Monday, February 6, 2012

Running for Political Office

The city is facing an election in the Spring and 4 city council seats are up at the ballot box. People are circulating petitions to run for one of the four council seats and the filing deadline is February 24th.

One thing we know for sure is that appointive employees and civil service employees are prohibited from political activity per city ordinance:

Sec. 30-23. Political activity.
No officer or employee under the civil service or appointive officers shall, directly or indirectly, contribute money or anything of value to or render service in behalf of the candidacy of any candidate for nomination or election to any city office. The expression in private of personal views concerning candidates for political office is not prohibited hereby. Violation of this section shall be grounds for discharge or other disciplinary action.

Sec. 30-24. Political interference.
No officer or employee of the city shall discharge, degrade or promote or in any manner change the official rank of any other officer or employee or promise or threaten to do so for giving or withholding any contribution of money or other valuable thing for any party or political purpose or for refusal or neglect to render any party political service.

It is a fine line, however. Unions representing city employees have endorsed candidates for mayor and city council. A city employee can't publicly state they support someone or give money to someone's campaign but their spouse could do so. The point is, city employees still have the power to influence an election just by talking about it with friends and family and spreading the word that one candidate or another is good for employees or not.

Candidates go to the labor temple and promise the union membership all kinds of things. Sometimes those promises don't materialize once the person gets elected. Candidates can buy lists and send city employees letters about their campaign. I think we all can relate to the fact that what is said on the campaign trail doesn't always materialize into reality once elected. People say what ever they think is expedient to get support and win elections. Just watch the current GOP primary and you get the picture. People say things when they have no idea what city government is all about. They don't have any understanding of the doings of local government until they take office and start the hard work as a duly elected official. Attending a council meeting a month or two in advance of a campaign does not prove one is a knowledgeable candidate on public policy issues related to city government.

It was always interesting to observe the qualifications of candidates and read between the lines on what the candidate's motivation was to run for public office. I think some people just like the notariety and attention they get from running for office. They don't have any real sense of what influencing public policy means nor do they have the ability to identify a problem, recommend solutions and build consensus for change. Usually, building consensus and influencing public policy through various ordinance changes requires a tit for tat sometimes. You give me your vote on this and I will give you my vote on that. It happens at the national level, it happens at the state level, it happens at the local level. If you don't believe that, then you are very naive.

The question remains, do you need to be affliated with a political party to effectively run for and get elected to local office at the city or county level? Our political leanings are influenced by our families, others who may influence us and by our political affliliations. Anyone can circulate a petition to get on the ballot. You don't necessarily have to be politically active or be affiliated with a certain party to run for mayor or city council. Actually, party politics was not evident in city elections until this new form of government became effective back in 1995. Party politics is slowly creeping into city elections. There is no place in city government for left wing or right wing politicians like you see in the SD Legislature.

Just because you are an incumbent, doesn't necessarily mean you deserve to win re-election. However, incumbency is a powerful tool to winning re-election. I think the public is lazy when it comes to voting in an election. They either take the no-brainer approach and blindly vote straight party no matter what the qualifications of a candidate might be. They see a name they recognize and think, well, they already won an election, why not just let them keep their seat. They let someone else tell them who to vote for in an election and they blindly do it without asking why that person should get their vote. What makes them the best candidate? I wish more people would think about the answer before putting their pencil down on that little circle next to someone's name on the ballot just because someone told them to vote that way. Yet, party affliliation is evident in city elections these days and in appointments of director positions and boards and commissions.

It sure seems that running for political office is no longer made for everyone. If you don't have a political machine behind you, you might not be successful at the voting booth. The last mayoral election proved that. Local politics and running for local office is no longer a Mayberry moment where anyone can run and win. You need money. You need an organization. You need time. You need volunteers. You need some sort of a grass roots machine to run for political office. You need to knock on doors and spread the word about who you are and what you will do to be an effective elected official.

Influencing public policy and overseeing the public administration of city government is no longer a simple task. City government is complex. Influencing public policy and making changes to public policy is a big deal. Running for political office is no longer easy and for everyone. You need to have the stamina, a thick skin, a brain, humility, an open mind, some knowledge on public policy, a willingness to serve the public and the ability to learn local public administration issues PDQ.

I don't think the office of mayor and the city council seats are the same nor do I think they demand the same type of political candidate. One is an administrator or like our current mayor likes to call it, a CEO while the other one is influencing, adopting or amending public policy. Very different qualifications for very distinct political offices.

Pay attention to who is running and think about why they should have your vote. There is a lot going on in this city, important issues, and we need people who can see the forest in spite of trees. This council race is not about finding someone who will fight the current mayor or provide good theater. It's about good government and who is going to be an effective councilor instead of an individualist with a lone objective. The race is about to begin.


  1. The greatest threat to any established state is not runaway leaders it is apathetic voters. That's exactly what we have in America. I expect Kermit to win because he has the time and name recognition to win. Will his ideas move Sioux Falls forward? Doubt it. Will he cause the Mayor and the city trouble? Sure.

    Political office is not conducive to young people (under 40) because it's too SLOW and the pay sucks (at least for City Council). Frankly the more I pay attention to our city government the less I want to be involved.

    The system is archaic. The winners rarely reach out to their voters after being elected. The truth is hard to find (like Entenman not responding to Jamison's question, "Did anyone know Sanford was going to get the Skyforce?" = Silence). If the goal of local government is to create less engaged voters they're doing a great job.

    Who wants to make 12K for a thankless job? Not many.

    I guess my optimism is dead. I've seen and hear to much from our City to feel anything but discouraged. The truth is too hard to find anymore for those who give a rip and the rest frankly, don't give a rip.

  2. But this is exactly why someone like you should run for City Council, Andy. You have passion, you care about the City, you appear to have a "brain", and I thought you had stamina. There is still time for you to take out a petition and "run"!

  3. The City Council salary as of January 9, 2012 per the city is $17,175.60.

  4. Back a few weeks ago, during the Joe Kirby dog and pony show, I thought I had read in the Argus, maybe here, councilors made one eighth the salary of the mayor.


  5. I stand corrected. Each councilor receives 15% of the mayors base salary. Are councilors entitled to the same deferred compensation the mayor and upper management get?


  6. @Polly, No. See charter language below:

    Section 2.04. Compensation; expenses.
    The annual salary of the mayor and part-time council members is set in section 9.05, and shall be automatically adjusted annually for inflation or deflation, as determined by a generally accepted federal government index (e.g., CPI-U). The mayor and council members shall receive their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties of office. The mayor, but not the council members, shall participate in the city's employee benefits programs which are available to other management employees, excluding the city pension system. However, upon taking office the mayor may elect to participate in the employees’ retirement system, if allowed by ordinance, or may elect not to participate in the employees’ retirement system.

  7. I wonder what the reasoning is behind not providing the Councilors with benefits, when other part-time positions with the city are eligible for benefits? It seems like an inequity especially given the number of hours they work.

  8. cr, Part time? Benefits? Seems to me the reason the city has as many part timers as it has is to avoid providing any kind of benefit, from participation in health insurance plans, paid holidays, vacation time, pension plan, and union representation. What city part timers do have is a poverty level wage at 27 hours a week or less. On the city chess board the reason there are so many knights and bishops drawing over a $100,000.00 a year is the 400 or so pawns who toil for peanuts while management dangles the false carrot of fulltime employment in front of them. It's not just the city that's dangling that carrot. Most business models now operate with a workforce that has 25 to 30 percent working under 27 hours a week with ZERO bennies.