Ah, the Fourth of July, when we all come together as Americans with a shared love of country and dedication to our common cause in building a free and democratic community...

...unless you're in Rapid City, in which case the mayor and city council members continue to throw rocks at each other. Last week, Mayor Sam Kooiker said that racism may have driven council members Charity Doyle and Bill Clayton to turn down his first choice for Rapid City police chief. Now council member Bonny Petersen takes to John Tsitrian's blog to say the mayor is unjustly and divisively playing the race card to distract from his own inability to lead:

The Mayor knows the real reasons the vote was no, he knows it has nothing to do with heritage, yet that is what he suggests. He attacks two council members to divert attention from the real facts—that the selection process was adequate until it got to Mayor Kooiker. Once there, Mayor Sam Kooiker failed to do his due diligence. Let me repeat, Mayor Sam Kooiker and only Sam Kooiker failed to do his due diligence. He chose to ignore information that eight of us could not. He can say whatever he wants and point his finger outward, but the fact remains he made a mistake. The eight no votes were a no to a bad decision; it was not a vote for a preferred candidate....

The negative methods that Mayor Kooiker clings too and has mastered so well are the reasons the majority of the council no longer trust or respect him. Is this the fault of the individual council members? I think history clearly shows there is something about the way Sam Kooiker conducts himself that alienates people that work closely with him. (It is not his causes—many of us support his causes—it is his techniques.) Not playing well with others is fine until it undermines the city—and Sam Kooiker pointing to racism on this vote though predictable is beyond disappointing—it is outrageously irresponsible [Bonny Petersen, quoted by John Tsitrian, "Rapid City (SD) Alderwoman Bonny Petersen Responds To RC Mayor Sam Kooiker's Post Dated 6/27," The Constant Commoner, 2014.07.03].

Alas, Petersen doesn't tell us the real reasons for the council's rejection of Lt. Elias Diaz as police chief. Petersen says she cannot tell us, since council members are legally bound to keep personnel matters confidential. She says the mayor takes advantage of that confidentiality to throw mud at council members that they can't wash off with the confidential truth. But she does contend that playing the race card makes it hard to deal with real racism in Rapid City:

Our city has real race issues without making them up for political gain. We have police out on the streets twenty-four hours a day and the last thing they need is our Mayor claiming governmental racism, when he knows it had nothing to do with the vote. He betrays our community by using race as a political weapon. He undermines the huge efforts made throughout our city every day to alleviate the effects of racism [Petersen, 2014.07.03].

You won't find Mayor Kooiker and Councilor Petersen sitting together at the Independence Day concerts at Main Street Square this afternoon. But before and after the hot-dog-eating contest at 3 p.m. (not during—it's impolite and bad strategy to talk with your mouth full), feel free to discuss with your neighbors the causes and extent of the division between mayor and council and among different groups in Rapid City... as well as what can be done to bring those opposing parties together to sustain a functional community.

 

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Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker wanted to promote Lt. Elias Diaz to police chief. That choice didn't go over well with Rapid City pundits like John Tsitrian and Stan Adelstein. The City Council vetoed Diaz, forcing Kooiker to turn to his second-choice (and many Rapid Citians' first choice), Assistant Chief Karl Jegeris.

In a response to Tsitrain, Mayor Kooiker expresses his confidence in Chief Jegeris in his new duties and Lt. Diaz in his continuing duties. But the missile launch of the weekend, Mayor Kooiker says the City Council's opposition to Diaz was motivated by racism:

Two council members, Charity Doyle and Bill Clayton, may have been driven by their well-known biases. It would be easy to say “Well that doesn’t account for the other 6 no votes”. Even so, the ferocity of Charity and Bill’s opposition had an impact. Charity's biases against minorities are well documented in her book, called Political Prostitution. Don't accept my word for it – you can read it on Amazon.com. One of her multiple slams on Hispanic people is only a few pages after her bizarre defense of hanging nooses in public. She had also accused me of having a conflict of interest in the Disability Consideration policy in October 2011 (because I have a disability), and she even threw her ink pen across the room on camera when I voted for the policy. She also fiercely opposed a stronger Human Relations Commission ordinance in 2014.

In this case though, I thought she would abstain due to the fact her husband is a police officer and the head of Fraternal Order of Police. Instead, Charity worked hard to smear Elias Diaz [links mine; Mayor Sam Kooiker, quoted by John Tsitrian, "Rapid City (SD) Mayor Sam Kooiker Responds To My Post," The Constant Commoner, 2014.06.27].

That's not going to make the next City Council meeting any easier.

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The Rapid City Council will approve Mayor Sam Kooiker's new police chief tomorrow night... maybe. Mayor Kooiker announced last week that he wants to promote theologian-turned-cop Elias Diaz from the department accreditation desk to the chief's office. Diaz faces a council vote tomorrow night, and a number of councilors are signaling they don't like the Mayor's choice:

"I have concerns about his lack of command experience," wrote Alderwoman Bonny Petersen in an email. "The Police Department has been ran well and is improving. They are recovering from the loss of our fine policemen, at the same time violent crime is rising."

...Alderwoman Amanda Scott... said she's received more than 20 messages from constituents questioning the selection. Scott and others are upset that the public and council had no opportunity to weigh in on the recommendation prior to the final vote on Monday [Joe O'Sullivan, "Police Chief Vote Likely to Be Close: Some Council Members Unsure of Lt. Diaz," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.15].

Retired police chief Steve Allender wrote a recommendation for another candidate, his second-in-command and interim Chief Karl Jegeris. Allender's predecessor, now State Senator Craig Tieszen, says Jegeris is more experienced and Diaz isn't ready to run the department.

Returning to the blogosphere from a health hiatus, Rapid City statesman Stanford Adelstein says Mayor Kooiker has deviated from a long-standing process for choosing city officials:

Over 30 years ago Mayor Art LaCroix and Chief Tom Hennies established a method of preparing for future leadership changes in city government.

The process involved careful evaluation of every member of the police force to identify future leaders. From the results, a careful plan of promotion, mentoring, and training prepared some for future professional police leadership positions.  Thus the next Chief was chosen with care and without personal prejudice or intervention.

The process has worked incredibly well, giving us effective leaders like Chief Tiezen and Chief Allender.

Sadly, Mayor Kooiker has chosen to violate the process, and it has had the predictable effect of reducing morale, embarrassing his appointee and, for that matter, embarrassing the whole police force [Stanford Adelstein, "The Mayor's Folly," A Way to Go, 2014.06.14].

Adelstein sees railroadery in tomorrow night's City Council agenda, with Mayor Kooiker placing the Chief vote near the top of the meeting, then scheduling a recess to allow what Adelstein calls a "party" for the new chief:

Evidently the plan is to intimidate the council to approve the nominee, lest there be awkward moments with his friends and family waiting in the room for the ice cream, cookies and punch, or whatever they are having.

It’s a tacky trick and I doubt the council will fall for it, no matter how awkward it may be [Adelstein, 2014.06.14].

The council and the public will have a chance to weigh in prior to the vote, as the agenda includes an executive session and the open public comment period. Having worked in the public sector, I can sympathize with Officer Diaz: having one's résumé questioned in the press is no fun. But Mayor Kooiker appears to have brought this trouble upon his friend by circumventing past practice in picking a police chief.

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The GOP spin machine and reporter Bob Mercer are in full rebuttal mode against Rep. Stace Nelson's latest open-government legislation. The Fulton Fulminator's House Bill 1172 would require any meeting at which a majority of legislators discuss legislation to be open to the public. GOP sycophant Pat Powers declares the measure political "showboating" and collaboration with Democrats that unfairly targets Republicans. 

Follow the logic here: Powers is saying that Nelson is befriending Democrats and undermining Republicans to win publicity and votes in a Republican primary. It must be a zen thing.

Mercer piles on to say HB 1172 won't work because it doesn't affect the minority party and because party leaders can get around it with whip meetings and the committee process.

Neither Powers nor Mercer gets the real point of the bill. Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker does:

I think HB1172 to implement simple quorum rules for the Legislature makes perfect sense. Some legislators will probably oppose it because Stace Nelson is a sponsor and other legislators will oppose it because they see it as "grandstanding by Democrats" in an election year. I hope people will look past the perceived personal motives, and instead look at this bill for what it is: a simple, logical and long overdue rule to require the legislature to abide by the same rules that all local governments do.

How fair is it for the Legislature to be able to have a quorum talking about serious policy issues, when local governments do not have the same ability? If the Legislature is serious about consistent open government, they would support his bill wholeheartedly regarding of personal dislike of who the sponsors might be [Sam Kooiker, comment, Madville Times, 2014.01.31].

The quorum rule always affects the majority party differently from the minority party. At the local level, the quorum rule stops the Republicans on the Lake County Commission from having secret meetings, but it currently doesn't affect any Democrats. Such is the price of victory.

The quorum rule always has workarounds. If the Lake County commissioners want to get around the quorum rule, Scott could chat with Kelli, and then Kelli could chat with Dan, and then Dan with Ron, Ron with Roger, Roger with Scott. But we don't throw in the towel and make off-the-record collusion among scheming commissioners easy.

Mayor Kooiker expressed his support for HB 1172 at the Rapid City crackerbarrel yesterday. House Majority Leader David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) said everyone else is doing closed caucuses, so why can't we? He said HB 1172 would just drive secret strategy meetings underground into smaller groups, which I suspect would make it harder for the majority leader to impose his schemes on his colleagues... which is exactly the point of the quorum rule.

Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) wants to address Lust's and Mercer's concern about workarounds by taking HB 1172 even further:

Although I'm not a co-sponsor of the bill, having looked at it. The only thing I would suggest that we add to it is that if a majority of a committee that's listening to legislation meets, those meetings should also be open to the public. What I mean by that is sometimes there are meetings of a committee's majority that are secret and they discuss how a bill is going to be disposed of before listening to testimony. That decision shouldn't be made before testimony by people who may have driven four or five hours to get there. I agree with the premise. What's good for the goose is good for the gander [Rep. Lance Russell, in Scott Feldman, "Crackerbarrel: In Their Own Words," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.02].

Forget who's sponsoring the bill. Forget which party happens to be affected at this particular moment in history. Address the general principle: should a quorum of an elected body be able to meet in secret to discuss public policy? South Dakota has answered that question in the negative for almost every elected body in the state. The Legislature is the exception to the quorum rule. Nelson, Kooiker, Russell, and I see the wisdom in ending that exception and following that rule.

13 comments

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker's inquiries into the President's Plaza development are ruffling some financial feathers. Mayor Kooiker is asking questions about funding sources for the project, which exists thanks to taxpayer largesse via a tax increment finance district and New Market Tax Credits. Mayor Kooiker has the crazy idea that when taxpayers bankroll a private project, he has an obligation to oversee the project. Developers Hani Shafai and Pat Hall don't want the mayor asking investors questions. Mayor Kooiker says nuts to that:

"I'm puzzled by President's Plaza's reaction to simple questions. They're basically saying 'give us the public funding and don't ask questions.'"

Kooiker raised his concerns about the tax credits after questioning a consultant for Dakotas Americas, a community development entity that receives the federal credits, on the timeline for securing the funds and whether President's Plaza qualifies.

"Asking questions on how the New Market Tax Credit process works is doing due diligence. Let's remember that this is a public, public, public, private partnership," Kooiker said [John Lee McLaughlin, "President's Plaza Developers Issue Gag Order on Mayor, City Officials," Rapid City Journal, 2013.12.30].

City attorney Joel Landeen expands on Mayor Kooiker's civic reasoning, noting that even when one of the publics in the public-private partnership is the federal government, local officials still have a right and duty to ask questions and demand accountability:

New Market Tax Credits are paid for by the tax payers. Dakotas America, and every other Community Development Fund, is given responsibility by the federal government to ensure that millions of dollars in taxpayer money is spent for the purpose it was intended. In addition to the millions of dollars in tax credits your clients are receiving, they are also receiving millions of dollars in City funds. It is galling to suggest the Mayor cannot ask questions regarding a project for which the City has made a multi-million dollar commitment, or seek unbiased opinions from the representative of an entity that is responsible for distributing public funds [Joel Landeen; city attorney, Rapid City, South Dakota; letter to Ed Carpenter, 2013.12.26].

Mayor Kooiker sees an economic development project made possible in part by a federal program. His city is putting skin the the game. Mayor Kooiker thinks he has a right to ask questions about that project.

That logic is so simple that even Pat Powers agrees with Mayor Kooiker's assertion of duty and authority:

I think there’s an easy response to all of this. Tell them to answer, pledge not to interfere, and to not send letters like that, or to build it without taxpayer assistance [Pat Powers, "Rapid City in Middle of Battle with Developer...," Dakota War College, 2013.12.30].

It's nice to see Pat Powers is coming around to my way of thinking. I look forward to his application of that same thinking to the EB-5 visa program and Northern Beef Packers. Powers has previously claimed that South Dakota can't investigate how the South Dakota EB-5 program used South Dakota money in South Dakota economic development projects, because the feds authorized EB-5. Mayor Kooiker's due diligence on the President's Plaza suggests Powers really doesn't believe his own EB-5 smokescreen.

So maybe the New Year offers hope for responsible government. Maybe Mayor Kooiker and Rapid City will lead the way in holding economic developers accountable. And maybe Pat Powers will get back to consistently upholding the public interest.

5 comments

As the Board of Minerals and Environment convenes in Chairman Sweetman's conference room in Rapid City this morning, the Rapid City Journal does decent public service with a sprawling presentation of information related to PowerTech's proposal to dig for uranium with in-situ leach mines in the southern Black Hills.

Joe O'Sullivan's report gets Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker on record saying the fix is in:

"The board comes out to Rapid City, they hold their hearing in Rapid City, then silence the voices of Rapid City," Kooiker said.

"They appear to want to hear only one side," he added, "and it appears that a decision has already been made" [Joe O'Sullivan, "South Dakota Takes Hands-off Approach to Uranium Mining," Rapid City Journal, 2013.09.22].

Kooiker also tells O'Sullivan that Powertech and area legislators (Kooiker gives no names, but it's a small pool, easy to guess) pressured him hard to keep the Rapid City Council from passing its resolution opposing the mine. Friends of the Black Hills, keep Kooiker in mind as one politician willing to stand up to the usual political and economic pressures to do right by the Paha Sapa.

Daniel Simmons-Ritchie follows up with the following findings:

While no mining venture can prevent all risk, some in situ mines have had a dubious track record of regulatory compliance; from a mine in Texas that exposed workers in the 1980s to dangerously high levels of radiation, to a mine in Wyoming in 2008 that earned a $1.4 million fine from the state for failing to restore contaminated groundwater as promised.

There is consensus among federal regulators that, despite the promises of mining companies, groundwater at a  mining site cannot be restored to its pre-mining condition. In every instance, regulators have had to relax restoration standards because escalated concentrations of certain chemicals, like uranium and arsenic, could not be reduced.

There is relatively little research on the movement of chemicals, like uranium, in groundwater once mining is finished. An analysis of groundwater samples by a hydrologist in Texas this year shows the first potential evidence of uranium flowing into a livestock well from a nearby mine. The state of Texas disputes those findings.

The regulation of in situ mining varies from state to state, but South Dakota could be particularly vulnerable to environmental risks due to a weakening of regulations and the state's abandonment of its rights to regulate the mine operations [Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, "Powertech Showdown: Critics Point to Loose Regulation and Contamination at Mines Across America," Rapid City Journal, 2013.09.23].

Simmons-Ritchie documents separately the troubles in-situ leach mining has caused in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Texas. Between the power games and the environmental risk, the handful of temporary extraction jobs PowerTech promises hardly seems worth risking the beautiful Black Hills and the water that keeps them alive. Mayor Kooiker's right to stand against political pressure and defend our Black Hills against uranium mining; let's hope he's wrong about our state's predetermined decision and that our officials will still listen today and say no to PowerTech's unsustainable plan.

3 comments

Kudos to Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, for vetoing his city council's move to extend the terms of city commissioners and the mayor himself from two years to three.

Kooiker, who has largely stayed out of the public debate until this point, released a statement Monday saying he strongly believed that the Rapid City Council had erred in not allowing the voters of Rapid City to have the final say on longer terms.

“This action is motivated by a firm conviction that the citizens of Rapid City should decide if those benefits are more important than the benefits of shorter terms,” Kooiker wrote in his veto message. “The town hall meetings confirmed the best course of action is to allow the people to decide” [Emilie Rusch, "Kooiker Vetoes Longer Terms for City Council," Rapid City Journal, 2012.02.28].

Longer-term supporters like the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce are hyperventilating that the mayor's veto somehow undercuts the City Council and "shows a lack of confidence."

Um, no, a veto is simply a veto. As Alderman Jordan Mason notes, a veto is simply part of the checks and balances that we write into our system of government. The city council approved the longer terms on a 6-4 vote. The mayor disagrees with that vote. The city council is welcome to overturn that veto.

On the issue itself, I welcome short terms for local officials. The more often those officials have to run, the more opportunities they get to do the first job of statesmen and stateswomen: to lead a public conversation about the issues facing their communities. Elections are great opportunities for conversations. Asking Rapid City councillors to defend their record and advocate their visions for the city once every two years is far from an onerous burden. It is a recipe for engaged democracy.

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Some public officials shun and denigrate blogs and other social media. Some of these blog-wary officials may simply be unfamiliar with the technology; others (like, I speculate, members of the Madison Central School District board and administration) are stung by the criticism voiced and published for the record on such websites and thus try to discourage participation.

Fortunately, it seems that more public officials in South Dakota are realizing that blogs and social media are really extensions of the public sphere, an ongoing crackerbarrel where they can interact with the people they serve just as they are expected to do at their meetings, in their offices, and at the coffee shop.

Example #1: Rep. Steve Hickey. This Sioux Falls pastor has a lot on his plate, yet he manages to make the rounds of the South Dakota blogosphere and make substantive, instructive comments. When he catches heck on controversial issues, he doesn't run and hide. During his first session as a legislator, Hickey used his own blog to provide a series of posts outlining his thinking on various pieces of legislation, complete with charts and graphs! He left his comment section open and took comments from supporters and opponents alike. He appears ready to do the same this year, offering a blog post summarizing the big topics in Pierre at the opening of the 2012 session. "Let the townhall meeting begin," says Rep. Hickey, acknowledging exactly what his blog and others can be.

Example #2: Rep. Bernie Hunhoff. The South Dakota Magazine publisher has plenty of practice communicating with South Dakotans. Last year I noticed he started to make great use of his Facebook page to update his constituents on doings and misdeeds in Pierre and provoke discussion. He's doing the same this year: for example, Wednesday he offered the trenchant observation on the state's corrections spending:

Chief Justice David Gilbertson just finished his State of the Judiciary speech here in Pierre. He said South Dakota is "dead last" in substance abuse courts even though the one we have in the Northern Black Hills has been a great success. Isn't that a workforce issue? if we can get our youth off to a healthy and sober start, they might contribute more to the workforce? It costs just $3 to have someone on probation -- and $63 a day to incarcerate them. Yet we never question the corrections budget, while we chronically underfund schools and programs for youth. (The conclusion is my own, not the judge's) [Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, Facebook post, 2012.01.11].

Hmm... $3 for probation, $63 for incarceration... is the Governor ignoring another field where we spend more without getting better results?

Example #3: Rep. Charlie Hoffman. This Republican from Eureka isn't afraid of online conversation. Of all places, he comes to this liberal blog to hear what folks are saying and add his two cents' worth. (And hey, Charlie: have you drafted that pipeline tax yet?)

Example #4: Mayor Sam Kooiker. Rapid City's chief executive has caught heck in the local press for his role in starting the fruitless witch hunt against Fish Garbage Services (see also here and here). One might excuse a mayor for trying to steer clear of such controversy in the blogosphere and the rest of the press. Yet Mayor Kooiker wades right in with the alligators with this comment on Mount Blogmore:

Andrea’s recent articles and your Blogmore post implies that I am some sort of a mastermind who was, as 1 member of a 10 member council, able to: control a human resources department and a police department, a city council (6 of whom voted to censor me), a previous mayor (who was my opponent on four ballots – 2 general elections and 2 runoffs), multiple grand juries, a state’s attorney, DCI and the Attorney General.

So let’s do a brief recap. On 12/22/2009, The PW Director (Robert Ellis), City Attorney (Jason Green) and Mayor (Alan Hanks) held a press conference announcing the revocation of Fish Garbage’s license. I was not present at the press conference nor was I invited to attend. As you may be aware, the previous mayor was not one of my biggest fans. The previous administration signed off on Meidinger’s dismissal from employment. My predecessor’s sudden amnesia in the recent RC Journal article is fun to read about, but perplexing [Mayor Sam Kooiker, comment, Mount Blogmore, 2012.01.12].

Mayor Kooiker goes on to invite his prominent detractors to lunch at Culver's. Indeed, if there is one shortcoming to blog interaction, it is that we can't pass the ketchup.

Now some public officials fear engaging in online conversation because they don't want their words to become part of the public record. They prefer private meetings, quiet lunches, and quick café stops where they can simply chat of the record. But with so many regular folks sharing their thoughts by Facebook and e-mail, even a brief chat with a voter at a restaurant can become a blog post, making diner conversations available to a much broader audience of constituents. That's not a bad thing; allowing everyone to be "in" on the conversation is quite healthy for democracy.

Reps. Hickey, Hunhoff and Hoffman, Mayor Kooiker, thank you for realizing something that all public officials and the rest of us citizens need to understand. Blogs, Facebook, and other social media are not just a pastime for kids throwing spitballs and sharing beer pictures. The South Dakota blogosphere is also an ongoing public conversation, open to anyone who can hunt and peck. It is a place where we can learn what our fellow citizens and public servants are thinking and provide input, just as we do at other public fora, to help guide public decision-making.

Steve, Bernie, Charlie, and Sam can do it. So can the rest of you.

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