Thursday, December 29, 2011

Which Lane Am I Supposed to Turn Into?

If it has been a long time since you looked at the drivers license manual, you might have forgotten one test question relating to which lane you are required to enter when making a left turn. There are a lot of drivers in Sioux Falls who have forgotten the rule or just choose to ignore the rule. Actually state law specifically addresses left turns:

32-26-18. Left-turning vehicle--Manner of making turn--Violation as misdemeanor. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle. If practicable, the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to leave the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the vehicle on the roadway being entered. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

As a driver, you are supposed to turn into the lane closest to the one you came from. Very few do it. People turn into the lane they need to be in and the majority of the time it is the farthest lane, not the closest lane. One of the reasons for turning directly into the lane you eventually want to be in is because other drivers won't let you in when you want to change lanes. Everyone is in a hurry. Heaven forbid someone gets a head of you. Traffic is heavy and you need to cross over two or more lanes to get to the turn lane you really want to be in and no one is going to accommodate you.
Well, last week the police were ticketing people who were breaking the rule. I know someone personally who got a ticket for $120 for making a left turn out of the Empire Mall at the stoplight by Macy's and entering the farthest the lane, not the lane closest to the lane they came from. This person needed to make a right turn at the next intersection and traffic was heavy. My friend practically had a heart attack.  She said she knew the rule but everyone does it. She said, who heard of anyone getting a ticket for turning into the farthest lane.

In Lewis Drug a couple days later, two workers in the pharmacy department were overheard talking about the very same thing. Evidently, one of them got a $120 for the same thing out at the Mall and the other person said a friend got stopped for it as well. 

I feel bad for my friend but I actually kind of like the fact that the police are targeting this rule. It is broken all the time and it is annoying. I say go for it. The more people who get the ticket, the more people will talk about it, and hopefully, more people will start turning into the lane closest to them and start being courteous to other drivers who have their turn signal on to change lanes.

Then I want the police to get all those speeders on 57th Street, and the ones who run red lights thinking they are sneaking through a yellow caution light.  Maybe this could be a public service program focusing on basic traffic laws for Channel 16 by the SFPD. For many drivers, it has probably been a long time anyone has looked at the drivers manual. There are plenty of drivers out there who could use a refresher course in traffic rules. Me included.

Be courteous and be safe out there and follow the rules of the road.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Free Parking at the 1st Avenue Parking Ramp

I wonder how many people know that the 1st Avenue Parking Ramp was to undergo a new parking ramp system that did away with a live person attendant, going to an Entry Station with Integrated Swipe Pad and Ticket Dispenser. The City announced the upcoming change back in late November. Here is what the new system was going to look like when the new system was to go live on November 30th per city public parking officials:

On November 29th, a communication went out to the 1st Avenue Parking Ramp customers. It said in part:

Subject: 1st Avenue Parking Ramp Upgrades
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:30:03 +0000

1st Avenue Parking Ramp Customers,

Thank you for your patience as we transition to our new gate equipment. We have experienced some unexpected issues in setting up our new communication network, which has delayed our live date. We are also waiting for the correct gate arms to arrive.

Anticipated Live Date:
Monday Afternoon December 5th (attendant available)

I was downtown on Thursday, December 22nd and parked in the 1st Avenue Parking Ramp. I was ready to try the new system. As I pulled in to take my ticket for hourly parking, this is what I saw:

No ticket. Gate arm up. Did that mean free parking?  Sure looked like it to me. I pulled into a space in the ramp and went about my merry way. I came back to my car three hours later and drove to the check out lane and low and behold, it was truly going to be a freebie parking day. As I pulled up to the parking attendant booth, this is what I saw:

It's the end of December and the system has not gone live yet. I checked with a couple of people who work part-time downtown and they said they have been parking for free during the month of December. It is kind of nice that the shoppers and restaurant patrons have been able to park for free during the month of December at the 1st Avenue Parking Ramp. Have to wonder what it has done to the parking revenues though.

It kind of begs the question why the public parking facility officials would go ahead and implement the change when they clearly are not ready to go live with their new parking system. The city laid off two employees who worked at the ramp as parking lot attendants. Why not keep them on until the new system actually goes live so you can still collect the daily parking revenue? Someone doesn't have their eye on the ball. People can say what they want about the previous director, but I doubt seriously that he would have let this snafu happen.

Oh well, park for free at the 1st Avenue Parking Ramp, people! A little present from the City during the Christmas holidays.  And maybe it will continue into 2012?  I wonder when it is actually going to go live? November 30th and December 5th have come and gone.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Changes In the Newspaper World

Rumor has it that the ARGUS LEADER will be moving towards Gannett's goal to reduce free on-line access to its newspapers in 2012. According to a Gannett blog dated December 7, 2011, the largest newspaper publisher in the country will reduce it's free for all access online and begin charging for digital access. Gannet started its paywall test in July 2010 with three of its newspapers, one being the Chicago Sun Times which has already begun charging for online access.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the business model of the print media needed to change in order to survive. Newspapers are losing money. Not a big surprise and I, for one, don't think they can blame it totally on the digital explosion. Have you looked at the local newspaper lately? The actual pages of news have been reduced to a couple of thin pages. The local news content leaves something to be desired with articles lacking investigative depth while basically regurgitating bland information with no hard line questioning.

There are always going to be people who want to get that newspaper delivered to their home. Where you once had to only open your front door and pick up your newspaper, you now must get dressed, put some shoes on and go hunt for it somewhere out on your front lawn, on the boulevard, or down your driveway close to the street, buried in the bushes or in your neighbor's yard. That is if you get the newspaper delivered that morning at all.

With the digital explosion, a lot of people are now choosing to get their news off their computers, through their smart phones or their iPads, Nook or whatever other tablet is now available. Gannett CEO Gracia Martore said the newspaper publisher needs to "capture revenue and profitability from our newspapers."

That from the newspaper giant who, in 2011 laid off over 700 employees nationwide while Bob Dickey, Gannett’s U.S. newspapers division president, was paid $3.4 million last year, up from $1.9 million the year prior. In the memo announcing the 700 nationwide layoffs, Dickey wrote, “While we have sought many ways to reduce costs, I regret to tell you that we will not be able to avoid layoffs.” 

If you access the Chicago Sun Times link above, they were not immune to layoffs either. One day after the layoffs, the Sun Times announced their new paywall policy. The newspaper giant is no different than Wall Street and other big corporations who continue to pay their executives exorbitant salaries and bonuses at the expense of the people who are the backbone of their companies and who are obviously dispensable in their new business model to improve profitability.

The fee model for online access will be interesting to watch. If you want to subscribe to electronic access only, the ARGUS LEADER  will charge you the same monthly amount that you would pay for a 7 day subscription of the print copy delivered to your home. I hope they rethink that price model when they introduce their new paywall policy in 2012. After the first 20 page views every 30 days, Chicago Sun Times readers will be required to pay $6.99 a month (or $77.87 a year) for continued access.  I think the ARGUS LEADER could charge half that amount since we probably get half the newspaper news the readers of the Chicago Sun Times gets in their newspaper.

I am a user of the online access of the ARGUS LEADER after giving up on the dismally poor home delivery service and the inability to get satisfaction from customer service calls. When I do pick up a print copy laying around the salon or a restaurant, I am thankful I am not paying $18.89+tax per month for such a flimsy newspaper. I am willing to pay something for full on-line access but the newspaper needs to do its part too by providing me something newsworthy to read instead of bland stories and no investigative reporting.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The New Hot Spot in Town

The Mayor held his latest Listening and Learning Session at the Moose Lodge on Burnside Avenue this past week and he predicted what will soon become some of the most valuable real estate in town.

The ARGUS LEADER reported: Huether acknowledged property along Burnside is on a new course for development as hotels, bars, restaurants and retail expected to grow up in the shadow of the events center will need building sites.

“Your property is going to be a lot more valuable,” Huether said.

The Mayor's latest prediction regarding the area surrounding the new Event Center is contrary to what everyone else has been saying about the area. What does the Mayor know that most everyone else says probably isn't going to happen?

This very area was highlighted in a SF Business Journal article back in December, 2010:

One Developer’s Perspective of the Arena Site: An Area 'Still Kind Of Limping Along' -- Doug Brockhouse grew up in the neighborhood, which has been known through the years as West Sioux. He also owns a business, Arena Storage, on West Second Street. Some of the streets are at unusual angles - such as the diagonal Burnside Street - because they were built around a huge military base. Remains of some of the barracks still are visible in the neighborhood.  Today, the area "is still kind of limping along and nothing has really ever taken flight out there," said Brockhouse, a principal with Bender Commercial Real Estate. Brockhouse doesn't envision much more development if an events center is built there. "I really don't see much growth out there because of it," he said. "I really don't." (Sioux Falls Business Journal, Dec. ’10)

This is the very area that was embroiled in a controversy back in June of this year related to an ethics complaint against Councilor Entenman regarding his ownership of property near the Event Center location.

Back in June, 2011 the Ethics Board rendered its decision regarding a conflict of interest complaint filed against Councilor Entenman regarding his building on Burnside Avenue and whether he should be allowed to vote on the Event Center location due to a financial interest.

The Ethics Board ruled there was no conflict of interest and Ethics Board member Bill O'Connor stated, "Whatever we've done in that area hasn't necessarily had a good financial outcome for areas businesses. Even the ARGUS LEADER reported the board based its decision in part on the fact that land values didn't go up after the SF Convention Center was built in the mid-1990's and after upgrades were made to the SF Stadium in 2000.

Councilor Entenman was cleared of a conflict of interest so he could vote with the mayor on placing the Event Center in a place that even the Ethics Board saw as having no land value potential - at the time.

In a November 29, 2011 article in the SF Business Journal, two local developers talked about that area as well in terms of investment predictability.

I think the new events center will add a whole new dynamic to the area because of its massiveness and newness,” said developer Craig Lloyd of Lloyd Cos. “Will that attract development and entrepreneurs to go out there? I don’t know."

According to the article, AECOM estimated the events center could attract $6.7 million in new investment, which would result in $30,000 in additional property taxes. “The existing visitor-serving facilities within the complex have had little impact on business attraction to the area,” the report concluded, noting that financing projects might be difficult because the area has not shown a record of many successful developments. “It’s all true,” Lloyd said. “You’re not surrounded by residential. Rooftops drive restaurants, retail and offices. It’s just going to be tough to go out there. The first couple people are going to have to be real pioneers.”

Developer Jim Dunham of The Dunham Co. agreed. “I think the events center, long term, will be good for Sioux Falls and good for the economy,” he said. “But it’s unfortunate that due to the location it will not drive other development. It will have no impact on the immediate area. It’s not an area where you’d go build a spec strip mall or office building because you’re not going to get anybody to move out there.” The former Oaks hotel site along Russell Street might be redeveloped, but other opportunities are minimal, Dunham said. “It’s just an area nobody drives on a daily basis,” he said. “I can’t imagine what you would build out there, maybe a convenience store, maybe a liquor store. I can’t imagine what you can add that would survive on just the events center alone.”

Just give it a little time. The story keeps changing.  Now we know that the property out there is going to be a lot more valuable. The mayor said, “I’m not telling the Moose to sell or put up a for-sale sign, but property around here, as the events center gets built, you will see for-sale signs going up.”

Councilor Entenman said his property was not for sale. He said he was optimistic about the investment possibilities in that area.  I guess we should wait and see if a For Sale sign goes up on his property out there because, after all, it's going to be a lot more valuable out there according to the Mayor.  Who knows, maybe the Mayor knows something the local developers don't know.

The Northwest is the new hotspot.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Deficit Staved Off by Football - Go Team!!

The Bismark Tribune wrote a short article that the winning Bison of NDSU have saved the Fargodome from a deficit in 2011. Actually, the Tribune called it a financial boon.

The Fargodome which sits on the NDSU campus, is home to NDSU's Bison Football team. It has seating capacity for 19,000 for football games and 25,000 seats for concerts. It was financed in part by a half cent sales tax approved by the taxpayers.

It seems the Fargodome would have had a deficit had it not been for NDSU's football team playing in the Football Championship subdivision playoffs.  The Fargodome estimates it nets $30,000 off of each game played at the Fargodome.   Three home playoff games are turning an expected budget deficit into an anticipated surplus of $20,000.

Isn't that interesting? The Fargodome is home to a Division 1 football team which is a big draw for the facility. Even with the anchor tenant of  a big Division 1 football team, this facility was heading towards a deficit in 2011. Even with those 3 playoff games, it will only push it to approximately $20,000 over expenses. That is not very comforting news.

SMG reported to the city council that the Arena netted about $700 per Skyforce game in the 2009-2010 season and that the overall revenue was up a little more in the 2010-2011 season. So the mindset seems to be "no big deal" that the Skyforce is leaving the Arena and going to the Sanford Pentagon to play. Even if the Storm and Stampede agree to "anchor" at the Event Center, it might not guarantee the facility a surplus. It depends on what kind of a "deal" they negotiate in their contract.

The fact is there are no guarantees when operating an event center. It's going to take more than two semi-pro teams to push the event center to a surplus. Maybe the mayor can get the USD and SDSU presidents to sign on the dotted line since they stood before the bright lights of the media to say they supported the building of the event center.

Then we can hope they get into the Football Championship subdivision playoffs and stave off a deficit.  Go Team!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gridlock Once Again

Congress is once again holding America hostage. Tiresome politics on both sides of the aisle in my opinion. This whole payroll tax cut extension is an interesting fight between Republicans and Democrats and each side is pandering to their base.

I understand that the Social Security payroll tax cut approved a year ago was done to stimulate the economy but I wonder if this payroll tax should continue to be extended again. These temporary fixes are just that - temporary. Pretty soon, this temporary Social Security payroll tax cut will be considered permanent and then the Social Security fund will be in really big trouble.

The Democrats talk about this temporary tax cut as a tax increase if it's not extended. How long has the Social Security payroll tax been in place? A long time. Letting this temporary payroll tax cut lapse is not a tax increase. This tax has been in place for a very long time. Does Congress think the American people are simple minded?

I hate all this pandering to the base in each political party. Instead of worrying about stimulating the economy through these temporary fixes, why not get some substantial work done like actually creating jobs through legislation. The Keystone Pipeline has been controversial to the states of Nebraska and South Dakota and the jobs it will create are temporary, not permanent jobs. Once again, a temporary mentality that holds the American people hostage to party ideology.

I don't think the temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax should be extended. Fix the tax code so the 1% can't get out of paying their fair share of taxes. Think big picture instead of piecemealing the American people to death with one issue at a time. All this small minded politics does is create gridlock. I am sick to death of it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Naming Rights Ordinance - I Think You Should Draft It.

I watched Darrin Smith's presentation regarding the Naming Rights ordinance to the Public Service Committee on Monday, December 12th. I found it quite amusing. Here stood a director of a city department and he was asking part-time councilors for language change suggestions on drafting new ordinance language. He cited problems with the current ordinance but offered no solutions, no ideas for change. Clearly, he had not done his homework. He wanted someone else to do it, namely the Public Services Committee.

Obviously, the naming rights ordinance needs some major overhaul. It's great to ask for input but you would think that a city director would at least do some research and come forward with some substantive information instead of standing before a city council subcommittee thinking out loud about all the problems with the current ordinance without direction or concrete solutions.

The naming rights issue was generated out of the mayor's administration as part of the revenue package for the Event Center.  It is the administration's job to research the naming rights issue and present a draft ordinance based on research and sound analysis.  It's not the councilors job to do research for Smith. It's their job to finalize the policy ordinance for adoption.  I think Director Smith forgot he is no longer a city councilor. He is a city director now. He has to actually do the work. He doesn't get to ask someone else to do it for him, especially city councilors.

When Councilor Brown asked Director Smith if he was going to bring a draft for the Council to review and comment, Director Smith said "Yup." That just about sums up the depth of this discussion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Shall The City Council Meet - and Other Things?

The City Council's Public Services Committee was scheduled on Monday, December 12th, to discuss a draft ordinance which details changes to Chapter 2 of the city code of ordinances titled "Administration."

The main reason to revise this ordinance chapter appears to be to change the day the city council meetings are held. That's what the title of the ordinance and agenda says anyway. There is more than just the Monday-Tuesday revision being considered in this ordinance revision, however. There are a number of changes being proposed and some of the changes are rather interesting.

Change highlights:

  • Although the draft language only proposes changing the day of the meeting, the city attorney asked the committee to also consider changing the time of the meeting. Back in the commission form of government, meetings used to be held in the morning. I remember why it was changed - to provide better access of meetings to the public. Pfeifle stated that people work all kinds of schedules these days and have opportunities to view the meetings on TV and on the Internet. He implored the council to consider changing the meeting time as well. He said he was sure employers would grant time off to employees who would want to address the council. Are you kidding me? Most people have enough trouble just getting time off to attend their children's events much less get time off to go to a city council meeting. Ridiculous. Changing the meeting time of the council to a day meeting is a step backwards in public accessibility. Councilors Erpenbach and Aguilar stated they are opposed to changing the time of meetings.

  • Current ordinance states that there will be minutes of the City Council's Executive Sessions and that the minutes will be sealed in the City Clerk's office. The new proposed language deletes the requirement that there will be minutes recorded of executive sessions. The city attorney stated this change was being proposed with input from the clerks who are uncomfortable being responsible for minutes of these meetings that they do not attend. The city attorney said minutes of executive sessions are not required by state law. The City Clerk, by charter, is the official record keeper of city records. The appointive City Clerk should be in city council executive sessions and be the record keeper of the proceedings. Assistant city clerks are administrative civil service employees and shouldn't be involved in council executive sessions.  The city has the tendency to treat the Assistant Clerks as if they are the same as the appointive City Clerk and that is a mistake. As an appointive official, the City Clerk retains a higher level position in the organization than the assistant clerks. To not have a record of an executive session because the clerical administrative civil service employees are uncomfortable only further cements the loss of a bonafide appointive city clerk official running the city council office. (Section 2-7)

  • The City Clerk currently serves as the parliamentarian for meetings of the city council. This language is being proposed to be deleted.   Pfeifle stated Roberts Rules of Order state the presiding officer serves as parliamentarian.  He said it is a collaborative effort between the mayor and the council so that's why the language designating the City Clerk is being deleted.  It seems this deletion came from Acting City Clerk Roust.  As Roust said the parliamentarian advises and the presiding officer (mayor) and the council rules on an issue. So why not keep the appointive City Clerk the parliamentarian who advises on questions of Roberts Rules of Order that come up at council meetings? Between the City Clerk and the City Attorney, the two of them should be proficient in Roberts Rules of Order. The city council has too much on their plate as is. The assistant clerk is busy taking minutes and shouldn't be the parliamentarian. The City Clerk is always at the meetings in addition to the clerical acting assistant clerk who is taking the minutes. Sounds like the neutering of the City Clerk position. (Section 2-8)

  • Language is being added regarding contracts. The new language says that one councilor can remove a contract issue from the consent agenda to the regular agenda for discussion but then it goes on to say that moving a contract issue from the consent agenda to the regular agenda merely to ask questions or gather background information is not necessary and should be discouraged.  Isn't asking questions and/or gathering background information considered additional discussion? A consent agenda item means there are no questions or discussion. The proposed last sentence is administrative editorial stuff. Council Erpenbach didn't like that last sentence either and said she felt like she had her hand slapped.    (Section 2-15)

  • New language is being proposed regarding the public input portion on a council agenda. According to the change, a person can not address an issue during the public input portion of the meeting agenda if the issue is on the council agenda. So, a person who may have a time conflict when an agenda item actually is discussed later in the meeting can't address the issue early? This revision is codifying what is being done in practice. That may be but not it's making it black and white with no ability to deal with special circumstances.  In addition, new language states no council member will be permitted to engage in a dialogue or discussion with the presenter. Doesn't that restrict the concept of free speech? Why restrict dialogue or discussion at public input? It sure seems like this language is putting restraints on public input.  (Section 2-16)

  • The other issue in Section 2-15 deals with walking in items and still meeting the open meeting laws. The City Attorney is worried about the 24 hour notice. The proposed changes will put stronger timelines in place to meet the open meeting laws. It is always good to meet the requirements of the open meeting laws.

  • The mayor uses executive orders to deal with internal administration matters. These are internal procedures, not policies requiring ordinance codification. In the past, copies of executive orders were filed with the City Clerk. That requirement is being deleted and language is being proposed that the executive orders will placed on InSite which is the city's intranet. To my knowledge this is already being done for internal administrative purposes. Why does it need to be codified in city ordinance? The significant thing here is that no longer will the City Clerk get copies of Executive Orders. This was a request of the city clerk's office. They don't want to maintain copies any longer. Where executive orders are kept is an administrative issue. Why should this even be in ordinance language. It is an administrative procedure not a policy. (Section 2-35)

  • Language is being proposed that there no longer needs to be a roll call to adjourn a meeting just a motion to adjourn. (Section 2-25)
Any change to an ordinance should always be made with one specific thing in mind - the public. How does this city ordinance affect transparency in government and the public's right to know? Granted, the executive session minutes language is confidential but not to keep a record of what goes on behind closed doors should still be recorded otherwise, anything can be done behind closed doors with no oversight or record.

Changes to the Administration ordinance will certainly generate further discussion. Some of the language change deals specifically with administrative issues and other changes deal with impact to the public. It is insight into how the council conducts their business. The Public Services Committee voted to move the ordinance out of committee and present as 1st reading to the City Council. We shall see what the City Council does regarding these proposed changes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Political Quotes

I love quotes. What people say make you think. Here are some good ones. If you have one, add it in the comments section.

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. (Dr. Samuel Johnson)

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. (Elizabeth Warren)

One of the things I have told you folks early on is that I am ..about as fiscally conservative of a person you are going to meet because of the way I grew up. (Mayor Mike Huether)

Members of Congress are playing with people's lives, not just their own political careers.  (Pennsylvania Fire Chief Martin Bonifanti)

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous. You get knocked down by traffic from both sides. (Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain)

I don't care if I have a conflict of interest or not. (City Councilor Jim Entenmen)

The willingness to change one's mind in the light of new evidence is a sign of rationality not weakness. (Renowned psychologist Stuart Sutherland)

What is conservatism? Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?  (Abraham Lincoln)

 I think 'Hail to the Chief' needs a little bit fresher sound. I might put some gospel beats in 'Hail to the Chief. (Herman Cain, former Republican Candidate for President)

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it.  (Clarence Darrow)

A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.  (Franklin D. Roosevelt, radio speech, 26 October 1939)

Americans who feel the most ignored these days are not the screamers. They are the solid citizens who are sick to death of pols who play to the rant. ( Time Columnist Joe Klein)

The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.  (Adlai E. Stevenson)

There are always too many Democratic congressmen, too many Republican congressmen, and never enough U.S. congressmen.  (Author Unknown)

The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery. They're the kind of people who'd stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire. I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy. The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn't bother to stop because they'd want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club.  (Dave Barry)

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. (President Ronald Reagan)

Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.  (Thomas Jefferson)

I've always said that in politics, your enemies can't hurt you, but your friends will kill you. (Former Texas Governor Ann Richards)

Although he's regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics. (Former Senate Majority Leader from Maine George J. Mitchell)

I think the decision that's been made with respect to allowing gays to serve openly in the military is a good one. (Former Vice President Dick Cheney)

Politics would be a helluva good business if it weren't for the goddamned people. (President Richard Nixon)

There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them. (French politician Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin 1807-1874)

The people of this country, not special interest big money, should be the source of all political power. (Paul Wellstone)

Either we hang together or we will surely all hang separately. (Benjamin Franklin, requoted by former Defense Secretary Bob Gates)

I am in this race because I fundamentally feel the American people are getting screwed. (Republican Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman)

I don't think right wing social engineering is any more desirable than left wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. (Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich)

Good rule to follow: never reward someone's incivility by giving them the headline they seek. (Joe Scarborough, MSNBC Morning Joe.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Event Center Naming Rights

The Lincoln Journal Star reported that the city will sign a contract with Pinnacle Bank for naming rights to the tune of $11.5 million for the next 25 years. The 16,000 seat arena in Lincoln, Nebraska is set to open in 2013 and has the University of Nebraska as it's anchor tenant. Lucky them. The bank will pay $280,000 annually for naming rights until September 2023, when its payments will increase to $563,333 until the end of the contract in 2037.

Argus Leader reporter Jonathan Ellis wrote a blog about the announcement as well. It will be interesting to watch the naming rights develop over the next year for city's event center. He is right when he speculates that anyone writing a check for naming rights for 20 plus years will probably want to know who is actually going to be in the Event Center besides concerts, tradeshows and conventions. We know the Skyforce won't be playing there.

Superlative completed a Naming Rights & Marketing Analysis Study in June 2011. Now that the voters have passed the event center plan, what are the city's plans to move forward with a contract with Superlative? Will the mayor's administration have monthly or quarterly reports to the city council as the event center construction and the marketing plans moving forward?

Here is what Superlative said is possible in revenue expectations for the Event Center:
  • Sponsorship Naming Rights: Valued at  $350,00 to $500,000 per year, these rights, based on a 20 year agreement with a 3% fee escalator is estimated to bring in a range of $9.4 million to $13.4 million.
  • 5 Premium Sponsorship Packages: These packages are for things like interior signage locations, banking & ATM naming rights, Concourse naming rights, Atrium naming rights, Emergency Exit Naming Rights. These packages would be priced in a range of $50,000 to $175,000 per year. These premium packages is estimated to bring in $6.8 million to $16.8 million over a 20 year agreement.
  • 15-18 Suite Sales: Suites would be sold in a range of $25,000 to $37,000 per year. Using a 20 year agreement with a 3% fee escalator, the revenue is projected at $10.7 million if 15 suites were sold for $25,000 each and up to $18.1 million if  18 suites were sold at $37,000 each.
  • Additional Sponsorships with local businesses: The idea is to get local businesses to buy sponsorships for things like a Trash Receptacle Program, Concession Partner Program, Food Cart Program, Children's Play Area Program, Business Center Program, First Aid Center Program, etc. No money was estimated for these sponsorships in the report.
The Total overall estimated income range for 20 years for all these various naming rights and sponsorships is $975,000 to $1,875,000 per year and between $26,277,000 and $48,350,000 over a 20 year period with an industry standard 3% annual fee escalator.

There is a lot of money at stake regarding the naming rights and sponsorship process. This marketing process needs to be transparent to the public.  The public needs to know the progress on the marketing results of the city's hired consultant and how much revenue is actually going to be realized annually from the naming and sponsorship rights.

When will those mayor event center update sessions start up again?

Friday, December 9, 2011

City Charter Author has the First Ideas

Joe Kirby was one of the original authors of the City Charter drafted in 1994. At the November 30th City Charter Commission meeting he telephonically submitted two charter revision ideas for ballot consideration.

The first idea was a little vague but he essentially commented on the city council's role in this form of government and that it was meant to be a part-time policy making body who was supposed to invest no more than 10 to 15 hours per week on policy making city business. He cited the recent action by the city council to require all contracts be approved by the city council as evidence that the city council was moving into the mayor's administrative duties under the charter.

The issue of the roles of the mayor and the city council have been a battle ground since the adoption of the city charter in 1994. The City Attorney is legal advisor to the mayor and the city council. It is the job of the city attorney to protect the language in the city charter and not allow politics to contravene the meaning of the roles of the mayor and city council as set out by charter. 

The problem is the city attorney, can at times, be under strong influence of the mayor and forget that he/she serves BOTH bodies and should remain neutral and protect the provisions of the city charter as it relates to the roles of the mayor and city council. The city attorney needs to remain above the fray, but it is difficult. That is hard to do when the mayor picks the city attorney for appointment. Yes, the appointment is subject to advice and consent of the city council but history has shown that the mayor's appointment is gold and this position has become very political.

The city attorney and the office staff of attorneys provide daily legal advice to the mayor and the city departments regarding city administration business. It is an inherent problem with this form of government and has resulted in the city council, at various times over the years, talking about hiring their own attorney. The mayor and directors need someone to rely on for day-to-day legal advice regarding administration business.

How you legislate behavior, though, is nigh onto impossible. I don't think the city charter adequately envisions the dual role when the city attorney works primarily for the administration. It puts the city attorney in a very difficult position at times, especially when the mayor and the city council are at odds.  Maybe the language in the city charter relating to the city attorney needs some fixing.

The second idea from Joe Kirby relates to the mayoral runoff provisions. Kirby essentially wants to suggest language that minimizes the spoiler effect, kind of like what happened in the 2010 race. The fact is you are always going to have a spoiler effect when you have a very large pool of mayoral candidates who split the vote. I say tough patootie. Like it or not, the top 2 vote getters deserve to be in the runoff. The voters should have the final say and rank choice voting kind of sounds like cooking the pot to me.  A large field of mayoral candidates could cause a surprise runoff, but so be it.

Two ideas worthy of discussion in the city charter debate.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Charter Revision Commission - Why Care?

I would venture a guess that citizens hear Charter Revision Commission and yawn. Most people don't understand the Charter much less have even read the City Charter. Usually this subject is only near and dear to the people who are impacted by the charter or are very involved in local government issues.

The citizens of Sioux Falls voted to change the form of government back in 1994 from a commission form of government to a home rule charter form of government. Voters have been faced with ballot language changes since 1994 and those ballot issues all came from a Charter Revision Commission made up of citizens appointed by the mayor and city council.

Here are the citizens, appointed by the mayor and city council, to the Charter Revision Commission:
  • Dennis W. Aanenson- Term Expires - October 2014
  • De Knudson- Term Expires - October 2014
  • Robert Thimjon- Term Expires - October 2014 (Elected Vice-Chair)
  • Richard O. Gregerson - Term Expires - October 2014
  • Pauline Poletes - Term Expires - October 2014 (Elected Chair)

The City Charter spells out how the city is run. The point is that the City Charter is a very important document and if changes are recommended by the Charter Revision Commission, voters get the final say on any changes.

The new Charter Revision Commission held it's first meeting on November 30th. They spent the first 15 to 20 minutes just trying to set up 3 future meetings. I always find it interesting that people volunteer to be on public boards but when you try to schedule a meeting, they are too busy.

 It is a nightmare to schedule a meeting with board members. Kind of like herding cats. I always thought that one very important criteria in screening and selecting citizens for public boards was to first check to make sure they were prepared to be flexible in scheduling meeting dates and times. Yes, yes, we know you are busy, we know you have another life but really, to say you run a business and the only days that work for you are Mondays and Fridays is pretty self serving and inconsiderate. Same goes for lobbying at the SD Legislature. Lobbying takes up a huge chunk of time that makes one pretty unavailable and a nightmare for trying to get a meeting date scheduled. Instead of making a political appointment, maybe the city needs to add a question about ability to serve by being calendar flexible.

The City Attorney set out a timeline for action that really pushes this Commission to action. In order to get any issues on the ballot in April 2012, this body needs to complete it's work by January 2012, according to the City Attorney. That means they need public input from citizens and the mayor's administration by the December 16th meeting or at the latest the January 4, 2012 meeting. That's next week, folks. Their last scheduled meeting is January 27th. That is all well and good as long as no substantive issues come before this commission. Seems like kind of a rush to me, but we will see.

If a citizen has something to submit to this commission, it is recommended they be submitted no later than three days prior to the next scheduled meeting. Better get your comments e-mailed by December 13th at the latest for the December 16th meeting if you have something you want to say. You can e-mail your comments to through December 31, 2011.

Public input on December 16th should be interesting. I wonder what the mayor's administration will be proposing for changes to the charter this go around. There has already been input from citizen Joe Kirby who helped draft the charter back in 1994 but that will be a subject for a future blog.

The point is, everyone should care. It's our government. It's important to all of us how our city government runs. We should all care enough to be informed. If you want to comment or complain, you need to pay attention and submit your comments or ideas for change.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The GOP Contenders

It's quite a show - these GOP wannabees. A winner every month or so. First came Trump, then came Bachman, then came Perry, then came Cain. Oh sorry, I was breaking into song about a baby carriage. I meant then came Newt. Poor Mitt, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Mitt is too fake, too plastic, not conservative enough for the conservatives. The conservatives will turn to almost anyone it seems in their search to find someone conservative enough. How about someone who serves the entire Republican Party. I guess that might work if the Republican Party knew who they wanted to be. The conservative conservatives don't think there is room for moderate Republicans and they certainly don't think a moderate Republican should be in the White House.

Donald Trump, the biggest self promoter in history to run for President on the platform that Obama was not born in the United States, is holding a GOP Debate. If you heard him on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown yesterday you realize that the circus just pulled into New York City. Why in the world the media gives this sanctimonious bag of wind the courtesy of feigned interest is beyond me. But there are people that love him - in the Republican Party. Newt does - he met with him yesterday. They probably compared jewels and credit limits at Tiffany's.

The only two GOP hopefuls who seem to have a mind of their own and still want to own their own ideas are Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Too bad for them since no one is interested in these two Republicans. Why Jon Huntsman has not caught on with the Republican voters is any one's guess but I would venture that he has three things going against him: #1 no Grover Norquist tax pledge signed; #2 he worked in the Obama administration; #3 he is a Morman. This from a guy who said he wouldn't kiss Trump's ring or any other part of his anatomy. But best of all, when you read anything about him, it's said that he is the most conservative of all the candidates running today. How ironic.

Newt Gingrich is the new front runner. The guy the Republicans wanted out back in the 90's. I love the way the conservative conservatives wrap their arms around these family values guys. They loved Cain and they love Gingrich. Two guys whose family values are akin to Lothario. One guy who blamed the media for creating a conspiracy about sexual harassment claims and an alleged 13 year affair. The other guy who led the effort to get Bill Clinton impeached while he carried on his own extramarital affair and was fined $300,000 for obstructing a House ethics probe against him and an ego the size of Trump's.

The sad thing about all this is this is serious business. We need people that don't look like they belong in Barnum and Baily's Circus of horror shows. The really sad thing is there are people out there who believe that Cain and Gingrich are the real deal to lead this country.

Good thing it is only the Republican primary. What else would we be watching right now that would provide more entertainment? Maybe Trump's Apprentice show. It might be fun to see all these GOP contenders compete for Trump's new apprentice. Oh, never mind, they are going to do that on Trump's hosted GOP debate.

Monday, December 5, 2011

It is a Big Deal

The Argus Leader Editorial Board says today that the Skyforce leaving is not a blow to the recently approved events center - it's not a big deal. Well, they are right because the Skyforce never said they would go to the Event Center. It's not a blow to the Event Center, it is however, a blow to the Arena.

This isn't sour grapes about the event center.  This is about the Arena losing a tenant. This is about lost revenue in rent, lost revenue in concession sales.  The Arena, the Convention Center and the Event Center are going to be operated as one, under one management. It may not be a loss to the Event Center but it is a loss just the same.  Maybe SMG can make lemonade out of this loss. I hope so, because the City is going to need the revenue lost by the Skyforce leaving that venue.

I wish the AL Editorial Board would stop being the Press Secretary for the Mayor's Administration and start acting like a newsworthy newspaper. Maybe I missed it, but I don't recall a story in the AL about the Skyforce going to Sanford Pentagon during the EC Debate. Reporting the news -  what a novel idea for a local newspaper.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Spin Cycle

The big news yesterday was the Skyforce organization announcing they are leaving the Arena to go play in Sanford's sports complex called the Pentagon.

The Skyforce has been talking with Sanford about this for the past two years and Sanford officials have changed the design to accomodate their wish for a 3,000 seat venue. The Skyforce never said they were going to move to the Event Center but they also never said they intended to leave the Arena. Two years in the making and not a word during the debate. The City just paid close to a half million dollars for a new scoreboard at the Arena. How special.

The spin cycle by SMG's Arena Management and the Sports Authority's Executive Director was humorous and expected. What else are they going to say about losing a major anchor tenant at the Arena?  I think they should have played that song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in the background while they spun their stance that it doesn't mean anything that the Skyforce are leaving the Arena. It's an opportunity.

Just what is to become of the Arena?  I looked at the calendar of events posted on the Arena's website and it is mainly the sports venues playing there for the next six months. The Summit League champion games are going to be playing in the Event Center, not the Arena once built per Sports Authority Sullivan. If the Storm and Stampede move to the Event Center what will be left at the Arena? Not much. Will high school graduations, antique and craft shows pay the bills to turn the lights on at the Arena?

City officials and their minions, the Sports Authority, SMG and Global Spectrum better get their marketing skills up and working now. They have a new facility to book in addition to the Convention Center and now they have to deal with a white elephant who just lost an anchor tenant that was at least sure money.

It's becoming a daily spin cycle. We now have the ability to market other things since those Skyforce dates are freed up. Don't worry, be happy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Event Center Investment - Is it Gamble?

The SF Business Journal just released an article on the investment predictability at the Event Center site at the Arena/Convention Center. If you haven't read this article in the SF Business Journal, take a moment and read it here.

Good grief! Where were all these developers when the debate on the Event Center was going on? The one thing people may not have understood in the massive campaign to "sell" the Event Center  was that all the information was just "estimates and assumptions." There were no real hard facts to support all those figures of generating revenue. Now that the citizens have voted, we hear from the very people who will develop those investment spin offs from the Event Center.

“I think the new events center will add a whole new dynamic to the area because of its massiveness and newness,” said developer Craig Lloyd of Lloyd Cos. “Will that attract development and entrepreneurs to go out there? I don’t know."

AECOM estimated the events center could attract $6.7 million in new investment, which would result in $30,000 in additional property taxes. “The existing visitor-serving facilities within the complex have had little impact on business attraction to the area,” the report concluded, noting that financing projects might be difficult because the area has not shown a record of many successful developments.
“It’s all true,” Lloyd said. “You’re not surrounded by residential. Rooftops drive restaurants, retail and offices. It’s just going to be tough to go out there. The first couple people are going to have to be real pioneers.”

Developer Jim Dunham of The Dunham Co. agreed. “I think the events center, long term, will be good for Sioux Falls and good for the economy,” he said. “But it’s unfortunate that due to the location it will not drive other development. It will have no impact on the immediate area. It’s not an area where you’d go build a spec strip mall or office building because you’re not going to get anybody to move out there.” The former Oaks hotel site along Russell Street might be redeveloped, but other opportunities are minimal, Dunham said.  “It’s just an area nobody drives on a daily basis,” he said. “I can’t imagine what you would build out there, maybe a convenience store, maybe a liquor store. I can’t imagine what you can add that would survive on just the events center alone.”

Councilor Entenman is optimistic.  Let's hope he can put on his developer hat and help Darrin Smith and Mike Cooper in encouraging developers, hotel and restaurant owners to build or expand out there. No one has wanted to even after the Convention Center was built out there decades ago.

The City is committing a lot of taxpayer dollars to this enterprise. Without their success in transforming that area into an economic and commercial success, it will just become another building in an area of economic desolation. That would be very disappointing and would be a BIG broken promise to the tax paying public who will be paying for it for the next 22 years. Let's hope the Mayor, Smith and Cooper are up to the task. They got the people to vote yes. Now, get to work and transform that area so it will bring in the revenue necessary to pay for it. That would be exciting!

The endless GOP audition for president

Posted by
Washington (CNN) - It's an audition without end, because the Republicans still can't figure out how to cast the lead role.
Here's how the internal discussion goes: We need someone who is a true conservative. We need someone who is right on the matters we care about - the deficit, immigration, cultural issues. We need someone we can trust, who won't betray us. And, by the way, we also need someone who can win.

It is painful to watch this GOP audition. Is this group of candidates the best the Republicans could produce? Talk about a political party in disarray. They can't even come to an agreement on who their leader should be. I don't know why that is surprising considering the group. Romney and Huntsman are the only two credible candidates and the two of them can't seem to get any traction. Why? Because Romney is not conservative enough and Huntsman won't sign Norquist's tax pledge so he is dead on arrival.

What you have left is a bunch of wannabees who are not ready for prime time and who show it by their "oops" moments and moral dilemmas. A flavor of the month that cannot sustain a lead. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic. The far right has ruined the Republican Party and disenfranchised the moderates.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Snow Gates - Are They Worth It?

It is that time of year when everyone seems to have an opinion on the use of snow gates. I have never been a supporter of snow gates. It has always seemed to me to be a stupid idea. This idea that government must take care of every little need and want of its citizens is what got us to the federal deficit today.

I picture those big  motor graders going down residential streets having to lift and lower that special equipment every so many feet to accommodate all those driveways. Really, do we have to have an argument about shoveling out one's driveway? Sure, it is a pain in the you know what, but Winter is a pain in the you know what. Shoveling snow off sidewalks and at the end of the driveway is a task that homeowners must do each Winter in South Dakota. If the City is going to do our driveways, maybe they should take care of our sidewalks too. Driveways aren't city streets, nor are sidewalks. Same, same.  Sure it would be nice to have the city take care of my driveway but is it a necessity?

How many single family houses and driveways are there in this city? A lot. How many miles of streets are there in the city?  There are approximately 780 miles of streets maintained by the City. The number of miles grows every year at about 14 miles per year on the average per the city's website.  All I know is that I want my residential street plowed right away and not two or three days after more than 2 inches has fallen from the sky. I also want it plowed curb to curb so I can still travel down the street without going through an obstacle course with all the parked cars on the street. 125 people showed up for a town hall meeting on snow gates and people loved them. The thing is, that test was an ideal situation. Those test areas got preferential and immediate treatment. Two very isolated tests versus the entire city - a little different scenario.

The 2010-2011 Snow Gate Analysis conducted by Public Works has some interesting information regarding the testing of snow gates that occurred from October 2010 through March 2011:
  • Total operational time increased 23% with the use of snow gates.
  • Fuel consumption increased 31% with the use of snow gates.
  • Annual plowing cost impact increased 33% with the use of snow gates.
  • Streets are narrower using snow gates - street width was reduced by 7 feet limiting on-street parking, and increased snow in front of mailboxes and fire hydrants for residents to remove.
  • Storm Water Inlets are covered with the use of snow gates.
  • Snow accumulation of greater than 30 inches poses safety issues and public concerns were expressed at a higher level.
The operational challenges for the Street Division of Public Works were:
  • Snow gates need to be removed for snow pick up, cutting ice, pulling sidewalks, and opening storm water inlets.
  • Removing or installing snow gates takes an extra 45 minutes each time.
  • For snowfalls of five inches or greater, snow gates were not as effective.
  • Wider streets take two passes - can't use a sander plow.
  • Wet snow doesn't clear the moldboard - need to backup.
The Street Division is going to do another test this season and they are going to use a different manufacturer of snow gates. They are also going to use private contractors this go around. Who knows, maybe this other manufacturer makes a better piece of equipment. We will see.

People in support of snow gates say it is a quality of life issue. People in support of snow gates say they already pay for the public service of plowing streets. People who support snow gates don't want to have to shovel out their driveways. I say fine, just accept the fact that it is going to cost more money, make your streets narrower, and it will take a little longer to plow the snow off of all the city streets. The extra costs and the operational challenges are worthy of consideration by the city council.

I still say they are not worth it. I don't want narrower streets. I don't want to wait longer to get my street plowed. I don't want to earmark more money to the millions already earmarked for snow removal. I want that money to go to fixing and maintaining the streets. A quality of life issue for me is well maintained city streets. A quality of life issue for me is no snow.  But then I chose to live in South Dakota, not Florida or California.

Don't send me ugly comments just because I don't agree with all of you who want snow gates. Personally, I think the City Council will cave and vote yes on the snow gates. Then everyone can start complaining that the city is not getting the streets plowed fast enough and too much money has to be spent on snow removal.  At least everyone will be happy that their personal driveways are taken care of and they can stay in the house, sit in their chair and watch TV.

After all, that is what government is for -  to take care of our every wish and desire, right? When they take care of things we should take care of ourselves, don't complain about your taxes.

Driveways are not streets.  Driveways and sidewalks are personal responsibilities. Snow gates are a want, not a need.

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    As I gather with my family on this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful that I am surrounded by people who are caring and compassionate people. We have so much to be thankful for this year. We still have our 93 year old Father with us. We are blessed with young children in our family who bring the joy and wonderment of the holiday season into our lives and we have the anticipation of another new baby girl coming into our family. This Thanksgiving Day we will share fellowship, eat foods that remind us of our dear Mother who passed away, talk fondly of her and enjoy being together again on this day of thanksgiving.

    I wish for all of you joy and happiness and love on this Thanksgiving Day. And a piece of apple pie and ice cream.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Should We Vote All the Incumbents Out?

    This week has been disappointing. The country's hope that the Super Committee would be able to come to a compromise on the federal deficit was dashed by our elected representatives to Congress who can't seem to come to an agreement on anything. Washington has become so dysfunctional that you wonder if any of them deserve their seats in Congress. No one seems to have the will to solve the problems of our country; they only have the will to save their party's hard line.

    Of course, there are those out there who are applauding the Republicans for sticking to their principles and saying no to any tax increase for the highest 1-2% in this country. After all, they signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge designed by an egomaniac libertarian who runs Americans for Tax Reform which threatens politicians of being targeted at that their next re-election campaign if they either don't sign the pledge or they break the pledge.

    Well, here's a thought. Maybe we should adopt the philosophy of KSOO Radio Host Rick Knobe and think twice about re-electing people who can't seem to find common ground and compromise that serves everyone. Knobe read this letter on his radio program yesterday afternoon and I reprint it here without edit. I believe Lauck is a senior advisor/counsel to Senator Thune.

    From: Rick Knobe
    To: Jon Lauck
    Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 2:11 PM
    Subject: beyond disappointed


    realize you and i are not close friends. however, i need to vent someplace where it might make a difference........sending something directly to the senators and congresswoman will get lost......

    this is a thought process more than anything......

    as a citizen, taxpayer, voter, i am tired of hearing,,,"we can't cut this, or that, or the other thing...."   i understand "protecting your base." nobody has to change, altar their course, or even think about traveling the down road differently.......damn the potholes, full speed ahead....

    we are now at a "t" intersection....we can't keep going straight ahead....the sharp turn left, raising taxes, will not give us the long term results the country needs.....the sharp turn right, cutting everything, will not give us the results we need either........

    i was praying somehow middle ground could be found and we would begin creating "the road less traveled."(at least by the federal government) neither the "left nor the right road people" wanted to create a new road.

    we are a poorer country, in all senses of the word, because of it........

    this is what i want from john and chrisite.......i want them to stand up and say "in south dakota we can get by without, this, this and this(specific cuts they know could and should be made).....and make them happen....who knows some other senator or congress person might get a conscience and say the same thing.........

    jon,  this country needs "leadership." we elect people to lead us....our track record of late is electing people to protect our special interests and hence the problem......

    i don't think i voted incorrectly when i voted for john....however, it feels as if he is becoming a parrot, and not a true leader........

    i am not sure about my vote for christie.....going to give her a few more months before i decide.........

    if congress has not made real and substantial progress on fixing the deficit and debt, my vote will not go to christie, nor will it go to johnson(or his son-don't like family dynastys) nor to john thune....

    not ready to throw my tv out the window(network) but am becoming increasingly sad, disappointed, frustrated, and angry about the lack of getting even simple things done...

    not one budget resolution done on time...........if this were the private sector.........when the shareholders have their annual meeting, all the board of directors would be fired for lack of competence...........and maybe personally sued for mismanagement.......

    i hope you pass these comments on to the senators and congresswoman.......i am not the "enemy." i am a person with some political experience. i know it is not easy to lead. but that is the start leading by specific example..

    we know one person can make a difference. we know one person can start a "movement."

    i want john, tim,  and christie to make that difference and start the movement.....the consequences for the country if they don't is dire...and so is their political future and legacy....


    rick knobe

    I just don't think Thune, Noem and Johnson have the personal conviction to start a movement. They have their party positions and have been espousing those party positions over and over again. The problem is no one in Washington does.  The public approval rating of Congress has sunk to 9%. The public does not hold Congress is high esteem and yet Washington does not seem to care. They care about their own agenda, their party's agenda.

    And that's why we are in the mess we are in. Maybe it is time to throw everyone out and start over. How much worse can it get?

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Grover Norquist's Legacy

    It is just unconscionable what Congress members are doing to this country. The Republicans are thwarting any effort to come to an agreement on debt reduction because it goes against their number one agenda which is to get Obama out if the White House. They blame the President for massive spending and say cuts should come before tax increases. Democrats say the Republicans are not representing the 99% and that the rich are just getting richer and need to pay more of their fair share. They both are willing to sacrifice the economic condition of this country. The Republicans, however, have a Svengali in their midst that is pulling their strings.

    I watched Grover Norquist Sunday night on 60 Minutes and my thought was here is another  man with narcissistic behavior traits who is almost evil in his glee over his control of Republicans in Congress. He is the driving force in pushing the Republican Party toward a  rigid position of opposing any tax increase, of any kind, at any time. The 60 Minutes episode  claimed that Norquist has been responsible for rewriting the dogma of the Republican Party. He wants to reduce the size of government to the size of a bathtub and then drown it.  What is wrong with these elected Republicans who willingly allow this man to control who they are and what they stand for?

    When you do something for fear of losing an election it means compromising your integrity and personal character. It is shameful that Norquist has never held elective office and yet his stranglehold on power and pulling the strings of the Republican party is unprecedented . They say there are cracks in his powerful intimidation but it takes courage to stand up to powerful bullies. There are plenty of cowards who are willing to sell their souls to win an election, it seems. His pledge has a strangle hold on Republicans and it is strangling Congress and its ability to come to a compromise on debt reduction.  

    When you compromise your principles by letting someone else control who you are and what you think or believe in then you are no longer effective as a leader or believable. Signing a pledge under a threat of being unseated in an election is pure bribery and intimidation.

    It was shocking to watch Norquist's glee over how much power he has over the Republicans
    in Congress. I wonder how they all feel about being his bitch? I wonder how Speaker Boehner feels about some unelected guy who actually controls the men and women of his party in Congress? Oh, that's right, Speaker Boehner signed the pledge. So did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 270 members of Congress and all of the Republican Presidental candidates except Jon Huntsman. He likes to play his little game where he says his pledge of no tax increase is not a pledge to him but to America and their constituants but he says it with the smile of a deceiver while he gleefully talks about the power he wields in the country.

    However, the most shocking thing he said in that interview Sunday night was when he talked about his role as simply protecting the Republican brand just as Coca-Cola ensures the quality of its signature product:
    Norquist: 'Cause let's say you take that Coke bottle home, and you get home, and you're two thirds of the way through the Coke bottle. And you look down at what's left in your Coke bottle is a rat head there. You wonder whether you'd buy Coke ever again. You go on TV, and you show 'em the rat head in the Coke bottle. You call your friends, and tell them about it. And Coke's in trouble.
    Republicans who vote for a tax increase are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.

    It takes a rat to know a rat.  

    2nd Reading of An Ordinance to Authorize Event Center Debt

    The ordinance  authorizing the issuance of sales tax revenue bonds to pay the costs to design, construct, equip, and furnish the event center and associated site improvements and the cost of issuance of the bonds is up for second reading and passage tonight at the City Council meeting.

    It is a rather large and complex ordinance in that it is a sizable debt authorization for a venue that has been contemplated and controversial for over a decade. The ordinance addresses two areas. First, the ordinance will address all the debt amendments that have been authorized since 1988 into this one document. Second, the ordinance authorizes the issuance of Series 2012 bonds and spells out the most important details relating to the new sizable debt:

    • The bonds may be issued as tax exempt bonds, taxable bonds, or any combination thereof.
    • The overall true interest cost shall not exceed 4.75% issued on a tax exempt basis or 6.50% issues on a taxable basis.
    • The maturity date shall be no later than November 15, 2037. 
    Once the Council acts, the bid process shall begin. We should know in January what kind of bonds will be issued, what the true interest cost will be and what the maturity date will be. I know one thing that is probably a sure bet. Before this construction debt is paid off, every council member who authorizes this debt will be long gone too.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Money Corrupts Politics - Big Deal?

    I just read a very interesting commentary by David Gergen. He is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

    I have always found Gergen to be an informed, balanced commentator who doesn't assault listeners with an extreme left or right perspective. He speaks with a quiet calm, not with a fevered pitch. His latest commentary is on money and whether it is corrupting our political system. It is an interesting read. He talks about a new book by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.

    The most striking items in the commentary relating to Lessig's book are:

    • The cost of getting elected to Congress has exploded: from 1974 to 2008, Lessig notes, the average cost of a re-election campaign ballooned from $56,000 to more than $1.3 million, a more than twentyfold increase that far outpaces inflation.
    • Fundraising is a constant concern: Candidates have to spend between 30% and 70% of their time raising money. (Lobbyists, however can ease this pressure through many kinds of what Lessig calls "legislative subsidies" -- advice, research, support, and most of all, campaign cash.)
    • The revolving door between Congress and lobbyists is spinning faster: In the 1970s, just 3% of retiring members of Congress went into lobbying. But by 2004, in the previous seven years more than half of all senators and 42 percent of House members had made the switch.
    • The incentives for lobbying are clear. A 2009 paper found, for example, that firms get between $6 and $20 back for every $1 they invest in lobbying for tax benefits.
    I think it is a safe bet to say that money corrupts. The question is how do you keep money from corrupting politics? If you watched a recent 60 Minutes segment on Abramoff and how he used his money and influence to corrupt members of Congress and their staff, you would be offended beyond belief.  As 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl stated, it made her sick and very angry. Look at the money the Republican candidates and President Obama raise to finance their campaigns.

    The power's that be must address the campaign finance system. Can we have a realistic expectation that Congress will act on the issue? It will be a cold day in hell when that happens. It is the fox guarding the hen house. Money talks. Money buys influence. Money buys power. Money corrupts.

    End of story.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Buyer's Remorse? The Devil is in the Details.

    It's been interesting to read articles in the Argus Leader after the election and listening to the bond council presentations. It's kind of like buyer's remorse when you've bought a big ticket item and then you go home and wonder what the heck you have done and how you are going to pay for it. Don't anyone get their pants in a wad since I am sure the yes voters do not have buyer's remorse yet.  It's just that it's interesting to hear certain things slowly come to the surface since reality has set in.

    Listening to the presentation last week when  the bond presenters said the final maturity date of the bonds could be as late as 2037 gave me pause. We were told the bond debt would be for 22 years. I guess we will find out how long the bond debt will actually be in January 2012 when the bond sale is finalized. The actual bond amount will be $115 million plus the cost of insurance, capitalized interest and the $9.5 million debt service reserve fund.

    So, how much will the city pay in interest? What exactly is going to affect the interest the city will pay on those bonds?

    • It gave me pause when I heard that federal government gets concerned when tax exempt bond proceeds get used for private purposes. We might have to issue a combination of tax exempt and taxable bonds which could drive up the interest rate. The issuance of all tax exempt bonds could possibly limit operations that precludes revenues from private sources who benefit from the using the facility. The bond company will structure the bonds to maximize the city's ability to enter into private contracts with private sources to maximize the revenues.  The bond council said the only reason you issue taxable bonds is you perceive the benefit of having the flexibility to generate private revenue from private users is going to be more than pay you back. So, I guess we will see how much their analysis says private revenues will be forecasted when we see the percentage between the tax exempt bonds and the taxable bond structure.
    • Because of the issue size of the bond, the recommendation is to get two bond ratings, one from Standard and Poor's and one from Moody's. Normally, the city only got one bond rating in past bond debt issues. With two bond ratings, you get more people interested in bidding on the bonds because of the size of the bond. Each bond rating will cost $65,000 which is built into the bond proceeds.
    • Bank qualified or non-bank qualified? Anytime you issue more than $10 million in a calendar year, the bonds become non-bank qualified. From a bank's perspective the bonds are not as attractive to buy because they can't write off the interest cost so you tend to pay a little higher interest rate for bonds that are not bank qualified.
    This is all very interesting because now the rubber hits the road. The devil is in the details. Citizens voted yes on the cost of $115 million for construction.  The train is leaving the station. After 2nd reading next Monday, publication of the ordinance and 20 days after publication (referendum period), they will move forward to authorize the execution of the contracts and documents to close the transaction. Issuance of the bonds will occur in mid to late January 2012. That's when we will all know just how much that $115 million construction loan will actually cost long term.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    City Council's Internal Audit Function

    The Argus Leader article regarding the City Clerk function also addressed the City Council's internal audit function. "Rich Oksol, the city’s lead internal auditor, suggested that it might be time to make some changes in the charter that guides the city’s internal audit unit. That unit was formed five years ago following revelations that the administration had spent money not appropriated by the council."

    City Charter, Section 2.10 Independent audit states:

    The city council shall provide for an independent annual audit of all city accounts and may provide for more frequent audits as it deems necessary. Such audits shall be made by a certified public accountant or firm of such accountants who have no personal interest, direct or indirect, in the fiscal affairs of the city government or any of its officers. The council may, without requiring competitive bids, designate such accountant or firm annually or for a period not exceeding three years, but the designation for any particular fiscal year shall be made no later than 120 days before the expiration of such fiscal year. If the state makes such an audit, the council may accept it as satisfying the requirements of this section.

    There is no reference to the "city's internal audit unit" in City Charter. Actually, this section specifically addresses an annual audit or any other other audits deemed necessary performed by an outside independent audit firm.

    City Ordinance, Chapter 2, Article II, Sec. 2-54. Department of finance states:

    (a) There is hereby created for the city a department of finance.
    (b) The department of finance shall be managed and directed by the city finance officer, who shall be appointed as provided by the charter, and who shall file a bond in the amount of $250,000.00.
    (c) The city finance officer shall perform all the duties of the city auditor and city treasurer, as provided by law in the South Dakota Codified Laws and in the ordinances of the city.
    (d) All references made in the South Dakota Codified Laws and the City Code to the city auditor and city treasurer shall be construed to mean the city finance officer.

    City Ordinance, Chapter 2, Article XIII Audit Committee, Section 2-133 states:

    The committee shall annually develop an audit program for the ensuing year. The audit program will be submitted to the city council for approval. The committee shall be authorized to hire an independent lead auditor as necessary. The lead auditor will report to the chair of the audit committee with a secondary reporting responsibility to the city clerk. Audit reports will be reviewed by the committee and subsequently shall be submitted to the mayor and the city council. The audit committee shall approve annual audit protocols for the auditors. The committee shall also receive reports from the auditors and shall make recommendations to the mayor and city council of changes in the city's financial practices.

    The fact is City Charter does not guide the city's internal audit unit. City Ordinance, specifically Chapter 2 Administration guides the Council's Audit Committee who oversees the lead auditor. There is no reference to an "internal audit unit." Actually, City Charter states the city finance officer shall perform all the duties of the city auditor, not the Council's Audit Committee or the Lead Auditor position under the city council organization.

    Here again, similar to the evolution of the "city clerk position" the internal audit unit has evolved and grown in duties and functions. It certainly seems that the City Charter is in conflict with city ordinance regarding the city's audit function and the council's internal audit unit.

    Maybe that's area for the new Charter Revision Commission to research and address as a matter of business when they convene in the future. There appears to be a conflict between the City Charter and City ordinance.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    City Council's City Clerk

    The City Council is trying to decide what they want their City Clerk position to be by forming ad hoc committee. The article in the Argus Leader failed to identify who was on this ad hoc committee. I suppose one could assume the working committee is made up of city staff and councilors but the point is, no one knows.

    The council staff positions have always been a kind of contentious issue since the change of government. City Charter sets out a clear delineation between the mayor and the administration and the city council. Where the city clerk was clearly the official record keeper for all city government functions, the change to a City Charter set apart the mayor/administration and city council functions and placed the city clerk function clearly with the city council.

    City Charter and City Ordinance still identify the City Clerk as the record keeper of all meeting and other documents and reports of the city.

    City Charter, Section 2.08 City Clerk, states:

    The city council shall appoint an officer of the city who shall have the title of city clerk. The city clerk shall give notice of council meetings to its members and the public, keep the minutes of its proceedings and perform such other duties as are assigned by this charter or by the council or by state law.

    City Ordinance, Chapter 2, Section 2-34:
    All personnel, functions, and financial responsibility for operations of the office of the city clerk are assigned to the city council.

    City Ordinance, Chapter 2, Sec. 2-24. Reports and resolutions to be filed with city clerk.

    All reports and resolutions of departments, authorities, boards, committees, commissions, districts, and similar organizations shall be filed with the city clerk and referenced in the minutes.

    The City Clerk position has evolved over time. Although the previous city clerk incumbent, Debra Owen had a law degree, the minimum qualifications for the position does not require a law degree. In addition, the position is currently titled City Clerk/Chief of Council Operations. Out of 14 task descriptions, only a couple tasks specifically address the official recording keeping function as outlined in Charter and City Ordinance.

    The City Council changes membership through the election cycle and each election cycle brought elected officials with differing views on what the city clerk function should be. The position has become much more than just a recorder keeper of city official documents. With the expanded chief of operations role, there has come controversay and contention.

    The City Clerk function serves a function that affects all city government functions, not just the City Council. The administration needs to work with the City Clerks regarding the scheduling of official documents on city council agendas. All records, reports and documents produced by the adminstration must be filed with the City Clerk. City Charter and City Ordinance is clear as to the role of the City Clerk.

    The "Chief of Council Operations" duties are entirely different. These functions specifically serve the inner working of the city council and is separate and distinct from the mayor's administration.

    Maybe it's time to separate the two functions and create two very distinct positions. If that had been addressed before, maybe the controversay over Debra Owen could have been averted and all the drama associated with this position can finally be put to rest.