Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Oxymoron of Sioux Falls Metropolitan Area


As of May, 49.1 percent of students in grades K-5 in the Sioux Falls district received the federal government’s school lunch subsidy, up 5.4 percentage points from the previous year. The middle and high school rates were up 5.1 and 4.7 points, respectively.

Eligibility is determined by the number of people and total income in a household. For a three person household, the yearly income maximum is $25,389 to qualify for free meals and $36,131 for reduced-price meals.

Reynold Nesiba, an associate professor of economics at Augustana College. -  “We have a very low unemployment rate, but there are so many people that are working lower-wage jobs, and a higher number of people working two or more jobs.”

South Dakota Division of Labor statistics show that half the workforce in the four-county Sioux Falls Metropolitan Area earns less than $15 an hour — about $31,000 per year.

School board member Kent Alberty, who is also co-owner of a staffing company in Sioux Falls. -  “When you see 3 percent unemployment, you would think, well, companies must be thinking about bumping up their starting pay. I’m not seeing a lot of that. I think we’re seeing too many low-paying jobs and families struggling to make ends meet, even with two incomes.”

Cathy Brechtelsbauer, a Sioux Falls resident with the anti- hunger group Bread for the World. -  “It’s not good enough to have low unemployment. Work needs to pay enough to raise children,” she said. The situation is made worse for these children, she said, because many of them are in familes hit by last month’s cuts to the federal food stamp program, which means less food at home.
Nationally, we see a push to increase the minimum wage with tepid support. We see Congress push their agenda to reduce the federal deficit by attacking the poor and elderly through benefit cuts to the unemployed, the poor through food stamp programs, the elderly through cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Locally, we see headlines on how prosperous Sioux Falls is once again. We are told of record setting building permits, record setting sales tax revenues, low unemployment rates. Development plans to build 2 more Walmarts, new strip mall developments, new apartment complexes., big square foot houses. 
If you notice where the development growth is, you will see it is in the suburbs of Sioux Falls, not in the core of Sioux Falls which is now becoming the haven for the under served and economically challenged of this community.
Sioux Falls is an interesting city as it's growth and prosperity praises are sung at fevered pitch by our mayor, city councilors and developers. It's interesting though, that these same public officials and the developers do not talk about the growing problems of the core of the city. The poor and economically challenged citizens of this city is becoming the city's dirty little secret.
The ARGUS LEADER's story in the 12-29-13 Sunday Edition about poverty affecting the Sioux Falls School District is a clear indication of the oxymoron of the city of Sioux Falls. Higher crime rates, higher numbers accessing the Banquet, the Food Bank, the Salvation Army, increase in K-12 grade children who need to feed at school  - the list goes on. The trends are becoming disturbing and it seems our public officials may be asleep at the wheel.
The talk of economic inequality nationally seems to have trickled down to our city as well and it's not a pretty picture.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

FEMA and the City's Piggy Bank

The ice storm that hit Sioux Falls in early April was devastating to the trees in Sioux Falls. I have heard many people say that Sioux Falls looked like a war zone. Broken tree branches, people without power, cars and houses hit by trees breaking under inches of ice that bent limbs to the ground. The pictures alone were quite a sight.

The city, has responded to this weather event by initiating the Emergency Operations Center and Operation Timber Strike was born to respond to the event. Give the city a lot of credit for helping out citizens trying to clean up their properties from broken tree limbs. With over 73 square miles of city roadways, 75 parks, 30 miles of bike paths and 35 miles of waterways, the city completed it's first pass of picking up tree branches through out the city by April 25th. Workers are now going back and making additional passes throughout the city. There are still many boulevards where piles of tree branches line the boulevards. The city administration and city workers have done an excellent job of responding to this "disaster."

FEMA is in town. This agency's primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state where the disaster occurred has to declare a state of emergency and make a request to the President that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. When you look at FEMA's website, it says that the Disaster Relief Fund is for recovery efforts associated with domestic major disasters and emergencies that overwhelm State resources.

Even the man leading FEMA's examination, said the clean up efforts in the city are going well and that this was an operation the city should be proud of.

Today's ARGUS LEADER reports FEMA will examine the cost and amount of debris collected to come to a dollar amount of cleanup and recovery costs. That then will go to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who will decide whether to ask for a disaster declaration from President Obama.  Daugaard has until May 10 to make that request.  Ron Pevan, who is leading the debris examination efforts on behalf of FEMA, said his cleanup cost estimates will focus only on debris that fell in public areas, such as streets and sidewalks, and not on branches and trees that fell in residents’ yards.

I am wondering if the FEMA officials or the Governor heard the Mayor's State of the City Address on April 25th?  The speech started by pointing out we have much to celebrate and that we have rock solid financials. The mayor said "We've got one unbelievable reserve fund."

The city's reserve fund policy has a target of 25 percent of the assigned and unassigned fund balance. The mayor reported that the reserve fund is at 35.6% totalling 45.2 million dollars. The mayor said, "Our piggy bank is indeed full. We've got 45 million in reserve for rainy days."

It's kind of a quandary, isn't it? We certainly did not face a disaster like when Hurricane Sandy crashed into the shorelines of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut which caused tens of billions of dollars in damage to people and property and who are still in disaster ruin today. Those people on the East Coast are facing a disaster of catastrophic proportions and certainly are in need of FEMA disaster relief funds.

Yes, we can ask for assistance because, well, we can and I suppose we should ask for help.  Everybody does it, right? Why not ask for reimbursement if you can get the Governor to declare the area a disaster. It just seems kind of like an oxymoron to me when the mayor goes before the city council and the public and tells us we have much to celebrate because our piggy bank is full.

This country is facing a magnitude of debt that has crippled the economy of the country. As Americans, we expect our elected officials to act prudently and conservatively in managing the federal budget. The sequester has made massive cuts in the federal budget. FEMA's budget is appropriated in the federal budget. Has this "disaster" overwhelmed state and local resources?

It will be interesting to see if Governor Daugaard asks President Obama for a disaster declaration based on what our mayor says about our rock solid financials and a full piggy bank.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Petition Drives Government

The  public's reaction to the mayor's proposed policies and the city council's official action is creating citizen activism. Petition drives are powerful tools to be used when citizens don't agree with the official actions of their duly elected officials.

Petition drives have a place in local governance but when it becomes rather common place, one must ask why? Two petition drives have successfully placed city officials' action on public review - the snow gate controversy and the Spellerberg Pool plan. Now we are seeing organized petition drives on the newly adopted ordinances regarding  the Shape Places zoning ordinance overhaul and the agriculture within city limits ordinance.

I submit to you that these multiple petition drive efforts are symptomatic of a citizenry who does not have confidence in their elected officials. It is no easy feat to gather thousands of signatures. People are eager to sign a petition when they don't trust their government to be acting in the best interest of their constituents.

Yes, the mayor and city councilors were elected to make decisions on our behalf. But when elected officials appear arrogant, all knowing, and seem to want to minimize public input, you get distrust and a wholesale questioning on major policy decisions affecting the city as a whole.

When citizens start thinking their elected officials aren't looking out for the best interests of the working public, you get petition drives. Snow gates, indoor pools, railroad switching lines clogging neighborhoods and traffic patterns, a Walmart on four corners of the city, development plans, spending issues, sweeping ordinance changes, the list goes on.

 Take note Mayor and City Council.  There appears to be a growing discontent among your citizenry.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness

I love March Madness. I got the sports bug from my father. Dad would print the schedule out and keep track throughout the tournament. He would call us kids on the phone to talk about the games and if the Minnesota Golden Gophers were in the dance, all the better.

My dad is no longer with us but my sister printed out the schedule for me last week and I sat glued to the TV all day Thursday and most of Friday switching back and forth between the four channels trying to watch all the games and keep up with the scores and upsets. My sister admonished me for constantly switching between channels and I told her Dad was smiling down on me, proud that I was totally engaged in the tournament. I wish I could call him.

Having the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls is a big thing and it is exciting to watch.  The community support of this tournament cements it being here each year and when it moves to the new event center, it will be quite a show. SDSU's girls and boys basketball success has electrified the state.

I was so hoping the Jackrabbits boys were going to become the new Cinderella team this year but alas, it was not to be. It is exciting to watch the SDSU boys and girls make it to the dance each year. But eventually, they have to be more successful than just making it to the first round. I watch the strength and size of the higher ranked teams and I wonder how the Summit League teams can compete with those schools.

I think it's fine to be excited about winning the Summit League championship but eventually that is just not going to be enough, is it? I am not a sports expert, by any means, but I am of the opinion that the Summit League is a weak league when you watch this tournament.

Yes, we are proud of our South Dakota teams but just making it to the dance is no longer going to be enough. I want the South Dakota March Madness to last longer two and a half hours.

Now, excuse me, I have to get back to switching betweening four channels and adding a fifth channel so I can watch the SDSU girls at 3:15 p.m. Go Jacks!!! And Dad, here's a thumbs up to your precious Golden Gophers!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fencing in the Falls

The tragedy at Falls Park is reminder to everyone who visits the park that although the Falls are beautiful and mesmerizing to watch, it is still dangerous to get too close. It is amazing to see people roaming around down on the rocks close to the flowing water. It is downright scary to see children down there. Yet, people still do it.  Common sense does not seem to prevail with some people.

Why? I suppose it's human nature to explore and cheat disaster even when there are signs clearly stating the danger. There are always going to be thrill seekers. There are always going to be people who ignore the warning signs to satisfy their own curiosity and challenge their own well being. And there are usually good Samaritans who rise up and put their own safety above all else to come to the rescue when irresponsibility has put their own lives in peril.

It is inevitable that the city is now reviewing it's risk management procedures at Falls Park. It is the right thing to do. But putting fencing around the Falls is not the answer to the problem, it is a knee jerk reaction to a tragedy that was preventable from the beginning.

Every year, Police and Fire are called to Falls Park because someone has become stranded or, heaven forbid fallen into the water. Legislating personal responsibility is a slippery slope. Where does it begin or end?

There are signs all over the Falls area notifying people of the dangers of getting on the rocks and going to close to the water. Putting a fence around a natural habitat is like fencing in the air.

Maybe the city needs to consider hiring security personnel to shoo people off the rocks if they think something must be done. But would that require a 24 hour guard on duty? Is that reasonable?

Hysteria and over reaction must be reined in and common sense must prevail. The city must do it's due diligence and review their risk management policies at Falls Park and must make a good faith effort to minimize the risk. They are doing that,  but fencing in the Falls is just a ridiculous outcome for what is a human tragedy.

The city cannot establish enough policies to make everyone responsible citizens. Nor can they create enough policies to keep us safe. It's takes common sense and personal responsibility. Putting a fence up won't solve that. What will stop people from climbing over the fence?

Friday, March 15, 2013

City Council Public Testimony

I can remember sitting in the Commission and/or Council chambers until the wee hours of the morning because some hot button issue brought out a myriad of citizens, and sometimes employees, who wanted a chance to speak on the issue before the elected body passed an ordinance or resolution.

The City Council is grappling with that very issue as they try to craft an ordinance to stop the irritating public. Councilor Entenman states, “Things are emotional for people, and when they’re upset, they want to say it. And a lot of times, it becomes a lot of redundancy; they’re saying the same thing, but it’s coming from a different mouth, which is OK,” Entenman said. “However, you do need to have some controls, because you could go on, filibuster-type, for days.” Hmmm, being referred to as a "mouth" instead of a "person" is an interesting way to describe citizens testifying before the council. Referring to past examples of public testimony as filibuster-type exaggerates the issue.

The quality of life in our city is governed by ordinances and resolutions. When these laws are created, amended or deleted, the impact can affect citizens for better or worse. How does the city council judge the merits or importance of public policy changes unless they hear public testimony? If you are Councilor Karsky you might just have your mind already made up before you ever get to the council meeting as I heard he stated at a Council working session this week. So, no wonder they are interested in minimizing public testimony - such a waste of their time.

By the very city ordinances, public hearings are a requirement. It can be mind numbing listening to the same rhetoric over and over again, no doubt about it. But isn't that the job of the elected officials and isn't it the citizen's right to speak out? After all, it is a public hearing.

The purpose of public hearings is to give equal opportunity for everyone to speak for or against the proposed changes. When you start restricting the voice of the people, you start messing with the public's right to be heard, no matter how painful that may be to the city council.

There is already a five minute rule on individual public testimony although there is no limit on how long the public testimony, either for or against, can go on. Maybe the five minute rule is too long. Shorten it to 3 minutes per person. After an hour of testimony per pro and con group, the mayor could then say unless someone has something new to add to the public discussion, the public hearing will come to an end and the matter rests with the City Council. There is discretion today to manage those meetings, it just takes sound leadership and good judgment.

It would be nice if every citizen was a public speaker and came to the podium prepared to present their testimony in a succinct and professional manner. It would be nice if there was an organized effort on a single issue and people were chosen to be spokespersons in order to minimize repeating testimony. But that is a perfect world and public policy decisions are not always made in a perfect world.

To put a strict limit in ordinance stifles public input. All that does is make city council meetings more palatable to the elected officials while disallowing the public from providing input in order to influence council decisions or make their views known before a vote is taken.

It is a slippery slope and in the end, it just looks like the city council is trying to stifle the public's equal opportunity to speak on an issue that affects their quality of life. The council needs to remember that this is not about them, but about the public's ability to communicate with them at a public hearing required by city ordinance every time an official action is taken.

They are going to discuss it again at their April 10th Working Session. Let's hope cooler heads prevail and the Council gets back to more substantive issues that affect the community and quality of life issues instead of what affects them personally.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Love Affair With One's Self

Once again I am struck by the behavior of the leader of the largest city in South Dakota. Two separate but distinct actions/behavior occurred this week that are too unbelieveable to ignore. The first was a quote in the March 12th Walmart article in the ARGUS LEADER.

Huether said residents told him they needed more retail when he campaigned for office three years ago.

“I was committed to seeing what I could do. Thank goodness I was elected mayor,” he said. “North side, we’re getting a grocery store. North side, we’re
getting retail.”

Least we forget the fact that "Walmart considered building in 2007 in northwestern Sioux Falls but then abandoned almost all new stores nationwide when the economy faltered." Our current mayor was elected in 2010. Are we really to believe that he is the driving force for Walmart building a new store in the north end of Sioux Falls when it has been on the drawing board of Walmart's planning since 2007? They just needed to find the right location and the right economic climate. The timing is right, the SF Development Foundation owns the property. Just what did the mayor do regarding this latest Walmart plan that we should be thankful we elected him mayor to make this happen?

The second incidence of self love occurred during the final game of Summit League Championship between SDSU and NDSU. If you watched the ESPN2 coverage of the game until the very end, you were privy to an interesting shot of our mayor who was sitting directly behind the sports commentators who were speaking on live TV. There was no ignoring the antics of this person behind the commentators in the shot who was jestering and waving like a giddy college student. Oh, it's not an SDSU student who just discovered he was on TV, it was the mayor of the good city of Sioux Falls.

I suppose on the face of it, the calling out of these two latest incidents could be considered petty. That might well be except for the fact that these two incidents once again demonstrate the continued self-adulation and love affair of one's self. If only there were two of him.

My father taught me, time and again, that behavior mattered and that behavior validated character.

I don't doubt that this mayor wants to leave a legacy. I don't doubt this mayor's energy and conviction in trying to get things done in Sioux Falls. The thing is, though, he is not a one man show. Things are not happening in this community just because of him alone. He continues to demonstrate a theme of "me", instead of "we" by word and deed.  Isaac Newton has a great quote about leadership - If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants. The only giant here is the mayor himself.

In the upcoming release of the documentary, The World According to Dick Cheney, Cheney is quoted as saying if you want to be loved, go be a movie star. Feeding the monster of self aggrandizement must be exhausting. But then, if one surrounds one's self with people who gild the ego, the love affair can go on forever or at least until the next election.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ugly Streets

 After a weekend of a mixture of rain and ice and a little amount of snow, we were faced with iced over streets and sidewalks throughout the city.

Most of us who do not live on an emergency snow route or secondary snow route are faced with some pretty ugly street conditions. Ice inches thick and ruts seem to be our plight until Mother Nature brings us sun and some warmer weather. I read with interest the article in today's Argus Leader titled "Ice Relief, Unevenly Applied."

The city applied "hot stuff" on the emergency snow routes and secondary snow routes and did no plowing this go around.  If you are lucky enough to live on secondary snow route, then you are not facing what the majority of Sioux Falls residents are facing regarding extremely icy conditions and uneven, treacherous road conditions. Lucky for the mayor that he lives on a secondary snow route as evidenced by the comment in the article in the paper.

Secondary snow routes mainly are residential streets that allow neighborhoods to connect to emergency routes. Mayor Mike Huether’s street in southeastern Sioux Falls, for example, is designated a secondary snow route because there is only one way in and out to the homes there, said Galynn Huber, street fleet manager for the city of Sioux Falls.

I thought it was interesting that the mayor's street is in one of the city's most exclusive neighborhoods tucked into the rolling hills in southeastern Sioux Falls. It is a little neighborhood of very large lots and not densely populated. Nor is it a neighborhood that has a lot of traffic other than the traffic of the elite leaving their homes during the day. It is not what I remembered as meeting the definition of a secondary snow route. 

So I looked up the map of emergency snow routes and secondary snow routes. Sure enough, the street directly servicing the mayor's house is designated a secondary snow route. Not the entire loop just the part of the loop that his house is located on.

When I looked at the map, I could see a consistency in designated secondary snow routes throughout the city. These were streets that were thoroughfares, not on the scale of Minnesota Ave or Western Ave or Cliff Ave, but are streets that spill into an emergency snow route. The mayor's home is in an exclusive neighborhood where the road is built to service the big lots and homes built there. There is no major thoroughfare in the mayor's little neighborhood. The only reason to drive on those streets in his immediate neighborhood is to get to one of those big houses. His little residential street spills into another secondary route, not an emergency snow route.

Unevenly applied? I think so.  I hope his neighbors thank him for the nice streets during the winter. As for me, I will just travel very slowly and carefully bouncing along the icy ruts, hoping Mother Nature shows pity on me and my neighbors and takes care of my street the old natural way - a slow melt.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Another Petition Drive in the Works?

Theresa Stehly has decided to exert her public muscle once again. This time she wants to change how the Park Board is organized. The Charter Revision Commission is continuing its work reviewing and considering changes to the city's constitution called the City Charter. Stehly appeared before them last week to present her proposal along with the little threat of another petition drive if they don't heed her advice.

Stehly thinks the Park Board should be established by districts, similar to how the city council is made up and she thinks it should be so stated in the City Charter. She said she is exploring which option would be best to make this change: a charter revision, a petition drive or working with the council to draft an ordinance.

Boards and commissions serve as a public voice and advisor to the administration. They have no power, nor can they adopt ordinances. The park board is not an elected body. It is an appointed advisory body. Stehly's proposal to the charter revision commission is not vision driven but an agenda driven by Theresa Stehly's agenda.

It makes no sense to single out one board in the city charter. The charter is a big tent with broad constitutional oversight. It provides an executive, legislative and administrative structure for a home rule local government. The charter speaks in broad terms about the mayor's role regarding boards and commissions.

City Attorney Pfeifle said the city charter is not the place to address this issue. Director Kearney said the process for appointing Park Board members is working so why change it. Pfeifle is right on - the charter revision commission is not the right place for this discussion. Director Kearney is also right in that the Park Board members look out for the needs of the entire community, not just one area of town.
The tendency is to pooh pooh anything that comes from Theresa Stehly. What we do know from past behavior, Stehly doesn't like to be told no. When asked by charter board member Knudson if her proposal was also directed at the planning commission, Stehly said no, she was only interested in the Park Board. Her agendas are specific driven. Normally, I'd say run for office but, she did that and she didn't win, even though it was in her own district. She has become involved in the Spellerberg Park discussion and it is not even in her own district. Has she been asked to lead another charge or has she appointed herself as the crusade leader for the Spellerberg area?
Stehly believes she has a mandate from the public because of her successful snow gate petition drive. People will sign most any petition if asked on the street. I have been known to sign a petition just to drive a discussion even though I know I will not support the measure if it came to a vote. Just because you can gather signatures doesn't mean you have a mandate on an issue.

My first thought when I heard about Stehly's latest crusade was to roll my eyes. Because ---- it came from her, again. Then I stepped back and thought, maybe it has some merit, at least for further discussion at a council committee meeting. I don't agree with her narrow viewpoint that it should only be discussed in the context of the Park Board, however. If the concept has merit, it has merit for the Planning Commission as well since both boards are recommending and advising on matters that affect the make up of the community.
It could be as simple as the mayor's office looking at applications in a different light with some consideration to broad representation in the community. You can do that without changing any ordinances. Making it ironclad and specific in ordinance might create problems filling board seats, especially if no one from a specific district is interested in volunteering to serve on a board.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Minnehaha County Republican Leadership

One wonders where all the reasonable Republicans are in Minnehaha County. They must have been out of the county when Lora Hubbel was elected Chair of the Minnehaha County Republican Party. I just finished watching the Morning Conversation with Lora Hubbel on 1/10/13.

Lora says she is not a Tea Party Republican. She says she is a conservative, christian Republican with Libertarian leanings. I just don't get it. I know a lot of local Republicans and she does not seem to fit in with the Republicans I know. How then, did she get elected as the leader for Republicans in this county?  I am beginning to think because there is a majority anyway, most of the Republicans really don't care who their leader and spokesperson is, hence Lora. Someone has to do the grunt work, I guess.

The County Republicans were awfully quiet when Lora and Manny cooked up their little scheme to take down the Chamber Legislative Coffee. After all, that organization wanted to talk about green things when she wanted to talk about red things. She used that analogy with Patrick Lalley but I think you get the picture. It's all about her agenda, not the party's agenda. Here's what Lora says about it on the county republican party website:

The Chamber of Commerce nationwide is a conservative organization but individual cities have their own personality. Ours has said that there is nothing we can do about OBamaCare and that there is no fighting it....not a typical conservative ideology. Republicans have had problems with the Chamber of Commerce Coffees since "the early 1990's when I was in the legislature." says a current PUC member.

The League of Women Voters are the sole group in charge of the event (during the coffee)...even though we pay as much to sponsor it as they do. In fact, even after meetings with the Chamber and asking why it is that we cannot pick out any questions to be asked of the legislators (we can't even look at the questions asked by the audience at the event) and why we cannot ever moderate... we have gotten no headway with them in regards to equal representation. So we voted to not sponsor this event until things change. Instead we will host equal but opposite forums at the same time and same day. When the Chamber hosts a group of legislators, we will host the opposite group...when all conservative questions are lampooned or ignored, we will welcome them.

All legislators, Conservative, Liberal, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc., will be invited and all questions will have an equal opportunity to be asked....all constituents will feel a part of the process instead of being ignored and having their ideas booed.

Please donate a bit so we can get this event off the ground (put in the memo of your check "forums" please).....Many Thanks, Lora Hubbel

KELOTV on January 3, 2013 reported: For the last several years, Republican Representative Manny Steele says he's noticed the League of Women Voters legislative coffee is too liberal. He says it's biased against the GOP.

If you go on the League of Woman Voters website it will tell you that it is a long standing non-partisan organization that doesn't support or oppose any candidates for public office. The league is well known for hosting debates and forums. Their website states: we believe deeply that the public should hear different views on the issues facing our communities and our nation. An honest and respectful sharing of ideas is vital to the functioning of American democracy.

Hubbel and Steele want to create their own forum so they can discuss their views as they see it. It's not about a sharing of ideas and hearing all sides and opinion on issues. I ask you, which forum would you like to attend if you are a person with an open mind and an interest in learning all sides of an issue in which to make an informed decision?

What has happened to the leadership of the Minnehaha County Republican Party? Where are all the reasonable and objective Republicans I know and respect in this county? The Minnehaha County Republican leadership is interesting to say the least.

Lora Hubbel's role as Chairperson of the Minnehaha County Republicans is coming to an end. The Central Committee and legislators will be voting on a new chairperson at the their headquarters on 69th Street on January 19th. This group has had strange leadership in the past. It will be interesting to see who takes over as Chairperson for the future. Someone who has respect for honest and respectful sharing of ideas would be a change of pace for this group.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tree Branches

Everybody likes trees in their yards. Trees provide good shade and they green up one's property. If a property owner decides to plant trees on their property, shouldn't they be expected to keep the trees trimmed? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know when a tree needs to be trimmed. If you mow your lawn and you have to duck in order to not get bonked on the head and whiplashed in the face, you need to trim the dang tree. If it impedes the sidewalk or the street, it needs to be trimmed.

When did we become such a lazy society? Councilor Anderson got a complaint from some constituent and now is asking for a review of the city's Parks and Recreation  Project T.R.I.M. program. City ordinance requires trees to have a 10 foot clearance over sidewalks and a minimum 12 foot clearance over the street. For arterial and collector streets, there must be a 16 foot clearance over the street.

The Parks Department has an inspection program whereby they inspect the city in quadrants. If they find trees that are not in compliance with the ordinance, they send a notice to the property owner. If the property owner does not comply, they get a second notice with more detailed information on which tree needs trimming. If the property owner still doesn't comply, they go out and trim the tree(s) and charge the property owner $150 per hour for the service. 3% of property owners don't comply. 97% do comply.

Councilor Anderson doesn't think the Parks Department is giving the homeowner enough information on which trees need trimming. He also threw out the idea that maybe the city should take over trimming trees. Director Kearney says that is is just too expensive. Darn right it is too expensive and I, for one, am not interested in having my taxes increased because someone can't trim their own trees on their property. First we can't shovel our own driveways, and now we can't seem to trim our own trees.

The City Council Public Services Committee asked Parks and Recreation officials to come before them to justify their program. Clearly, this is a program that is working. Maybe Councilor Anderson should have responded to the complaining constiuent with detailed information about the sucess of the program and remind the property owner of their duty as a property owner.

This is much ado about nothing but then making mountains out of mole hills is what politicians seem to do. Just because somebody complains doesn't mean whole programs need changing.  It would be different if Parks and Recreation didn't have a plan and weren't be responsible in managing it, but they are. They should be commended for running a program with a 97% compliance rate.

Move on, Public Services Committee.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When Saying No with No Plan Costs Us Money

It is unsettling to learn that over 14% of this state's population is covered under South Dakota's Medicaid program. That's 116,000 children, adults and disabled people. There are another estimated 48,000 people who would be added under the expanded eligibility as part of the federal health care law, slanged as ObamaCare.  South Dakota's estimated 2011 population is 824,082.

Republican State Legislators can wring their hands over their hopes being dashed by the Supreme Court when it upheld President Obama's health care initiative. What the legislature needs to do is come up with solutions on how to deal with the poor and lower middle class workers in this state who have no means to access affordable health care or insurance in this state.

Uninsured Americans cost the American health care system an additional $49 billion. Governor Daugaard believes health care decisions should be left up to each state and he doesn't want to expand Medicaid because he doesn't believe the federal government has the ability to pay for it. He has also decided that SD should opt out of the expansion of Medicaid which was one of the biggest milestones of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  

The law previously required states to cover their poorest or lose federal funding to Medicaid (federal funding covers 90-100% of the costs) until the supreme court ruling on Obama Care. Now each state can decide whether or not they want to opt out of expanding coverage to their poorest with no penalty.  The thing is, we all are impacted by this recalcitrant position of the governor.

Who does the Governor think pays for these expenses? These expenses are not free. All he is doing is cost shifting. That 14% plus population who needs coverage but can't because of the Governor's position will eventually end up in hospital emergency rooms. We all know that going to an emergency room is no way to treat illnesses that are not an emergency. It drives up costs and guess what, you and I are going to pay for it through increased premiums in our own health insurance coverages.

When you are in charge of finding solutions, as an elected official, you cannot say you are not going to do something. Because when you say that, you impact somebody else you represent. It shows you don't see the big picture and don't have a clue how to solve the problem.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When is Talk Cheap?

Theresa Stehly, chairwoman of Citizens for Snow Gates, and her army of supporters were upset last month when the City Council limited public input on the snow gate election agenda item to 20 minutes. There were a lot of people attending the meeting who wanted to publicly state their support of establishing an election date on the issue.

Public input is important but you have to ask the question, when does it become redundant and no longer provides meaningful information? After 20 minutes? After one hour? After two hours? How many people does it take to hear the same thing? It seems to me the key to public input at a council meeting is meaningful input. Two hours of listening to the same talking points over and over is not meaningful input just because it's a different person each time. All it does, most of the time, is feed the egos of those who want the limelight and take delight in calling elected officials on the carpet on TV.

There are others way for the public to provide input and give their voice on an issue. Write the mayor and your council representative a letter. Send them an e-mail. Write a letter to the editor of the local paper. Submit a statement with signatures of support at the council meeting the night the item is on the council agenda, but select key people to speak on the issue.

Twenty minutes was not enough time for a controversial issue like the snow gate election. An hour of public input would surely have been plenty of time. The city council has many items on their weekly council agenda. The council meeting is a business meeting and it is certainly appropriate to establish guidelines and rules regarding the conduct of business. The sticky question is how long must this elected body sit through repetitive public input that offers no new information on a controversial issue, just different bodies.

The pro side and the con side of every issue can say that they deserve to be heard and should not have their public testimony limited in any way. But really, is that how to run an official meeting? If Stehly had known beforehand that there was going to be a time limit, she could have organized her army of supporters and very strategically picked her strongest voices to speak that night. That's the way it should be done. She didn't get the opportunity, because the rule isn't a defined rule and is currently used at the discretion of the council leadership.

I think it's a good idea to establish rules regarding public input and publish the rules. That way, no one can cry foul and the council won't look so arbitrary in their action. When is talk cheap? When it provides no new facts or information and is just repetitive rhetoric in a different set of clothes. That's why a rule such as what will be studied by the council is in the right direction.