries and benefits by 5% annually and more will deny your request, so if the citizens aren’t willing to voluntarily pay and they don’t get to vote on such increases, then by Ezra Taft Benson’s rule of thumb isn’t that theft?

I understand the proper role of government is to provide limited services via the consent of the governed according to founding principles and to be wise stewards of those funds.

Since government by nature is inefficient, has no product or service to sell and isn’t governed by free market principles, then should county budgets be based upon foundational principles, the consent of the governed, limited government and reduced costs even if that requires layoffs?

Who benefits when governments diverge from foundational principles? Not the people.

How to Establish a County Government

by Robert John Stevens, October 20, 2017

County governments in the United States, particularly Utah County where I live, can currently be defined by this equation:

State Code + Stricter Restrictions via County Code = “Dig a pit for thy neighbor1.”

I never understood that phrase. I thought Nephi, in whom it is attributed, was joking. It applies perfectly to government regulations.

I would like to see all county governments:

  1. Operate as testbeds for innovation and thus become showcase counties for their state as well as the nation
  2. Hold charrettes (a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions) regularly with stakeholders for new ideas to be tested, proved and bad ones discarded.
  3. Privatize all possible services
  4. Set up a department that focuses on liberty, inalienable rights and the Constitution so they are always considered for every decision
  5. Focus on tasks that even most developers cannot do such as building roads, bridges and sewer treatment systems
  6. Prepare for all large-scale contingencies such as cataclysmic events where the trucking imports stop, earthquakes, nuclear war, EMP, etc. Citizens need leadership to prepare for such things now and in advance, and not to just be reactionary after the fact.

1 Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 28:8

Utah County Proposal to Balance Authoritarian Control with Liberty for New Subdivisions

Letter to various Utah County Employees, September 21, 2017, by Robert John Stevens

Hi Craig (Bostock), Brandon (Larsen), Jay (Montgomery), Bill (Lee), Brian (Voeks), and Glen (Tanner),

Please consider this proposal to balance the authoritarian control that Utah County demands and enforces with personal liberty and private property rights:

Rather than delay subdivision approval, by default impose the worst-case, most expensive remedies, and immediately grant subdivision approval. I call this the guilty until innocent approach.

Then while citizens are making other improvements, preparing to build, and building their homes they can pay for tests and implement lower cost remedies as needed.

This way, no county department delays progress.

For example, by default, assume the groundwater table is high. Then, rather than delay subdivision approval, citizens may choose an expensive wastewater treatment system, that in today’s dollars may cost $25k, and may require hauling in a great deal of soil that perks.

Then as citizens work through other issues they can pay to have traditional underground water monitoring performed, perhaps using piezometers, hoping the tests will reveal lower groundwater, so they may implement a lesser expensive solution.

If it is realized that the underground water table is too close to the surface, then the property owner may immediately begin working on other remedies such as digging drainage ditches, installing lateral drains to manholes or building French drains powered by solar or electrical energy (just as Provo City may require electrical-powered sump pumps in residential basements).

Another example is water quality. By default, the Utah County Health Department may impose a costly water quality treatment remedy. Using this guilty until proven innocent approach, citizens are not delayed.

If the property owner buys and transfers water rights to the property, has a well dug and the water quality is tested and proven to be acceptable, the costly imposition will be removed or reduced.

In a free society, private property rights are honored and respected and citizens may immediately move onto their property and begin improvements. In a socialistic society, citizens must always seek permission and it is very difficult for them to navigate government regulations, especially if multiple government agencies or departments are involved.

In a socialistic society, the government may choose the remedies, products, and services, thus picking winners and losers. In such a condition, innovation stalls.

I believe what we have now leans too far towards socialism.

My proposal takes a middle ground and offers the following benefits:
1. No government holdups for subdivision approval after surveying and title work is completed.

2. By default, the most expensive remedies are required until tests prove otherwise (the guilty until proven innocent approach).

This approach may be applied to many county and state requirements for subdivision approval, across several departments, and would help open the door to free-market solution providers and innovative solutions.

I hope this all makes sense. Feel free to ask questions or schedule me for roundtable discussions.

Sincerely,

Robert Stevens

How does Utah County Determine Water Depth?

by Robert John Stevens, September 20, 2017. Letter to Craig Bostock at the Utah County Health Department, Provo, Utah.

Hi Craig,

Please respond promptly to this email by detailing the process of determining water depth on a parcel. This is a fair, sincere request and deserves a reply. Here’s a draft for you to correct based upon my experiences with the Utah County Health Department (UCHD) since 2008:

The old way:

1. Dig one or more holes deeper than six feet. If the water depth is six feet deep or deeper, no more monitoring is required.

2. If the water depth is less than six feet then UCHD will monitor it QUARTERLY for a year using piezometers (perforated 6″ PVC pipe encased in gravel).

The new way.

1. Dig one or more holes deeper than six feet. If the water depth is six feet deep or deeper, no more monitoring is required. Or is it?

2. If the water depth is less than six feet then UCHD will monitor it MONTHLY for a year using piezometers (perforated 6″ PVC pipe encased in gravel). These tests are good for only five years.

3. Despite monitoring, at the Health Department’s discretion, the top of a black/gray line seen in the soil will determine water depth.

4. If at any time water is seen on the property, that will determine water depth and will override all previous methods.

5. Tests are invalid after subdivision approval. A new hole must be dug before a waste-water treatment system is installed for the Utah Health Department to make any last-minute adjustments.

Are these correct? Please help us all understand.

Sincerely,

Robert Stevens
CC: Bill Lee, Brandon Larsen, and Brian Voeks (Please get involved because there are no market pressures for Craig to reply nor document UCHD’s rules for determining water depth).