Monday, June 4, 2012

Partisan Politics in City Hall

Back in the “old” days, i.e. commission form of government, you could say without winking that local government was non-partisan. People did not walk around talking whether they were Republican or Democrat. You may have known someone was of one political persuasion or another, but it just wasn’t part of the commentary.

Democratic Chair Ben Nesselhuf was trying to build the Democratic Party in South Dakota, starting at the local level. So he met with the mayor of the biggest city in South Dakota to get his blessing. I guess winning the mayor’s race in Sioux Falls can make you the kingpin of the Democratic Party. It shows just how weak the Democratic Party is in this state. Like we didn’t already know that considering the fact that Republican newbie Kristi Noem took out seasoned Democrat Stephanie Herseth. Party affiliation trumps competence and experience.

The mayor said he didn’t have time to get involved in the elections. However, one could deduce from the meeting that he surely indicated what his preferences were to Nesselhuf based upon further actions and statements by Nesselhuf and the Huether.

Three other candidates were approached and all three declined offers of support and help. One was specifically told that the intent was to get Councilor Jamison out of office. Only in South Dakota will you find the Chair of the Democratic Party helping get a Republican elected to office.

At least the local county officials have their heads screwed on right.

If you believe this meeting was about tea and crumpets and not about singing the Democratic kumbya song, then I have some land out by the Arena/Convention Center to sell you. You don’t have to read between the lines to figure out what the Democratic duo down at City Hall were doing. They can protest and spin it all the way to Pierre.

You know, I can accept the mayor being involved in this meeting because he wears the political designation like a second skin. But bringing Darrin Smith, the city’s director of community development and public parking along to the meeting is very telling.

City Directors used to be recognized and respected appointed career professionals. When you elect a partisan mayor like Huether you get a “political appointee” like Darrin Smith. A partisan appointment like Smith’s should have been more appropriately placed in the mayor’s office so as not to bastardize the director level of government.

Every mayor prior to this politically charged mayor, have recognized the importance of having directors who are educated, trained and have valuable relevant experience in their department field. The arrogance of Smith’s justification for being at the “political” meeting is offensive. Darrin Smith is a political opportunist and gained his current job as a “political payback gift” not because he was the “best qualified.”

Local elected officials need to work with everyone irrespective of one’s political leanings. You need to work with the SD congressional delegation which means tucking your political shirttail in and doing what is best for Sioux Falls, not your party affiliation.

This form of government promotes partisan politics. And we have a mayor and a city director to prove it. When you have to justify what you have done or previously said, you have either done something stupid or you have been politically motivated.


  1. It should be pretty telling about Darrin Smith's credentials for his job as City Director. One of the most respected city employees, Erika Beck, left city employment after she was assigned to him. Pretty telling dont' you think? The best people are being fired or are either leaving city employment because of these two clowns. Talk to employees down there. They are just trying to survive.

  2. Darrin Smith is an absolute train wreck. He's costing this City millions upon millions of dollars due to his lethal combination of incompetance and arrogance. Huether is in lockstep with Smith's vision for the City, not the other way around. Huether's only vision is to be Governor or Congressman, period. Smith is there only to help that process along and then take MMM's place as his hand picked successor for Mayor. What Smith doesn't know is that if or when any of their shenanigans or backroom dealings come to light, it will be Smith as the fall guy.

  3. Excellent piece Jennifer. This is the first administration I've witnessed since arriving in SF 25 yrs. ago display (and flex) it's political affiliations. Thanks for the insight.

  4. What Huether's behavior has demonstrated to me, is that it is time to change to a city manager/council format and dump the current strong Mayor one. Huether and his appointees are doing damage that will take many years to fix (and no, I'm not talking about the EC).

    The business of the mayor's office has become politics instead of running a city. Add department heads who are too scared to speak up and that leaves no one steering the ship. Sadly the iceberg won't hit until 2019-2021 when someone else will be in office to take the blame for him.

  5. Mirroring the partisanship of our national political environment does not and will not serve your beautiful city well.