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.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    I Have My Eyes on You!

    A little mischief out at the airport terminal it seems. This picture was on the ArgusPoliblog as well as floating around on Facebook.

    You have to admit that it is funny.  I am sure the mayor is not too happy about it. The thing is that when you put yourself way out there, day in and day out like the mayor does, this kind of thing is bound to happen. The mayor is everywhere. Hence, the big googly eyes? It is kind of amazing that the airport personnel didn't catch this "defacing" of our fearless leader as they walked about the halls of the terminal.

    I heard he got up at the diversity seminar the other day and talked about his difficult upbringing again, growing up with an alcoholic father and that he cried. He has obviously overcome adversity growing up as he is a successful businessman and mayor of the largest city in South Dakota. But really, how many times do we have to hear this story with tears?  The story was OK when you wanted everyone to know who you were and where you came from when you were running for office. I say move on, Mayor. You accomplished your biggest campaign promise - to get the event center built. It's the future, not the past that is going to impress people.

    We all have our googly eyes on you!

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    The Future of Downtown Development - What's Next?

    With the event center decision behind us, we can now look forward to the mayor's previously stated commitment to Downtown Sioux Falls with hopefully the same energy put forth in his event center campaign. The question is: What's Next, Mayor, for Downtown Sioux Falls?

    The city's official website under the Community Development Department says this about Downtown Sioux Falls:

    Downtown is the City’s center for business, finance, government, arts, culture, and historic architecture, offering a richly diverse range of dining, shopping, lodging, housing, education and entertainment opportunities. A prosperous, safe, attractive, well-maintained destination with easy access and convenient parking, downtown Sioux Falls is an especially inviting place to live, work and play.
    Downtown is the heart of Sioux Falls, serving as the main element defining the City’s image. The number of jobs downtown are expanding, making it one of the city’s largest employment centers. New residential units are being added and are among the most sought-after housing in Sioux Falls. Downtown continues to serve as the governmental, business, and financial center of the city, and these roles continue to grow.
    Continuing to thrive and prosper, Downtown is seeing new buildings constructed, underutilized properties redeveloped and historic buildings rehabilitated due, in part to the City of Sioux Falls offering incentives that effectively stimulate private reinvestment and ensure development is competitive to that of other areas within the city.
    Due to its unique heritage, historic architecture and great diversity of culture, social, art, entertainment and educational opportunities, downtown is a popular destination for both residents and visitors alike. Parking is convenient and available, bike and pedestrian circulation is expanding, and the hub of the public transit system maintains its central location – all downtown.
    Abundant parks, landscaping, continued integration with the Big Sioux River and Falls Park and the special consideration that developers give to utilizing quality materials and attractive building design all create a visually stimulating and aesthetically pleasing downtown. Additionally, investment and care are being devoted to maintaining and increasing sidewalks, streetscaping, outdoor art, and public spaces.
    Downtown is increasingly known as a center of fun, festivals, activity and excitement, with a reputation as the place where something wonderful is always happening. It is the place to go to enjoy arts, culture and major performances.

    Back in 2001, the City Council, by resolution, established an 11 member Downtown Plan Taskforce. The Taskforce was charged with the responsibility of preparing a long-range plan for the future growth and & development of the central business district.

    Eleven citizens were appointed to the 2015 Downtown Plan Taskforce in early 2002. The eleven citizens were:
    • Jake Anderson
    • Paul Boerboom
    • Tom Bosch
    • Pam Breidenbach
    • Julie Choudek
    • Cathy Clark
    • Dick Dempster
    • James Echols
    • Craig Hagen
    • Susan Hainje Hauff
    • Marv Looby

    Interesting to note - Darrin Smith, the current Director of Community Development/Public Parking Facilities was a member of that City Council at the time this taskforce was created.

    This taskforce worked with the City Planning Department and the City Planning Commission and liaisons with the Minnehaha County Planning Director and the Executive Director of Main Street Sioux Falls. The result of their work was the Sioux Falls 2015 Downtown Plan. This plan needs updating. A new taskforce needs to be appointed to keep Downtown moving forward.

    There are many things that have been accomplished since this plan was completed. There is much more to be done in terms of vision for the future, such as:

    • River Greenway Corridor
    • Public Parking Ramps ( first one to replace the River Ramp demolition)
    • Eastbank Redevelopment (east bank of the Big Sioux River between East 6th and East 10th Streets extending eastward to Weber Ave - an area of more than 45 acres.)
    • Northend Redevelopment (land adjoining both sides of North Main Avenue and extending eastward to include properties that front Phillips to the Falls extension of Phillips Avenue from 5th Street to about 1st Street.)
    • Southeast Redevelopment (Part of this area is within the established central business district while the rest lies just outside the current downtown boundaries - generally located between 11th & 14 Streets and between First and Third Avenues.)
    • Railroad Relocation
    • Uptown Project
    • Possible amphitheater

    It's time for the mayor and city council to appoint a new downtown plan taskforce to complete the plan and vision for the Sioux Falls Downtown area. There are many leaders/citizens in the community who joined the Build It Downtown campaign in the early stages of the event center debate who would be more than willing to serve on a new Downtown Plan Task Force. The mayor could go a long way in reaching out to this group whose underlying philosophy is that a strong downtown makes the entire city of Sioux Falls healthy.  

    After all, as the city's own website says, Downtown is the heart of Sioux Falls, serving as the main element defining the city's image.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    When Your Body Decides to Checkmate

    Every so often I get a punch that reminds me that life can be a fragile thing. I have an electrical problem in my heart that appeared rather suddenly in 2004 resulting in a four and a half day in the hospital.  It's called atrial fibrillation which is a pretty common thing but when it gets way out of control and the heart just won't cooperate by converting on its own in a relative period of time, it's a problem. I suppose there were signs before then where I kind of ignored the fluttering symptoms. Fluttering is one thing, but when your heart goes out of rhythm and stays that way, it creates a ripe environment for a stroke. I have been hospitalized when my heart doesn't convert on it's own. My Dad has atrial fib. I have it and it is irritating. I'm one of the lucky ones because I always know when I get out of sync. I can feel it. I also know when I am going to need outside help.

    Actually, I have been doing great since 2007. That was the last time I had to be admitted for it. Drugs can do wonderful things and various drug therapies have worked for periods of time. The first drug therapy worked from 2004 to 2007. The second drug therapy worked good until now. Boom, I had two episodes last week that reminded me this is no minor thing.

    I am a stubborn person. I try to get these issues under control on my own, usually holding out hope that my heart will quit being so stupid and cooperate. I actually believe I can control it. So, I usually wait 45 minutes to an hour before I tell my sister we should probably haul ass to the ER. Her usual response is to get very irritated with me and wants to call an ambulance. To me that is just an over reaction and a waste of money. I worry that I will know those first responders, the firefighters, and it will be embarrassing.  I figure by the time we call for ambulance we can be on the interstate on our way to the hospital. I hate the thought of the expense to the city's health fund. I know what a ride in an ambulance costs. It's the old HR experience with me hearing the cha ching sound as the money falls out of the fund. You see, I am a retiree and I know what retirees cost the health fund.

    The first episode occurred on November 3rd and a visit to the Heart Hospital ER. My sister drove me and I made her sit out in the parking lot with me until I was sure I couldn't make that damn heart go back in sync. I finally gave up and went in. I always worry that they will tell me I am not really in full blown atrial fib. Luckily I converted with drugs about 3 and a half hours later and went home. Things were not right all week after that but I just thought the old ticker was trying to settle down into its routine.

    Nope, it needed to do a checkmate. Something happened that was worse than the normal atrial fibrillation problem. Something called ventricular tachycardia that scared the beejeebies out of me. I actually thought I was going to die this time. I barely made it into the ER on my own steam without passing out.  I waited about two hours this time because the thought of going back to the ER less than a week later seemed obscene to me. Much to my chagrin, the same ER nurse was there again. I said to him, "don't you ever go home?"  All of sudden there were many people in the room with him. Different than a week ago. My initial EKG was very different this time. My ER friend patted my arm and said, "this causes death so I am glad we caught it on your EKG."  No going home this time, I got a ride upstairs to the heart floor.

    This was no normal atrial fib episode. A referral to a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology came next.  A hospital stay that lasted 4 days. Good grief. All I heard was lectures from my sister, my son, my brother, you get the picture, about calling for an ambulance. Yea, Yea, we will see next time. The thing is I know, you know? They are responding this way because they are afraid. My poor sister, all she kept saying on the interstate was - don't pass out on me. I feel bad about that, but not bad enough to call for an ambulance.

    You have to find humor in all this. I sent a friend an email and told him the vote caused me to go to the heart hospital. You can about imagine the response I got. No, the vote didn't cause a heart attack. I may have been against the event center, but trust me, in the scheme of things, the vote results was just another day in river city.

    You see, everything is relative. But when your body gives you a checkmate - now that is something to take seriously. I am fine and ready to blog another day. No way, am I done. I am just beginning.


    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    The Important Deciding Vote - The People

    It's over. Sioux Falls will be getting a new 12,000 seat event center that is estimated to bring over $36 million dollars annually to this community. I look forward to the boost in our economy and the results of the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Sports Authority, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, SMG, and Global Spectrum to bring the big events, trade shows and conventions to Sioux Falls.  I hope they can make good on all their promises.  The success of the Events Center depends on it.

    People were engaged in this debate and the voter turnout indicates that people care about this city. It was an impressive turnout and everyone, no matter which side you were on in this debate should be congratulated, not scorned, for standing up for their convictions. Democracy isn't always pretty. But on any issue important to citizens, you need debate, opinions, and commentary in which to make an informed decision when you go to the ballot box.

    This community was engaged in the debate. I am not regretful in getting involved in this community debate after many years of having to be publically neutral on issues facing the city of Sioux Falls. Getting involved means commitment. Publically taking a position and attaching your name to it means conviction for one's beliefs. Getting involved, commitment and conviction no matter which side you were on does not make you a loser. It makes you an involved citizen.

    The mayor has fulfilled his vision and commitment to get an event center built and I congratulate him on his victory. He says he is committed to developing and further promoting the downtown area and if the achievement attained yesterday for the arena area is any indication, we should expect he will work hard to meet that promise and vision as well.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    What Will Be, Will Be

    I spent the past 25 years of my professional career in city government, working with other visionaries who planned big things for the city. I used to be troubled by those naysayers in the community who I thought always were against a big idea, against progress and growth. So the irony of my position on this event center is not lost on me. However, this position of mine was not based on being against progress or a vision for the future. I just didn't believe this plan was the right plan at this time.

    You could not go anywhere these past few months without the event center topic coming up. This community is engaged and it is exciting. We are going to have a voter turnout that is unprecedented. No matter the outcome, citizens have finally become active in matters that matter in their community.

    I was talking to a young person at the Augustana Football game last weekend and he said he was voting yes because he couldn't stand the idea that an event center may not be built in his lifetime or for decades to come. He didn't care if it really didn't make sense, he just wanted it built.

    My thought was he was too young to be so pessimistic about the future and the ability for this city to make big things happen. It is an emotional position, not necessarily based on any facts or fiscal reality. It is not surprising since that is what was sold through the endless commercials and glossy flyers. Emotions are powerful in this debate. Big money has been spent to sell the vision.

    It's almost over. Hopefully we all can move on, whatever the outcome this evening. If it passes, it will have fiscal implications on this city for decades to come. What will be, will be.

    Crossing the Line

    Last night on election eve, a number of people stood before the City Council to offer public testimony regarding the Event Center debate. One of the people testifying before the Council was a person who was in opposition to the Event Center. This person is an ordinary citizen who chose to become educated and engaged in this very important issue for Sioux Falls.

    He woke up this morning to find unsolicitied Build It Now Vote Yes signs in his front yard and on the city right of way:

    This is clear trespassing on private property. It is also interesting to note that this person has an unlisted address. Signs placed secretly in the dead of night.  Petty, immature, childish behavior on behalf of the Vote Yes crowd. Obviously, they had some left over signs they didn't want to go to waste. This behavior speaks volumes for the professionalism of this group.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    The Right Vision for Sioux Falls?

    A Guest Post by Kevin Nyberg, reposted from Build It Downtown Facebook page:

    Just like over 2,000 of you, I joined this Facebook Group because of its
    mission and vision for the city of Sioux Falls. Tuesday's election will
    decide if this vision stays alive or vanishes forever. We still have hope
    if this plan fails. To me that hope represents the best vision for Sioux
    Falls for decades to come.

    I have not heard much about the future of marketing our city during this
    campaign. Marketing is just not about conventions. I believe we have more
    financial opportunities in attracting and focusing on visitors to our city
    than conventions. How do we want our city to be marketed in the future?
    How do we want to be remembered as a city? 

    Well, if you haven't driven downtown between 6th and 8th streets and viewed
    the new Downtown Riverfront Greenway I suggest you do so. And take your
    friends and family before Tuesday's election. This project along with many
    other Downtown announcements (Raven's facelift, Hilton Garden Inn), recently
    should give obvious reason to why we are not focusing on the one resource,
    the river, that could make our city stand out and be remembered by visitors
    for decades to come! 

    Yes, I know location is not what we are voting on Tuesday, but there are
    dozens of other reasons why the current plan is not acceptable and should not be approved. You have heard them all, but the two that stand out to me is a flawed financial plan and an economy that is
    unstable and unknown at this time. 

    I grew up in Sioux Falls and have witnessed many city elections. This one
    will be remembered for years to come. It has been a long campaign that
    started out with a divided city council and now a divided electorate. In
    my opinion no other election in our city's history has seen more drama than
    this one.

    Sioux Falls we can do better than the proposed plan! As some proponents of
    the plan suggest, "we will go backwards or become a second class city if
    this proposal fails." These are desperate comments and simply not true of
    the Sioux Falls I know.

    We can do better Sioux Falls! If you believe like me, please encourage your
    family and friends to vote NO.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011


    All you have to do is look at the headlines and then wonder about priorities in this community.

    • Lewis and Clark Federal Funding in Jeopardy
    • Tobacco Revenue Down.
    • 10% Cut in Teacher Salaries
    • Banquet Food Supplies Dwindle
    • Video Lottery Revenue Down
    • 46% of school age children eligible for free or reduced school lunches in Sioux Falls
    • Education funding cut
    • South Dakota population aging yet South Dakota first froze then cut Medicaid payments to nursing homes.
    • For the first time in nearly two years, the overall Business Conditions Index for a nine-state region of the Midwest and Plains has taken a negative turn.
    • Decline in out-of-state residents moving to the area blamed partly on the economy.
    • Construction spending in the United States was down 1.3 percent in September compared with September 2010, down $10 Billion for the year, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
    • Two Minnehaha County towns will reduce the number of hours they contract for sheriff protection because money isn’t available to pay for more service.
    • A long standing Sioux Falls manufacturing company will close for good early next year, resulting in 77 jobs cuts.
    • Minnehaha County has budget problems.
    • Many consumers are anxious about their jobs; angry about their salaries and increased workloads; upset about climbing health care costs; and worried about their mortgages.
    • Minnehaha County employees take a 5% pay cut.
    • Sioux Area Metro Transit facing possible federal subsidy shortfall.

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Stamping Out the Opposition

    You would have to be living under a rock not to know about the Event Center vote on November 8th. Clearly this community is engaged in the debate and it isn't very pretty or polite anymore.  What keeps popping up over and over again are the great justifications for building it now.

    1. We have talked about it for 10 years, we just need to build it now.
    2. Costs continue to go up, so we need to build it now.
    3. The interest rates are low, we just need to build it now.
    4. We will never agree on a location, time, or financing, we just need to build it now.
    5. The economy is picking up, we just need to build it now.
    6. The Black Eyed Peas passed us up because the Arena wasn't up to their standards.

    I don't think there is anyone in the community who really believes the Arena is a satisfactory concert venue. It is outdated, uncomfortable, with poor acoustics. This city needs a new concert center. Even the people in opposition to the current plan know that. The disagreement is how to get it done and get it done right. The mayor has his plan. He has the bully pulpit and the money to get out his message out to the masses. The opposition has used blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and a small organization with one speaker and no money. It is truly a David and Goliath scenario.

    People are right, we have talked about the concept of building an event center for the past 10 years but there has never been the depth of discussion and debate until now. We have the mayor to thank for bringing it to this discussion and debate stage.  The problem is the discussion and debate came after the mayor decided it was my way or the highway event center plan. Discussion closed. Debate over. Vote yes and if you don't,  you have no vision, are backward thinkers and just want to hurt the mayor and make it personal.

    Now, people who are vocal in opposition to the mayor's plan are being intimidated into silence, told to be quiet on Facebook, be careful what you say publicly because your reputation is on the line. Threats, intimidation and bullying is no way to win the debate. This thing may pass, but at what cost?  The split in this community is unpalatable.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Life in River City is Good? The Vote is Still No!

    The big press is on with only 4 days before election day on the event center. Today, Tracy Turbak-City Finance Director has a voices column in the Argus Leader telling citizens that the construction of the event center will financed in the same manner as other significant investments of the city like the Law Enforcement Center, Harmodon Park, main library expansion, etc. That is true, the second penny sales tax is used to fund construction of major investments. However, not to the tune of the investment of this event center and not for 23 years.

    I appreciate the fact that the city says we can afford to take on this debt. The city has always been in good financial condition and we have elected and city officials to thank for that. However, when they talk about obligating the 2nd penny sales tax for construction costs for 23 years, I wish they would also acknowledge that that same 2nd penny sales will have fund any ongoing maintenance and infrastructure needs that will occur over the life of this construction debt.

    Tracy Turbak goes on to say the event center operating budget is be funded by revenues generated by the operation of the event center and revenues from private sources in the form of naming rights, sponsorships and premium seating. He states "Superlative Group, Inc. determined the city could reasonably expect to derive private annual revenues in the range of $975,000 to $1.875 million." These revenues will be used to help fund the day to day operating budget of the event center and are "largely the reason the events center has been projected to operate in the black."

    I wish the city would also address the fact that we will have to fund two event centers and that the Arena is not going away. Two event centers competing for the same type of events, just on a different scale. Why is that absent from this discussion of the big picture?

    The fact is no one can "reasonably expect" the event center will operate in the black, not even the company hired to by the city to evaluate the Sioux Falls market. Not even the mayor and the finance director. You can hope it will, you can "reasonable expect" it will, but when all the other "event/convention center" facilities don't operate in the black in the Sioux Falls market or in other cities and markets, it is kind of hard to "reasonably expect" the Event Center will operate in the black. I would actually feel more confidence in their whole plan if they would just admit some of this instead of their pie in the sky, the city is right with the world mentality.

    This voices column is timed to assure the public not to worry, we can afford to do this. At the same time, the mayor has informed his mid-management people that they will be getting a 2% raise in 2012 by memo dated November 3rd. Some city employees haven't had a raise in 2 years or more.  Nice news for city employees, I think they deserve a modest raise. But after two years of being told to slash your budgets and no money for raises because benefits costs are too high and the economy was bad,  the timing of this good news message seems pretty suspect - 4 days before the election.  Votes!!!

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Local TV's Special Reports

    It appears the local TV stations have decided they finally need to get in the education game regarding the Event Center debate. KELO TV is dedicating an hour long special election edition of Inside Keloland on the subject. The planned guests are Huether, Turbak, Jamison & Barclay. Frankly, I am tired of hearing from this group and their same old, same old.

    I have often wondered where all those business people in the community are who stood up at the press conference announcing the new Build It Now group and campaign. There are some heavy hitters in that group who would have made a strong voice in support of the campaign to convince voters to vote yes. Afterall, they were committed enough to stand up, give money and their public support to building the event center.

    Build It Now Co-Chairs
    Alan Amdahl
    President of the Home Builders Association of the Sioux Empire
    Owner of Amdahl Construction
    Nicki Ellerbroek
    Owner of McNally’s Traditional Irish Pub
    Dr. Dave Kapaska, Regional President
    Avera McKennan Hospital
    Tom Kelley
    President of Gage Brothers Concrete
    Dr. Charles Pat O’Brien, President – Sanford USD Medical Center
    Sanford Health
    Mike Sullivan
    Executive Director of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority

    Why aren't some of these people guests for KELO's special programming? Why aren't these people out in the community doing some of the presentations?

    The Build It Now website says: "Build It Now Sioux Falls supporters are a cross-section of the Sioux Falls community, including local individuals, large and small businesses, and organizations that see value in bringing a new Events Center to Sioux Falls."

    It would have been nice to hear from some of these people at all the event center presentations  since this is the group that put the money up to lobby the citizens to vote for their vision of the value of bringing the event center to Sioux Falls. These business people have been noticeably absent from these presentations.

    Instead, all we will get is the same old tired song and dance and maybe a little intimidation and insincerity towards poor Mr. Barclay and Councilor Jamison.