Friday, September 23, 2011

Educational or Promotional

The following press release is on the city's website.

Date: 9/21/2011
From: Mayor
Title: City of Sioux Falls Offering Events Center Educational Presentations to the Public

The City of Sioux Falls will be hosting informational meetings about the proposed Events Center on Monday, September, 26, 2011, at the Downtown Library located at 200 North Dakota Avenue and Thursday, September 29, 2011, at the Oak View Library located at 3700 East Third Street.
Both meetings will occur from 6 to 7 p.m. and are open to the public. There will be a 20-minute educational presentation with questions about the project taken after. The citizens of Sioux Falls are encouraged to attend.
If you are interested in scheduling a presentation for your organization, please contact Vicki Skuya at 367-8802. The Events Center will be put to a vote on November 8, 2011.

There is a lot of comment and debate about these presentations whether this is something city staff should be doing.

The city has an obligation to present the facts to educate the public on projects they have planned AND which the city council has adopted in their capital program. The event center debate is an interesting one because one half of the councilors supported the mayor's vision and one half opposed the mayor's vision for the event center. Not necessarily a ringing endorsement of support when the governing body is split 4-4 and the person who is pushing a particular agenda foward breaks the tie. The mayor has the power and the bully pulpit whether one likes it or not.

The debate centers around whether the city staff and the mayor are giving "educational" presentations or whether they are just "promoting" the mayor's agenda. It is a fine line. Citizens need to understand the construction and finance plan so they can make an informed decision in the voting booth. The question is - do these educational sessions allow for interaction with the attendees or is it just one sided?

People should go to the "educational" presentations and determine for themselves if the city is educating them to the point they can vote yes on building an event center at the Convention Center/Arena site and incurring a 22 year debt that only passed because the mayor broke the tie to move his event center vision forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The New Public Relations Standard at City Hall

If you look on the city's website, you see multiple press announcements, press releases and announcements of upcoming press conferences. It seems the new standard is to announce that you are going to announce something. Then when you announce it, release another announcement saying what you announced. I like being informed. But do you have to announce that you are going to announce something and then announce what you announced?

I could list many examples but  the latest announcement to announce they are going to announce something is the Airport Authority Board. We all know that the mayor now interviews the candidates for board positions personally to decide who should get anointed by him.

In the case of the Airport Authority, he is not reappointing two incumbent board members. The noise out there is he is going to appoint his cronies to this board and that one of them just might be Dave Nelson, former Minnehaha States Attorney. Who knows. The announcement that the mayor will make an announcement will tell us who got the nod from the mayor.

The city's website is cluttered with the announcements of board appointments. I like that the city tells the public who is serving on the multitude of citizen boards. But do we need to have announcements to announce our announcements? Why can't the mayor just put out one simple press release telling the public the names of persons being appointed to the various boards? The city council has to formally act on his appointments at a city council meeting so the appointment(s) are public record.

Such public relations overkill but then again, if your agenda is to keep your name out front and visible, then bombard the public with announcements to announce what you are going to announce.

Date: 9/21/2011
From: Mayor
Title: Mayor Huether to Announce New Airport Authority Board Appointments

Mayor Mike Huether will hold a press conference Thursday, September 22, 2011, at 1:30 p.m. in the City Hall Commission Room to announce two new board appointments to the Airport Authority Board.
“The Sioux Falls airport has made progress on a number of fronts and the Airport Authority has a major hand in making that happen. These two new leaders will diligently work to take that success to an even higher level,” said Mayor Huether.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What People Are Talking About......

The city fired their official election officer who was charged with running the special election deciding the fate of an event center six weeks from now.

The person designated to run things at the city clerk's office is so new, he barely knows who signs his paycheck much less who to ask what when.

City officials kicked the media and citizens out of a public building on the premise that they were protecting the dignity of the person they had just fired so she wouldn't have cameras stuck in her face. Forget the fact that she faced the cameras right after they clobbered her that night and made a statement to the very press they were "protecting" her from.

Dignity, professionalism, decency and conducting city business in a productive manner disappeared last week at Carnegie Town Hall. This follows their disappearance from City Hall.

The city council may have violated the open meeting laws.

The official vote to terminate the city clerk may not be legal because the action did not state what they were actually voting on when they voted on it.

The mayor and the city council know how to do spin control when the facts get in the way.

The city council talks about following standard procedures but don't even know who locks up their own building at night. The city clerk, the police, the boogey man?

Someone told me the mayor walked into KELO to apologize to leadership for kicking them out of the building. He's not yet apologized to the public for denying them access to a public building.

The mayor is stressed out because of the bruhaha surrounding the city clerk firing incident and doesn't like the way the media, bloggers and commenters are talking about him. I tend to think the person entitled to be stressed out is the person he helped to get fired.

Someone said the mayor called into a radio program to blast people who are "spreading crap" around and suggested they call the city attorney or city council instead. It was said he then said the whole controversy was God preparing him for greater challenges ahead and that God should "bring it on."

Some say the mayor was seen throwing a very public temper tantrum at the intersection of 26th Street and Southeastern Ave  a couple weeks ago on his way home from work because of the street construction which caused a massive traffic jam. City staff were called out to the scene and looked like they were in big trouble. Rumors are another whack job on city personnel.

Another poll of 400 supports an event center; this one done by the Build It Now Group. The 400 polled represent "engaged voters" who voted in the last two general elections. Hmmmmm, random or pick and choose poll.

The public is being told to trust the city that borrowing $125 million will have no repercussions on city operations and finances when their actions last week indicate the public can't be trusted to know what the city votes on and why?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jumping the Gun in Finding a City Council Staff Replacement

I heard in a sound bite last week that the city council will be conducting a national search to replace ousted City Clerk Debra Owen. Conducting a national search seems a little over the top and means the position is going to be vacate for quite a long period of time.

In the interim, it appears the city council is ready to appoint the brand new recently hired council budget analyst to temporarily fill Owen's shoes. He has a high learning curve and it appears the budget analyst side of the council's business will need to be put on hold. Curious action to take. I hope he took political savvy know how 101 at Colorado Tech. He is going to need it.

This "city council chief of staff" position has been somewhat controversial since it's inception in 2005. There was much discussion back then on what the then eight city council members wanted in their executive staff position. One thing was clear back then though - they wanted something more than what the current position titled "city clerk" provided in city charter.

When you see how the vote went to fire the current incumbent last week, you saw new council members versus senior council members pitted against each other on their view of what they want in their executive position.

The problem with this expanded role, as defined in 2005, is that the position reports to eight politically different and constantly changing elected officials who sometimes can't even agree among themselves. It is a difficult balancing act for any incumbent to keep all eight diverging views and positions on an even keel and keep all of them happy with you. Couple that with the fact that the position must also serve as the council's  liaison to the mayor and his administration which can be a minefield of controversy and disagreement.  The end result is what you saw happen last week.

When you lump a highly political function with a specific administrative official city record keeping and election function, you get the kind of paralysis and dissension you now see in the city council office and a huge void in the election officer leadership duties considering an upcoming important election regarding the event center.

Maybe before the council starts the process to look for someone new, they should sit down and have a discussion among themselves on what exactly they want in their key executive staff position. The city clerk position is defined as to it's administrative function related to official city records and duties relating to serving as an election officer. Acting as the council's "chief of staff" is another matter all together.

Maybe, just maybe, the two functions need to split out to become separate and distinct functions and positions. Back in 2005, the council was clear that they wanted the assistant clerk positions to be protected from politics. They requested the positions be classified as civil service positions in order to provide stability in the records keeping function of city government. The "city clerk" position was expanded to include more "political type" functions.

It's seems pretty clear that the eight members of the city council don't agree when it comes to their executive staff position and what they want. It was hard to come to agreement back in 2005 and the position has been controversial ever since. The City Clerk/Chief of Staff position is vacant. The time is now to once again visit this issue. The city council needs to step back and not jump the gun on the replacement process.

Spinning the Sioux Falls Governing Body

I guess now we need to clarify what is meant when you say the words "city council." The latest controversy to grip local government shed some light on who and what the local governing body includes when the term "city council" is used.

The mayor AND the city council came together and collectively decided in a 5-3 vote to fire the incumbent. Did that 5-3 vote reflect the mayor's vote? No, it did not. That is because the mayor only votes in case there is a tie vote among the eight members of the what? I believe that would be the City Council.

When I look on the city's official web page and click on "city council," I don't see the mayor as part of the organization. This body has it's own mission statement and goals and objectives. If you click on the heading "About the City Council" you will get a primer on what "city council" means in terms of the governing body. No where in that section of the city's official web site does it include the mayor's position. It even has section titled "city council staff" where it says the following:

"In 2005, the City Council exercised the Home Rule Charter's provision of appointing a City Clerk to serve at the pleasure of the Council. In January 2006, the City Council established an independent branch of City government and for the first time hired employees to serve the legislative branch. The City Clerk was given new duties upon hire and now serves as a Chief of Staff for the Council. The scope of the new role includes directing and overseeing the day-to-day City Council operations, assisting the Council in developing public policy, and to operate as the City Council's liaison to the Mayor and his administration." (emphasis added)

In politics, you can twist anything to mean anything. Yes, you can even say that the mayor's position is part of the city council to justify certain actions. Yes, the council's leadership team of Erpenbach and Aguilar invited the mayor to meeting. So why do the spin to justify one's presence. Everyone still knows that when you use the words "city council" it means those eight people elected at-large or by district. The city's own website at even says so.

Spinning the words "city council" is subterfuge to justify why the mayor was present in the meeting last week to discuss a "city council" personnel matter and decide the employment status of the city clerk. We have been promised over and over again that there will be transparency in city government. It was missing last week in the great spin of the Sioux Falls governing body - whatever that means at the moment and the circumstance.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Be Fired or Resign

Evidently after the city council took it's action to fire Debra Owen, certain city officials then went to tell her she was fired and asked her if she wanted to resign instead of being fired. Debra stated her response was that they already fired her. She stated she was told that she would be paid for her accrued vacation leave but there was no provision for severance pay.

This has the same ring to it as the Felix firing. Felix got six weeks severance pay for resigning instead of being fired. She kept her mouth shut because she knew if she said she was really fired before she actually left, she would lose her severance pay which she said was very important to her considering she was blindsided by being fired from her job.

I guess this is the new practice in dealing with appointive officials at the city. Get them to resign so you can spin the story to your own benefit and keep the fact that they fired you from the public. The mayor's business acumen must not include employee relations.

There is no question that politically appointed employees have no civil service protections and may be terminated without cause.  But it sounds like decency in dealing with employees, no matter their employment status, has left the building. Politically appointed individuals still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Stampede - an Open Letter to the City Council

Below is an open letter from Rick Knobe to the City Council. It is being published here as a guest blog.

Rick Knobe

Vernon Brown <>,
michelle erpenbach <>,
sue aguilar <>,
kenny anderson <>,
rex rolfing <>,
dean karsky <>,
jim entenman <>,,
mike huether <>

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 2:52 PM

The stampede

when one buffalo starts to stampede, the rest of the herd follows. the followers don't know why they are running, they just do.....eventually one of the animals decides to stop, then others do, the leader may keep going for a while but then it will stop, look back to see nobody following and walk back to the main herd......all it takes is one buffalo to start the stampede, the rest will follow....

don't know which one of you started this stampede, but clearly, based on thoughtful and unthoughtful observation from those pesky voters and taxpayers, the herd followed and can't explain or don't know why.

not smart to dismiss your chief election officer 60 days ahead of the "biggest election" in city history.....

could this dismissal have waited until after the election, or were the "sins" so great they had to be punished immediately or the "republic as we know it" would have burst into flames???  If the sin was so great, many believe you owe an explanation.....

reading between the lines, it appears the city clerk may have been on the wrong political side of a personnel action.
if that is the case, you should have let the personnel action work itself through the system..and then if the end result showed she was clearly part of the problem, then action could have been taken.......

here is the perception therefore the reality on the streets::

1)   the council fired the key election employee weeks before a major election..........doesn't give much confidence to the voters. "What does she know,or what did she do, or not do,  that you don't want us to know.?"

2)  the mayor inserted himself into a COUNCIL personnel issue..... "can't he stay out of anything?  he started this because he doesn't like her."(the first stampeding buffalo?)

3) At a time when trust in our federal government is at an all time low, the mayor and city council have provided locals a reason to have doubts about the how our city is being run.   remember the public reaction to the major problems at the fair a few years ago???  in this instance no money is gone, no laws have been broken, no fraud.....  it leaves the question, "what could she have done so wrong to warrant an abrupt dismissal?"  I know you can't/won't answer that question, but many people in town want and feel they deserve  the answer......

4) This will blow over. These things always do. However, like Dave Munson and the phillips to the falls problem, like the mayor's campaign promises about private funding for the event center, like the city seeming to be asleep at the pot hole filler, like the dumping of sewage into the river, they all have an impact of voter perception, feelings, and trust.........mother nature, through freezing and thawing, messes with the streets, and she sent us more water than we could handle...most of us get that....but man made "disasters" leave long lasting memories, too....

5)  piece of advice for next time.........before you start the stampede, or worse, follow it,  take some time to think through the long term may have followed the law and procedure, but to many, you did so llke a herd of buffalo..........there were probably several other ways you could have handled this......stampeding does not appear to have been a good choice..........


Rick Knobe      

Who Shuts Carnegie Town Hall Down After Meetings?

There is a lot of he said/she said about who ordered everyone including the media removed from Carnegie Town Hall and when. In one instance, the police person said the mayor ordered it. The mayor said the council ordered it.  Another councilor said it was never discussed in executive session. There is a lot of back tracking going on which is just adding to the controversy over the action to fire Debra Owen.

Who is responsible to shut the building down?  Councilor Erpenbach said they were just following standard procedure. Owen would have been the one to lock down the building after normal business hours or an evening council meeting, she said. Well, not really. Standard procedures is for Facilities Management to have a building maintenance worker at Carnegie Town Hall who is responsible for shutting down the building after meetings. Do you really believe it is the City Clerk, the chief executive appointive officer to the City Council, who checks for people in the building and locks it down at night? Ridiculous.

It seems the elected officials can't even tap down who shuts the building down at night. My confidence level with city government is at an all time high. How about yours?

Sounds kind of like Curly, Moe and Larry down at City Hall and Carnegie Town Hall.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Covering Your You Know What!

When you think you have heard it all, you just need to read the ARGUS LEADER to get another jolt of the ridiculous and pandering at city hall to make one look better or cover one's you know what. You just can't put lipstick on a pig,  but I guess you can try.

The decision to clear the building of cameras was out of respect for Owen, Councilor Michelle Erpenbach said.

How nice of Councilor Erpenbach considering the fact that Owen didn't get much respect during the secret little process engineered by Erpenbach. She didn't even get the chance to stand up for herself. But hey, let's show her a little respect when we shove her out the door tonight. Clap, Clap, good riddance.

The mayor also said he sat in the executive session to lead the discussion about Owen’s position, not to participate.

“I have to facilitate these City Council meetings,” Huether said. “I’m a member of the council, but really, I’m there to facilitate or moderate those meetings.”

“My job was to facilitate the City Council meeting, and that’s exactly what I did. I facilitated the executive session as well to make it as professional and productive as possible,” Huether said.

Oh come on, now. He had to be in a personnel meeting to lead the discussion on an employee who doesn't even work for him? They needed him so it could be professional and productive? They can't be professional and productive on their own?  I heard you could hear his raised voice out in the resource room during the executive session. Have we ever known the mayor to elect not to participate in anything? After all, it's his business acumen that is leading this city forward into the future.

He may be a member of the city council, but he is not one of the city councilors who supervises Owen or acts on her raises or decides if she is appointed or reappointed. To insert himself into this process is out of line and out of order. Oh, that's right, he was asked to participate by Erpenbach and Aguilar. They didn't have enough votes to call for a meeting so they asked him to do it as a favor to them. Maybe they wanted him there to just cover their you know whats. Then the blame for this whole thing and accountability  could be spread around a bit.

I think it is interesting how the spin is going. I bet it has been nuts over at City Hall today trying to spin the nightmare they created last night. When you have to work this hard to control the spin it indicates something stinks to high heaven.

 It's ironic that when the Council fires someone they evacuate a building and when the Mayor fires someone he holds a press conference.  All in the name of showing respect to someone you just kicked in the gut.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Firings Keep Coming!

The firing of Debra Owen is another chapter in the demolition of the city's leadership team as we knew it.  In a short 17 months, we have seen the firing of the following appointive officials in leadership positions in city government: Schwan, Amundson, Bartunek, Buseman, Hall, Felix, and now Debra Owen.

What makes the firing of Owen different than the other six appointive officials? This appointive official served under the city council and was not under the jurisdiction or authority of the mayor. However, the mayor played a significant role in the discussion and firing of Owen.

I have been told the mayor personally called for the Executive Session to discuss  Owen's performance of a personal matter under her direct supervision. The mayor sat in on and took part in the city council's discussion regarding the supervisory performance of Owen in two closed executive sessions when this appointive official is not under his jurisdiction. City Ordinance Section 2-34 titled City Clerk states:  All personnel, functions and financial responsibilities for operation of the office of the city clerk are assigned to the city council.  Councilors Erpenbach and Aguilar brought the action forward to fire Owen. Add two more councilors to the puppet team of the mayor. 

The mayor has no administrative authority over the staff of the city council. Owen is an appointive official serving at the pleasure of the eight city council members. Her staff in the city clerk's office are civil service employees but are not part of the mayor's administration. They are civil service employees in the city clerk organization which is under the jurisdiction and oversight of the eight elected city council members.

It has been relayed to me that Owen was never allowed to address the mayor and councilors in executive session to address the charges against her. She was told to turn in her keys and leave the building. She received no severance pay.  It appears there is something highly irregular going on with this matter and it deserves the light of day with the public.

What is going on in city government when the media gets kicked out of a public building - escorted out by the Police? The actions today seem to indicate irrational decision-making and abuse of authority. Any media that calls itself a watchdog seems to be asleep at the switch and owes it to the public to wake up and shine a light on this.

Nothing about this latest firing makes sense to me from what I have been told so far. You can agree or disagree with how well the administration got along with the city council's chief of staff. But for the mayor and his administration to play a major role in the firing of an employee they do not supervise, or have authority over is highly irregular.

Monday, September 12, 2011

When Commitments Don't Matter

We read another article in the ARGUS LEADER regarding the budget shortfalls at Minnehaha County and the hard fact that they won't meet their agreed upon commitments to city government. The City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County have entered into two important cooperative agreements; one regarding the shared obligation regarding the operation of Metro 911 Communications Agency and the other regarding the funding of Siouxland Libraries.

It is hard to imagine how Minnehaha County can just ignore those agreements and elect to not fund their share of operating these two shared governmental operations. When they do not fund their share of expenses regarding these two agreements, the burden falls to the taxpayers of Sioux Falls. When a government entity is faced with budget shortfalls or deficits, it must act appropriately and to just say they are not going to meet their financial obligation is irresponsible.

How Minnehaha County got to this point is certainly up for debate. However, funding their share of Metro Communications is an important budget priority that should not be shirked away, expecting someone else to pay. I realize that the county has made tough decisions regarding salary cuts and even staffing levels but clearly their obligations to fund their portion of the 911 Emergency center that supports the Sheriff's jurisdictions in the county must not be ignored.

Siouxland Libraries encompasses the operations of the branch libraries in the county. If the Minnehaha County can not live up to its fiscal responsibility as outlined in the Siouxland Libraries cooperative agreement with the City of Sioux Falls, then maybe those branch libraries should be closed down. The taxpayers of the city of Sioux Falls should not bear the agreed upon fiscal responsibility of the county because they are not able to keep their fiscal house in order. Same goes for the Museum.

Their dismissal of an opt out seems to indicate their disregard for their fiscal responsibilities related to their cooperative agreements and sends a message that the City of Sioux Falls can just pick up their responsibilities and pay their bills.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sticking Your Head in the Sand

It's hard to understand the rhetoric regarding the weak ethics rules in state government. There is no need to have ethics rules because of the historically low levels of corruption in the state?  I was surprised to read today that South Dakota got rid of its ethics commission three decades ago.

Public officials should want to do everything to preserve the public interest and trust of  its citizens.  My impression of Pierre has always been that of a government town. People there work for state government. They rotate between jobs at the higher levels dependent upon who is in office but there is always a place to land if you lose your job to a new governor. I am not saying the people in Pierre are corrupt or unethical. The point is we don't really know one way or another. There are no guiding standards. Tim Rave, chairman of the SD Republican Party says he sees little evidence that stricter rules are needed. Why look for trouble when there isn't any, he says.

Daugaard spokesman Tony Venhuizen said the state has had low levels of corruption, so it's not clear that new rules are needed. He said what is key is having strong moral leadership in the governor's office. Well, that's not the point. The time to put ethics rules in place is when you don't think you have a problem, not when you do. It has nothing to do with strong moral leadership. It has everything to do with  transparency in government and a commitment to ensuring the public trust of the people you represent.

The naivete regarding this issue is beyond understanding. What is also ridiculous is making the issue of ethics standards a republican or democratic issue. It's an issue of  all the people regardless of which party you belong to.  How can anyone be against establishing ethics standards? To use the excuse that there isn't a problem is beyond reasonableness and good common sense.

The definition of ethics:
  • a guiding philosophy
  • a consciousness of moral importance
  • the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.
  • the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
Sticking one's head in sand is not good government policy. It has nothing to do with the fact that nothing has happened so there is no reason to establish principles of conduct.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Top of the World

I would imagine everyone remembers where they were when the World Trade Center Twin Towers were hit on September 11, 2001. It's kind of like the moment when you heard President Kennedy was shot or when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It is a defining moment in our lives when tragedy engulfs a nation.

I was sitting in my office when someone came in and told me to turn on the TV because a plane had flown into one of the twin towers in New York City and the building was burning. It was an awful sight and people started gathering around the TV in shock. We watched as the second plane appeared on the TV screen and slammed into the other tower. It was shocking to realize what we thought at first was a terrible accident was now a deliberate attack. It was hard to comprehend what we were seeing on TV.

I was in New York City with friends back in the early 1980's. We went to the World Trade Center. We wanted to eat at the Windows of the World Restaurant located in the North Tower but we were not adequately dressed. We decided to take the elevator to the indoor observation deck on the 107th floor of the South Tower. It took over 3 minutes to reach the 107th floor. I am not sure I would get on that elevator today. I have been stuck on an elevator numerous times to the extent that I will never get on an elevator with more than 4 people in it at any one time. But that is a story for another time.  You could feel the speed of the elevator as it rocked back and forth speeding non-stop to the 107th floor.

It was worth the trip. Do you get a tingling feeling in your lower extremities when you are very high up and are looking over the edge to whatever is below you?  What a sight! The observation area was floor to ceiling glass. There were drawings on the glass windows highlighting the New York skyline. But the exhilarating lifetime experience was yet to come.

We rode the escalators up this kind of dark cavernous space which was windy and went outside to the outdoor viewing platform on the roof of the South Tower. The South Tower rooftop observation area was at the 110th floor, at a height of 1,377 feet. It was a clear day and you could see 50 miles away. There was a fence on the roof with the viewing platform in the middle of the roof. We stood outside on the roof of the tallest building in the world. It was an experience of a lifetime. It took my breath away. The accessibility of such a thing seems so unreal today.

I remember how windy it was out there on the top. I remember seeing helicopters flying in the spaces between the buildings below us. I remember the exhilarating feeling of being out in the open, high in the sky, on the top of one of the Twin Towers.

The South Tower, where I stood on the roof that beautiful day, collapsed after burning for 56 minutes on September 11, 2001. A half hour later, the North Tower collapsed. I remember those twin towers reaching high in sky and the feeling of being on top of the world. I remember looking down and how far it was to the streets below.

I still shudder with horror at the thought of those very desperate people deciding to jump instead of facing the fate of burning to death high in the sky. I cannot imagine the horror of the people sitting at their desks and seeing a huge jet plane coming right for their building. I cannot imagine the horror of realizing that any escape was cut off below.

Ten years later when I look at pictures of those two buildings, I remember standing on the roof of the tower without the antennae.  I realize how different our world is today from what it was in the 80's when we had free access to go to the top of the world. A time when we feared no one and had the freedom and accessibility to experience standing on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center South Tower.

I mourn all those people who lost their lives that day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and feel sorrow for the family members who lost their loved ones.

What a wonderful memory marred by such ugliness, hatred, heartache and tragedy. Terror visited our nation that day in September 2001 and nothing is the same.

Downtown is Where It's At!

The Sidewalk Arts Festival is this weekend in downtown Sioux Falls. It's a sign that Fall is on its way. It's a sign that downtown Sioux Falls continues to be a vibrant and alive place to go.

The ARGUS LEADER reports today that up to 40,000 people will crowd the streets around the Washington Pavilion, which by the way, is in downtown Sioux Falls.

Where oh where will all these people park?

How will all these cars be able to get in and out of the downtown area with the lack of interstate highway access and 4 lane streets?

The argument about the inaccessibility of an Event Center downtown has a hollow ring to it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Show Me the Money!

The ARGUS LEADER's story headline today is Event Center group piles up cash. All I can say is thank you ARGUS LEADER for making me do a Tee Hee this morning. Really, piling up the cash? I was expecting to read a story about thousands and thousands of cash piling in. If $10,700 in cash donations since the Build It Now group formed is indicative of piling up cash then I now know what low expectations really mean.

"Sanford Health led the way with $15,000 for in-kind donations, money that went to a website and consulting fees, according to the filing. Avera McKennan chipped in another $5,000 for consulting fees, and the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce added $10,500 to the effort, money that paid consulting fees and research."   Good for you guys - now just pony up and commit to pay for the operating costs of the Event Center in perpetuity and I think we might have a game changer here. Then instead of Tee Hees maybe we will hear hands clapping.

"Alan Amdahl of Alan Amdahl Construction donated $2,000 to the campaign."  Allen Amdahl is co-chair of the Build It Now group and all he has donated is $2,000. Now that's putting your money towards your conviction! Not exactly a SHOW ME THE MONEY moment.

If the business community wants to convince this community that they are really behind this Event Center project financially, then they better start stepping up to the plate and show this community the money because the $10,700 is not really indicative of piling up the cash. 

ARGUS LEADER, really? Misleading headline and a lot of hype for nothing.

Revenue to Pay for the Event Center

Don't worry, good folks of Sioux Falls, KELO TV reports the mayor says the concerns over how to pay for the Event Center are unnecessary. The mayor says future sales tax projections show borrowing the building's entire $115 million price tag can be done while managing expansion of city services as the city expands. (Don't forget the additional $10 million borrowed to pay for the bond issuance costs.) The operation costs will come from private enterprise money.

I think the city of Sioux Falls should build an Event Center, but is the financing of this project  sound based on projections that the Event Center will increase revenues city wide and sales tax growth will continue to grow to 5% over time? Sure there will be no increased taxes. But that is not the point. For the next 22 years, the debt to build this building will obligate the 2nd penny sales tax. The second penny sales tax funds roads, infrastructure needs both present and future. It pays for ongoing maintenance of facilities. This second penny workhorse will also need to take care of the ongoing maintenance costs of this new facility over the next 22 years so add that cost on to the debt cost in the capital program.

Just because the interest rates are low doesn't solely justify incurring such a debt obligating that important second penny sales tax fund for the next 22 years. The world economy is in poor shape. Consumer confidence is at its lowest. The odds of a double dip recession continue to rise. I talked to real estate broker today and she said that the housing market is so sluggish. It doesn't matter that mortgage interest rates are at their lowest. People have lost value in their homes and can't afford to sell. Others are afraid to take on more debt.

Regardless of the vote outcome in November, this mayor should use every ounce of his business acumen and marketing prowess to go out to Pierre and lobby the state legislature to get legislation passed to allow municipalities the right to raise a penny sales tax to fund special projects with the approval of a public vote. I know, it means an additional tax but without it, it means that second penny workhorse collected in Sioux Falls will be diminished even further from its original purpose of funding roads and other infrastructure needs.

Will private enterprise really step up to the plate and fund the entire operating costs of the Event Center in perpetuity? The Washington Pavilion, the Arena and the Convention Center operations have all required additional funding from the city. We all know how often they have operated in the black.  All the promises made regarding the revenue success of the Event Center are pure speculation. The mayor says the building will make money. Why is this building different from those other venues? What crystal ball is he looking at? The KELO report says the mayor still expects private industry to generate up to $2 million each year and said that would help pay to operate the building. Never in the history of Sioux Falls has private enterprise stepped forward to pay for the full or partial operating cost of a city owned building and I seriously doubt that will happen with the event center in perpetuity.

  • Just who is the private enterprise(s) that will be paying for the operating expenses of the Event Center in perpetuity? 
  • Tell us who they are now and how much they are committing for how long before the vote on November 8th. 
  • Tell us what won't be funded in future capital program years if the projected sales tax does not meet the growth estimates 
  • Tell us what city funds will be used to cover the losses if the forecasted revenue and private enterprise don't meet the operating costs of the event center.

The mayor says he wants to have an open and honest discussion and let the people decide. Answer those questions and that just might have an impact on how people vote on this issue.