These past months have been filled with actions that contradict the mayor’s claim to be the most open and transparent leader this city has ever witnessed. The most recent action to contradict this claim being ongoing issues out of the public’s eye related to the economic impact analysis for the downtown events center.
The Build It Downtown group is very interested in the site selected for study in the downtown area and the way the city’s experts have gone about determining that site. As I stated before, I was frankly shocked to learn at this month’s event center update that in a matter of days a downtown site for study would be announced.
I say this because I expected at least some sort of public involvement in the process. Virtually any project of significance undertaken by this city, in the past, had multiple opportunities for public input. There are open houses, neighborhood meetings, comment cards, websites, you name it. I thought for certain that there would be an opportunity for anyone and everyone to provide input on downtown locations before the city’s experts select one for a comparison with the Arena.
It looks like there will not be such an opportunity. The behind the scenes rumor is the consultants hired by the city have already made their decision and it will be announced as early as the end of this week. Presumably then we will learn the methodology by which the location was determined. Maybe, maybe not, considering the absence of transparency or the willingness to share public information to date.
The Build it Downtown group has requested, many times, to give the experts input. They have been denied that opportunity. They have asked to meet with the mayor. He has refused. This week, Directors Cooper and Smith finally met with members of Build it Downtown. The data the group requested was not provided. In a last ditch effort, downtown leader Steve Hildebrand emailed Mayor Huether asking, again, for details about the criteria used to determine the downtown location.
I am not going to post all their correspondence here. Some of it can be seen by going to the Build It Downtown Facebook page. I will tell you that some of the Mayor’s responses are both disappointing and mystifying and some of it unnecessarily personal in nature. Huether uses the classic political tactic of trying to diminish his opponent as he avoids confronting the issue at hand. He repeatedly tells Hildebrand to let the “professionals” do their work and he is very upset with even the implication that he has had any personal involvement in the process. And, as is Huether’s pattern, he comes back to discussing himself, the difficulty of his job, his commitment to it, etc, in a narcissistic response to a very basic, direct request from Hildebrand.
Who knows what the public will ultimately hear regarding this study, but here are some issues to consider:
--No consultant hired by the city works unilaterally. These people are experts in their field. They are not experts on the city of Sioux Falls. They rely on city staff (who report to the mayor) for guidance on issues specific and unique to this community. If the process is a good one, the consultants also seek outside input from other community stakeholders and the general public. For Huether to claim he and his staff have been removed from this process is very far-fetched.
--There will be no presentation given to the City Council or the public unless it has first been presented to the Mayor. He signs the consultant’s check, so to speak. I am not suggesting he or his staff will edit this presentation. I am simply saying they will have the opportunity to give input before anything is finalized.
The general consensus seems to be the consultants will recommend studying the Cherapa Place site. This will result in questions on how available parking is now determined, a basic question from the downtown group that has not yet been answered. It will further muddy the issue and complicate the process. It could have been avoided by good communication up front and ongoing.
To me the amusing part of this whole approach is that the Mayor keeps saying we will all need to get on board with whatever is ultimately recommended. He is seeking the buy-in from everyone including the Build It Downtown group. Well, mayor, you get buy-in when you build trust with people. You build trust by disclosing information whenever possible, not withholding it.
If the event center vote goes down, you will blame the Build It Downtown group when the reality is it will go down because of your actions.