Saturday, December 22, 2012


I wasn't going to write a musing about guns because it can become such an incendiary topic but I just can't sit on the sidelines regarding this issue. The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was horrific. I cannot get the image of those six and seven year old children being mowed down by a semi automatic assault rifle, some being hit up to eleven times. How do you get that kind of image out of your head?

Finally, after a self imposed silence following the massacre at Sandy Hook, the National Rifle Association's top leader, Wayne LaPierre, said at a Washington news conference yesterday that, quote, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

That may be, but does it have to be with an assault rifle and hundreds of magazine clips of ammunition? I drove past a gun shop in Sioux Falls a couple days ago and the parking lot was packed. I suppose every gun enthusiast in the area was in that shop buying up as many guns as they can, panicked because they think they are going to lose their right to bear arms.

LaPierre wants schools to have armed guards, volunteers if you can imagine. Did you know that over one third of the schools in this country already have uniformed police officers serving as resource officers in schools? Did you know that Columbine had an armed deputy sheriff at the school the day of the shooting there and it still did not deter the massacre?

It amazes me that people cannot stay rational and instead of going "ballistic" and losing their collective rational minds regarding this issue. Now we have a state legislature who wants to introduce a bill allowing school teachers and other personnel to bring guns to schools. I don't think school superintendents and school boards across this country need the NRA or state legislatures to dictate how to deal with gun violence in their schools.

Why did everyone wait with baited breath to hear what the NRA had to say on the massacre at Sandy Hook?

Why do they seem to have such power in this country to even be credible and relevant when speaking about the horror in Newtown, Connecticut?

Why should we have to listen to what LaPierre has to say about what this country should do about school safety while he arrogantly proclaims guns not to be the problem?

Guns are his bread and butter. Guns are his money. LaPierre and his NRA are the least credible spokesman to speak on this issue and La Pierre was entirely self serving.

That press conference yesterday was disgusting and insulting to the American public and the grieving families in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is no rational reason for any person to own a semi-automatic assault rifle and magazine clips that spit out 30 to 100 hundred rounds of ammunition in a split second ripping bodies apart as people are mowed down. It's excessive, it's overkill and both must be banned. Why can't it be as simple as that?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Postponed Election

The snow gate issue has been interesting to follow over the past two years. The city has been testing snow gates for a couple of years. If you read the report, it is clear that it will cost taxpayers more money for snow removal, it will slow down operations and it will narrow streets.

However, if you listen to the snow gate petition organizers and the people who signed the petitions to get it on the ballot, they don't care what it costs, how long it takes or that it will narrow their streets. They just do not want to have to shovel that mound of snow dumped at the end of their driveway and they want the city to do it for them.

Plenty of past political officials signed the petition and they were identified at the council meeting last night as if to prove that the present city council was not in tune with everyone. I personally do not lay much stock in these past officials signage on the petitions. I think some of them probably signed the petitions as a political statement to the present administration, but that is just speculation on my part.

It was interesting to watch the public testimony last night and the council responses. I can see both sides. People do not not want to shovel the snow dumped at the end of their driveways by those motor graders. I don't like to do it either. The petitioners want someone else to take care of their snow problem. The city council is concerned about money, logistics and operational issues. That's their job and they were doing it last night.

If you assume the general public is well informed when they signed the snow gate petition, then you can assume that those 8,000 plus people know it will cost more money, it will take more time to plow streets clean and it will narrow their streets. I am sure the people who organized the petition drive let people know those facts when they encouraged them to sign their petitions. Right?

I understand the city councilors concerns about logistics regarding all those leased vehicles and sub-contractors hired to assist the city in plowing streets. But the fact is they have been researching this issue for a couple years now and those subcontractors should have been voicing their opinions/concerns about meeting the requirements by now and figuring out whether they can do it or not. Right?

My disclaimer - I don't support snow gates. I have read the report and I don't want to spend taxpayer dollars on something that can only be used when snow levels are low. I don't want snow removal to take longer than the 3 days it now takes to plow out the entire city. I don't want narrower streets in the winter. When it goes to a public vote, I will vote no.

However, I am of the opinion that the vote should have been held in April. It is the city's job to research the issue and get the logistics studied and identified and communicated to the public. It's called educating the public. The snow gate petitioners organized and got enough signatures to call for a vote.

Whether you agree with this referral action or not, is no longer relevant. Maybe the city should have been more engaged and vocal about communicating and educating the public about it's reservations while the petition action was going on. Between now and April, the city could have been communicating it's reservations about this issue and laying out all the facts.

I know, I know, they said they don't have all the facts. The problem is the petitioners don't believe them and think they are stalling because they don't support snow gates. It seems to be a trust issue with Stehly and her army of supporters.

There is a bigger issue here, in my opinion. When people start organizing referrals and petitions affecting operational issues that are the responsibility of the administration and the city council, then there is going to be a problem. Citizens can't be in charge of day to day administration and operational matters. There will be a breakdown in government services. That is why we elect people to oversee such matters.

And that is why you saw what you saw last night. This is not good government, people. If you don't like what the city council and the mayor are doing then vote them out of office. Referring day to day operational matters to a public vote is wrong and Stehly and her army, no matter what their good intentions, are wrong in this petition drive. And yes, the council was wrong last night in postponing the election.

And now everyone can see the breakdown in good government.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A History of Mass Shootings in the USA

 This list (copied from the ARGUS LEADER)  is a heartbreaking chronicle of violence in this country.

I hate the way some people take these horrific acts and mold them into comments to support their left or right wing political agenda.

Why can't we just be horrified at the loss of innocent life and express grief and support in a respectful manner?

The shameful comments questioning the validity of President Obama's expression of emotion is beyond the pale.

The breakdown in humanity, respect,  and decency in this country due to political partisanship is shocking and disturbing.

Notable mass shootings in US

December 2012:
Gunman kills 20 elementary students, 6 teachers and his mother in Newtown, Connecticut.

Aug. 2012: Gunman kills six, before taking his own life at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin outside Milwaukee.

July 2012: Twelve people are killed when a gunman opens fire during opening night of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colo.

April 2012: Gunman kills seven at a California Christian university.

Jan. 2011:
Gunman kills six people and wounds 13, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a shooting spree outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz.

Nov. 2009: Thirteen killed and more than two dozen wounded at Fort Hood, Texas, army base.

April 2009: Man opens fire at an immigrant community center in Binghamton, N.Y., killing 13 before taking his own life.

March 2009: Man kills 10 people, including five relatives in rural Alabama, then kills himself.

Feb. 2008: Former student opens fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, fatally shooting five students and wounding 18 others before committing suicide.

Dec. 2007: Man opens fire at Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., killing eight, before taking his own life.
April 2007: Student kills 32 people and himself on Virginia Tech campus.

April 1999: Two students open fire at Columbine High School in Colorado, killing 13 and wounding 26 others before killing themselves.

May 1998: Two teens killed and more than 20 people wounded when a teenager opens fire at a high school in Springfield, Ore., after killing his parents.

Oct. 1991: Man opens fire at a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, killing 23 and wounding 20 before taking his own life.

June 1990: Man shoots people at General Motors Acceptance Corp. office in Jacksonville, Fla., killing 10 and wounding four, before killing himself.

Aug. 1986: Postal worker who was about to be fired shoots 14 at a post office in Edmond, Okla., then kills himself.

Aug. 1966: Man opens fire from the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, killing 16 people and wounding 31.




Thursday, December 13, 2012

Is Longfellow Elementary School at $1 a Good Buy for the City?

I viewed Director Smith talking to the City Council about the School District's offer to sell Longfellow Elementary School to the City for $1. I realize the City Council needed to know about the offer, but I would have rather heard Director Smith speak realistically about the offer than the pie in the sky, life is good, this may be a good deal outlook on the school district offer and we need to study it.

The $1 offer is not really a good deal for a city and it doesn't take months of study to figure that out. Capital dollars are tied up on many other projects out into the future. The school is two blocks away from McKennan Park so using the property for a city park doesn't make sense.

The building is old and needs to be refurbished, remodeled, updated for future use, whatever that might be. The city would have to do that if they wanted to use it as a city building. A community center is usually attached to an elementary school. A community center at that location doesn't make sense if it doesn't make sense for an elementary school.

It's awfully nice of the School District to try to unload their white elephant problem to the city by "giving away" their problem for $1 but we can't be that gullible, can we? That one buck will turn into millions of bucks to rehabilitate their problem. The city can be an attractive problem solver for the school district because the city has all that sales tax money available to them that the school district doesn't have at their disposal.

I suppose the city could buy it and try to economically develop it. Another TIF? Spend money on tearing the building down to ready the property for development? After all, economic development is supposed to be the Mayor and Director Smith's expertise, isn't it? Frankly, I would rather they stayed focused and direct their efforts on economically developing that Russell Avenue corridor near the Denny Sanford Premier Center and the downtown area. Priorities, people.

Instead of studying everything to death and putting the directors through a meaningless exercise in trying to identify possible uses, it is sometimes "prudent" to just say thanks, but no thanks and move on with the priorities already on one's plate. Vision, leadership and practical and prudent thinking, please.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Insulting SD Voters

Governor Daugaard's reaction to the defeated ballot issues is beyond insulting to SD voters. Here is what the Governor said on KELO-TV on November 7th:

"I think it showed a little voter fatigue on the ballot when you have that many measures, some with great complexity. It's bound to happen," Daugaard said.

Daugaard believes the ballots were long and issues too complex so by the time voters got to the back side of the ballot, they were in a hurry and the mood to vote "no."

"The voters don't have time to dig into and understand the facts that bare upon an informed decision and so when voters don't have that time then most are included to say, 'Well, I don't have time to dig into this and so I'm going to vote no," Daugaard said.

The state sales tax increase to send money to schools and medicaid programs was rejected by the voters. Governor Daugaard's education reform law was rejected by the voters. The economic incentive program requested to the legislature by Governor Daugaard was rejected by the voters.

These comments indicate the Governor is totally out of touch with reality when it comes to his constituents. The complete disregard for the intelligence of SD voters and their ability to understand the issues is mind boggling. Instead of insulting all those "ignorant" voters, maybe the Governor needs to take a more reflective attitude on why these measures failed by a margin of two to one.

Pure and simple, the voters did not agree with him or legislature on these issues and the voters said so in a resounding no. This Governor is obviously tone deaf to the voters in SD and that is a dangerous thing. His complete disregard for the voice of the voter is disturbing. His lack of being able to look inward to assess why the voters said no to these issues is disturbing. Sour grapes, pure and simple. Insult when you don't have a competent thought or valid self reflection on why something has happened.

Who does he think he is representing anyway? He is not in office for himself. He is in office to serve us, the voters. This is not a monarchy and he is not king. This is a democracy whereby the elected officials serve the general voting public not themselves or their particular ideology. Clearly, he has forgotten that by insulting SD voters and not taking responsibility as the state's leader for why these measures were voted down. They were voted down because the voters did not like them and did not agree with them, not because they didn't understand them or were uninformed.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sioux Falls Sports and Entertainment District

The City of Sioux Falls held a press conference on October 23rd announcing the creation of the Sioux Falls Sports and Entertainment District.

This new district runs south of I-90 to Third Street and East of I-29 to Minnesota Ave. It encompasses a huge area. What is in this huge tract of land that the city plans to market and develop as the Sports and Entertainment District? There can be no surprise that the Denny Sanford Premier Center, or Sanford Place as the three buildings (including Sioux Falls Convention Center and Sioux Falls Arena) are called, and the Sanford Sports complex are the real drivers in this new district.

These facilities must drive the economic development to make this all work. The Denny Sanford Premier Center is the 12,000 seat multi-purpose events center scheduled to open in 2014. The Sanford Sports Complex is a 162 acre complex home to Sioux Falls Junior Football League, Sioux Falls Tennis, Dakota Alliance Soccer Club and the Sanford Field House.

Sources tell me that the Sanford Sports Complex project is driving economic development already. Frankly, I have more confidence in the Sanford organization economic development planning process than I do with what is coming out of the city's economic development office. This sports complex is going to be an exciting venture for Sioux Falls and will surely spur economic activity all on it's own. But it too needs sustainable "rooftops," hotels and restaurants and retail to succeed in driving activity out there in addition to the sports complex activities. That area probably has more of chance of succeeding in economic development than the Russell Street corridor.

Development in the Northwest quadrant of the city has been identified, studied and planned since 2001 when city planners proposed growth and future infrastructure needs for this area. It is kind of humorous that the city is now announcing this new district as if this is a brand new idea. The Northwest quadrant is humming along. What isn't humming along is that whole area on Russell Ave where the new Denny Sanford Premier Center is being built.

There lies the economic challenge. The plan talks about TIFs and hotel incentives needed to kick start development. The plan states that in order to support night time activity in this area there will need to be a significant number of "rooftops." Restaurants need residents. There is a need for retail to bring in activity to the area. You need corporate/office/education for daytime activity. The West Sioux neighborhood doesn't support the kind of significant number of "rooftops" to generate the kind of economic activity to bring life to this area. The Sioux Falls Convention Center didn't generate economic development in this corridor although citizens were told it would do just that if it were built.

The city planning office and the city economic development office is leading the charge to facilitate development in this new district. They hope to bring property owners and developers together, identify development resources and potential and maximize economic development opportunities resulting from significant public and private investments. Lofty goals that I hope the City Council follows closely to see what progress they are making towards their goals.

It is nice to create this big huge district so the city can take credit for already planned development  and growth in the Northwest quadrant and piggy back off Sanford's economic development plans for their complex. The real test will be how the city can promote economic development in an area that has lacked oxygen for decades and now must produce economic development without a significant number of "rooftops" to support real economic activity in the Russell Street corridor.

I have more confidence in the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation to create economic development in this city than the guy who used the word "excited" 10 times in the last 60 seconds during his media presentation on the creation of the Sports and Entertainment District.

The city council should ask for periodic updates on this district and the economic development achievements created by the economic development office of the Community Development department. Otherwise, this plan is just another piece of fluff to be filed away somewhere.

Monday, October 29, 2012

RIP John Holsen, My Dear Father

My father was of strong Norwegian stock. His parents, brothers and other relatives all lived well into their 90’s.  He spoke Norwegian and loved to stump us with funny sayings. He led us in the Norwegian table prayer at family gatherings.

Dad said it was his goal to live to 100. He never looked his age and was delighted when people were astounded at how old he actually was. We are grateful that he was healthy and maintained his cognitive abilities until the stroke in February of this year. His children and grandchildren were with him when he reached 94 years, a short 14 days ago.

Dad grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota, the middle son of immigrant parents from Norway. He was singled out of his class in the 8th grade along with 9 other students to take Latin classes for the remaining years in high school, because he was identified as a gifted student. 

He quoted Latin to us growing up and loved to put Latin words on the scrabble board to stump Reid and Pam.

He played basketball in high school and was called Hols by his classmates and Dead Eye Dick in the local sports page. His love of sports has continued throughout his life. We lovingly called him - a sports fanatic. His grandsons and granddaughter all played sports in high school and he was especially proud of Sam who went on to play college football. He reveled in all their accomplishments.  

He liked to be told when the grandkids got their report cards and sometimes would reward them monetarily, to their delight. He carried that forward with his great grandchildren John and Hannah.

Dad was the only one in his family to go to college. He earned his BA degree in English and History from Concordia College in 1940. He was so proud of his time at Concordia and wore his Concordia class ring his entire life.

Dad was involved in theater in high school and at Concordia College. He said if it wasn't for the war and his getting drafted, maybe he would have pursued acting as a career. He has talked about his experience in college with great fondness and memories. 

Dad was such a grammarian. He constantly told us to enunciate our words. Stand tall, look people in the eye and enunciate. His great grandson John has his acting ability and his speaking ability and we speak often how Dad’s legacy lives on in his great grandson John.
Dad got his first job as a teacher and coach in Gwinner, ND.  However, he got drafted in 1941 and any thoughts to acting quickly went by the wayside. 

He received his basic training at Camp Roberts in California and after basic training got a job as a payroll clerk on the base. He took great pleasure in the fact that he convinced the people in California he could type, when he couldn't, in order to get a clerk's job.  He talked about getting that job with a sense of glee because he believed he outsmarted those people at the base.

He was offered the opportunity to go to OCS school at Fort Benning, Georgia and graduated in 1943 as a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was sent oversees in 1943 and landed in Brisbane joining the 41st Division at Rock Hampton, Australia.  He talked often about Australia and it seemed his time there was a little bit of heaven in the midst of great discomfort for many years.  He got malaria, he got a Dear John letter, he played poker and he sent money home to his mother.

He served in campaigns in New Guinea, East Indies, the Philippines, fighting in Mindenow and Basalon and was one of the first of the occupation forces to land in Japan. He often talked about walking all the way to Japan.  Dad came home from Tokyo and was discharged from the Army in 1946 with the rank of Captain.

In his later years when he finally started to talk about his experiences in WWII, he talked about his service medals and ribbons and what should be done with them. We decided to put them in a memory box for him and he pulled them out from where ever he had them stored.

He wrote Pam a note saying: You put yourself in your situation. You can get yourself out of it. Learn to live with it. He said, I got myself into that situation, meaning OCS school and subsequent deployment to the South Pacific by giving up a cushy clerical job and going to Fort Benning and getting a commission as an officer in the infantry.

He was a good soldier, a man who reached the rank of Captain and earned the Bronze medal.  We are proud of his service and the fact that he fought and endured so much for his country. His grandson Matthew continued the tradition of service to country by serving in the United States Marines for 6 years. Dad was very proud of Matthew’s service to his country.

When Dad got out of the service, he came home and went to the Employment Services office to apply for unemployment at $20 a week.  They ended up hiring him.  He didn't stay at the Employment office very long because he wanted to teach. He got a job in Winnebago in 1947. However, he quit and went to work for the New Ulm Employment Service.

Mom was staying with her parents in Fargo while he looked for a place to live and she called to tell him she was pregnant with twins. He often told Pam and me that mother cried when she told him they were having twins.

Meanwhile, Winnebago called him and offered him the principal’s job on the condition he get his master’s degree.  He agreed and he started the master’s program at the University of Minnesota the summer of 1948. 

He intended to go to school each summer but lost two summers when he got called back into the Army during the Korean Conflict, in July 1950.  He was recalled to the Army as a Captain. He was assigned to Fort Custer at Battle Creek, Michigan.  We lived on the base at Fort Custer for about a year when Dad received orders for Germany. Mother was pregnant with John and dad applied for a discharge when John was born on the army base.  The Army allowed eligibility for a discharge if you had 3 children. 

We all returned to Winnebago where Dad served as principal until 1955 when he got the Senior High principal job in Luverne. His Winnebago days were filled with lasting relationships. Winnebago was where he met and sustained a lifelong friendship with Bob and Donna Rose.

Their politics were like night and day even back in the Winnebago days and have lasted a lifetime. Those political differences never impacted their friendship. Bob and Donna and their daughter Elizabeth and we are grateful for their loving friendship.

He was often invited back to Winnebago for class reunions and former students from that era continued to come up to him in Mankato to talk to him. He often lamented that he could not remember their names and how could they possible remember him.

Dad got offers for principal jobs over the years but Pam and I begged him not to move us from Luverne and he did not take those jobs.  I think back on his willingness to sacrifice his career moves for his two daughters and am forever grateful for his generosity and compassion for the wishes of his daughters. 

In 1970, he became the Jr. High Principal in North Mankato.  Dad remained at North Mankato Junior High and Mankato West until his retirement in 1983.  1983 was a very sad year for all of us, because his wife and our mother died of cancer at 58 years of age.  Dad decided he didn’t want to work anymore after mother died and retired in May, 1983.

After he retired, he went on to announce High School girls’ basketball in Mankato. He also announced track meets, swim meets and 9th grade football games for Mankato public schools. 

Dad loved the game of golf and continued to play golf regularly until his 90th year. His grandchildren have very fond memories of him teaching them how to golf. He would say, swing with ease and you’re sure to please.  Another metaphor from Dad on how to live your life.

Dare we forget his love of the Minnesota Twins, the Gophers and the Vikings? He was most content sitting in his chair watching sports. Any sports, it didn’t matter. When he found out there was actually a golf channel on cable we worried he was never going to leave the house again.

Dad’s years as an educator have meant everything to him.  He believed in kids, even the tough ones.  He is remembered by the many students he was involved with during his career.  To some, he was the principal who cared enough about them to teach them in summer school so they could get a signed diploma when a teacher gave them a failing grade that prevented them from graduating. To others, he was the principal who showed caring and compassion when a girl found herself pregnant and unable to come to school.  He helped them continue their education so they didn’t become drop outs.  He could be stern but he was fair.  He loved to fill-in in the classroom when a teacher called in sick. I remember many mornings calling him to the phone to deal with an absent teacher. 

In September, 2003 The North Mankato Junior High Staff held a reunion and threw a surprise 85th birthday party for Dad at a restaurant in Mankato. He was very honored by their action and it truly exemplified the impact he had on people’s lives as an educator.

Reputation meant everything to Dad. We were always told to act like the world was watching our every step. He was a proud man where honor, duty, family commitment meant everything and measured him as a man. He loved his profession and felt strongly about helping those students who struggled to graduate.

Throughout Dad’s life former students would stop and greet him.  He always wondered why he was chosen to live through WW II when so many others died.  We believed and always told him it was because of the mark he left on our lives and so many students’ lives through the years of his teaching and caring about kids.

He taught Sunday school and adult church classes for many years both in Luverne and in Mankato. He was a scholar of the Bible and a Stephen minister.  His faith was important to him his entire life.

Dad was an avid book reader.  He taught his children the love of a good book and his children and grandchildren are avid readers today.  He was always quoting someone or something to us.  Quotes that had a life meaning.  

His letters and notes to us were always filled with words of wisdom and there were many times that those words sustained us in times of trial.

His favorite bible reference to us was: 

Suffering produces endurance, Endurance produces character, Character produces hope and Hope doesn’t disappoint you.  Facing adversity always meant support from him and this saying always brought us comfort and peace. 

He was inspirational when he felt we needed a lift and we were so grateful for his loving guidance. We found this writing in one of his notes to us:

 “In our age of health and wealth gospels, it is salutary to note that the concept of Christ’s kingdom is linked directly to tribulation and perseverance. Members of Christ’s kingdom will not be strangers to suffering and tribulation. Their response is perseverance. Perseverance, continuing in a direction when circumstances are not favorable is both possible and wise only because Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. The long view he wrote helps us to separate the important from the trivial.”

He wrote my sister Pam a lot, inserting his words of wisdom and inspiration. In one note he talked about Brother John and how well he was doing. He quoted 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 7: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. He said it was a good verse to live by.

It is hard to lose one’s parents, no matter how old they are, no matter how long or short their life on this earth may be. Dad lived a strong Norwegian life and made us who are today and we are all forever grateful and blessed.

These past 7 months have been honor and a privilege, and a blessing for us his children and grandchildren to take care of Dad since his first stroke in February.

I would bring my grandson Finn to the nursing home after I picked him up from kindergarten. His school was across the street from the nursing home and he would come out and say are we going to see Grandpa today? Dad’s eyes would light up when Finn came into his room saying, hi grandpa. Dad would hold his arms up to give Finn a hug. Finn loved his grandpa John and would say to me, Grandpa is really old. You’re old too Grandma but not as old as Grandpa John.

We talked about memories with dad those days in the nursing home. We quietly sat beside him afternoons and evenings as he slept, and ate with him in the dining room at Prince of Peace, reassuring him that he was not alone,  that he was loved dearly and how important he has been to us all our whole lives.

The day of his death he was lovingly surrounded by his children and his grandchildren. Dad has finally gone home to hear the words of the Lord, Welcome worthy and loyal servant.















Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Petition Drive for Snow Gates - So Be It.

I posted a blog about snowgates back on November 27, 2011. I went back and read it to see if my opinion back then still made sense to me or whether I should re-consider my position on the snowgate issue. Nope, my opinion has not changed. It seems to be me, snowgates are still a want, not a necessity.

You can argue all you want about the fact that we are spending millions on the event center, hockey rinks, tennis courts, outdoor pools and on and on, so it somehow justifies spending only hundreds of thousands of dollars on snowgates. That kind of thinking grows a deficit. Until the mayor and the city council address the budget and the CIP in terms of wants versus needs, we will continue to grow the city's debt exposure which will surely be on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren to repay, just like the federal deficit.

Are Snowgates Worth It? For the convenience of the homeowner, probably yes. But is it really a prudent use of taxpayer dollars when it is a want and not a necessity? It isn't just the snowgate issue. Everything that comes before the city council should be discussed in terms of a want versus a necessity. I guess the public will get a chance to decide this issue if the petition drive is successful, which I think it will be.

Read my blog of November 27, 2011 titled: Snowgates - Are They Worth It? There are over 20 comments on it. I would venture to guess those opinions have not changed one iota since 2011. People either want them or they don't think it's necessary. I predict a yes verdict from the public on this issue. People hate those piles at the end of their driveway and if they can get someone else to shovel it then yippee! What they don't understand is that someone else is the city using their money to do it. If that's how the majority wants to spend their money, then so be it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

County Detox Center Problems Troubling

Most people probably don't give a hoot about the Minnehaha County Detox Center because they or a family member has never had an occasion to use such a facility. However, the management of a county facility such as this should be of interest to taxpayers because it is taxpayers dollars that seem to have been mismanaged as it relates to the operation and oversight of the facility. The county paid a lot of money to this contractor to manage the operations of this facility and this facility has serious problems for what seems to be a long time.

The detox center is located on the second floor of the public safety building.  It's not like the facility was at some remote location. The Sheriff's department has employees in this building. Metro Communications is located in this building. The Jail is attached to this building. There is a lot going on in the Public Safety Building. And yet, no one seemed to know that there were serious problems with that center's operations until employee whistle blowers went to the media to get the county's attention as a last resort. That is never good and proves to be very embarrassing for government and elected officials.

There are a lot of third party contractors managing operations and functions in local government. However, that does not mean government officials can turn a blind eye to what is happening with these operations. In the case of the Minnehaha County Detoxification Center, it would appear that no one was minding the store.  Out of sight, out of mind because someone else was hired to manage it.  Due diligence and oversight is still necessary. Now the State of South Dakota has put the facility on probation and is not allowing any patient admissions because of serious safety concerns until a corrective plan of action is reviewed and approved. County officials said they already sent in their correction action. Fast action is good especially when you get caught with your pants down.

You have to feel a little sorry for the county in spite of what is going on with the Detox Center. The county is at the mercy of the state when it comes to a lot of issues relating to the indigent population. They don't always have control over expenses dictated by the state. However, it still obligates them to management and oversight of these programs and services.

In today's ARGUS LEADER, Minnehaha County Commission Chair Dick Kelly said that "the commission plans to keep a close eye on the detox center, and the state will, as well."   Is it really the county commissioners' job to keep a close eye on the detox center? Why isn't this oversight the responsibility of a county department? Maybe then it would not have gotten so out of control.

And it took a former employee going to the media to get their attention. Troubling.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Sign is Bigger Than Your Sign and It's Not Fair

The city is taking a look at the sign ordinance and will be recommending changes to the City Council. Right now, officials are holding public meetings to get the public takes on what the changes might entail.

We first heard about signs when someone filed a complaint about those "offensive" Catholic school yard signs. Neighbors reporting neighbors always seems to ignite a fire and this one seems to have fueled a bonfire. Not only will the city address yard signs of all kinds, but they will be revising language that affects businesses and their windows.

Ordinances need review periodically and the sign ordinance is no different. What gets scary is when the review swings left or right of the middle common sense approach. Local business owner Kevin Nyberg is right on the money and city official Jeff Schmitt seems out of touch on an issue affecting local businesses.

Window signs are currently exempt from the ordinance and businesses can fill up their entire windows if they want to in order to market their business. The city is proposing changing all that to make it "fair" for all business owners.

Schmitt has called window signage a fairness issue that makes things equal for businesses with and without windows, but Nyberg said entrepreneurs are competitive by nature and “fair just doesn’t fit our mode.”“I just don’t understand what you’re saying about it’s not fair,” Nyberg said. “If it’s not fair, go find another location and get windows. It’s marketing. It’s sales tax revenue. It’s being in business.”

Since when should the city be concerned about establishing fairness when it comes to individual businesses' ability to market their brand on their own windows? Businesses are competing for business. It is utterly ridiculous to think there should be a uniform ordinance that establishes all business marketing efforts the same in size for window signs and banners and how much space window signs can fill. Sometimes, people cannot see the forest for the trees.

If this ordinance review is like the ordinance review that took place regarding the parking of recreational vehicles on residential streets, then hang on to your hats. I have never seen so many RV campers, big house trailers masquerading as RV campers, trailers and boats on city streets until that ordinance was changed. There is one residential street close to my home where an RV camper, the size of a small house trailer, is parked in front of a residential home for weeks on end. The extender is out into the street and the thing is plugged into the house. The RV is so big it blocks the majority of the 3 car driveway and extends all the way to beginning of the neighbor's property. But I digress, back to signage.

Government is here to help make everything "fair" for the business owners and they have been working on it for two years. But in those two years of reviewing the ordinance language, they haven't talked to those corporate business owners whose marketing banners and signs are dictated by corporate offices.  Plenty of time to muck up free enterprise and local businesses' ability to compete in the marketplace and doing it in the privacy of one's own office without talking to the people they are affecting with the changes. Now that's the kind of help business does not need.

Where is the pro-business mayor on this issue?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Charter Revision Commission says Good Bye to Televised Broadcasts

The Charter Revision Commission reconvened on September 20, 2012. Commissioner Thimjon made a motion the commission move to working sessions over the next 3 months in order for commission members to review and familiarize themselves with the charter language.

Up until this time, all Charter Revision Commission meetings have been televised on Cable Channel 16. There was discussion about whether these sessions had to be open to the public and the answer given by the City Attorney was that, yes, working sessions were still subject to opening meeting laws which would require public notice and the ability of the public to attend the sessions but didn't require they be televised.

The justification for working sessions was to allow them to be better prepared to respond to changes/revisions coming before them. In addition, these working sessions would allow them to go through the language to see if they had any recommendations for language changes.

I personally don't have a problem with them having working sessions as long as those working sessions are to help them become familiar with the meaning of the language of the charter. However, the discussion at the end of the meeting started to sound like they were going to entertain  changes from the City Council at these working sessions.

Working sessions for the purpose of educating the commission members on how the charter language works and/or is applied is good idea. If you allow these meetings to drift towards discussing proposals for language changes, then those meetings should be televised. If these working sessions drift away from self education, then it will be clear that their motives to move to untelevised sessions is to make it more difficult for the public to gain information on what they are doing.

The BIG question is why do this? Why are they uncomfortable having their discussions televised and available for public consumption?

One commissioner stated that they haven't received a phone call or an e-mail about the charter commission's work as if that somehow justified moving to an untelevised working session.  Who cares if you don't get an email or phone call? Who cares if it seems the public isn't paying any attention to what you are doing. That is not the point nor a justifiable reason to stop televising the meetings.

After listening to the Charter Revision Commission meeting on September 20th, I am not sure what they are going to be doing at these working sessions. What started out as education sessions to help them be better prepared to respond to submitted charter revisions turned into sounding like they were going to be listening and discussing submitted revisions by the City Council. They now made it more difficult to watch them work and listen to what they had to say because now one has to physically go down to Carnegie Town Hall on their scheduled meeting day to find out what is happening.

Open government and transparency is a good governance. Government officials and/or their appointed boards should televise meetings because it is the right thing to do.  Who cares if no one contacts city/elected officials or even pays attention to what they are doing?  Inconveniencing the public and those irritating naysayers who question and comment on what you say or do is not a credible reason to stop televising meetings.

Oh, and why no mention of this meeting in the ARGUS LEADER and the change to untelevised meetings over the next 4 months?

If you want to know what this group is doing, you are going to have to physically go downtown to find out what is going on with this public commission who, by the way,  is working for the people, not just the administration and the city council.

Their meetings are scheduled as follows:

October 11th
3:30 p.m.
Agenda Discussion is Sections 1, 2 and 3

November 8th
3:30 p.m.
Agenda Discussion is Sections 4, 5 and 6

January 10, 2013
3:30 p.m.
Agenda Discussion is Sections 7, 8 and 9

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Let the Feds Do it" But I Will Keep the Money Thank You

It is no surprise that Governor Daugaard decided to opt out of creating a state run health care exchange for SD citizens. We are a small state and he says its going to create budget problems. Ok, so be it.

But it is troubling that he is not going to give back that second $5.8 million grant received in May. That grant was given to the state to continue it's research on establishing a state run health care exchange.

“We have not spent any of that yet, but we do not have to pay it back. We can still use it for planning purposes,” Venhuizen said. Although opting out of the responsibility of running an exchange, the state still will have oversight of the exchange as the federal government administers it, Venhuizen said. The state Division of Insurance would retain its role in regulating the industry.

This just signifies the problems with government at all levels in this country. Those supposedly freebie monies from the feds to the states and local government contribute to the national debt. Venhuizen is clever in his justification for keeping the money by saying the state still will have oversight. Let's be clear - the grant was given to the state to continue it's research on establishing a state run health care exchange. The governor decided to opt out. The state won't be establishing an exchange.
Do the right thing and give the money back. Otherwise, you look like you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. You hate Obamacare but you still take the money associated with complying with Obamacare. Two faced and irresponsible, especially if you profess to be the party of solutions and common sense and one of your objective is to reduce the national debt.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blog Going Dark

Jennifer's Musings is going silent so I can devote my time to my sick and dying Father. I am sincerely grateful to those readers who expressed concern and offered words of comfort and prayers. This is a very difficult time for my family and me. My focus is on what is truly important - love of family and commitment and support to a father who has shaped my life and provided me with guidance, love and support my entire life. Good-bye.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Transparency Only When I Feel Like It

Transparency in City Hall has a new meaning under this city hall administration. I suppose one could say the mayor is clever to hide behind the construction manager at risk designation for the Event Center.

The administration is not following the normal bid process because they are using the construction manager at risk process. The normal process is for the city to publicize the bids for projects. There is a deadline for submission of sealed bids. There is a bid opening and the bids are opened and publicized at the deadline.

The city can deflect the transparency issue and even state bidding laws with a straight face by stating that Mortenson Construction is awarding the bids, not the city. Deflecting who is in charge is pure doublespeak and does a disservice to the voting public. It's all about controlling the message and the information.

“The city is involved, in the room, throughout the process, but clearly they’re Mortenson’s subcontractors,” said Mark Cotter, the city’s director of public works.

It is pure rubish to say that the city is the subcontractor in the construction of the Event Center. That is like saying Morstenson Construction is the final decision maker which is as far from the truth as you can get. Can the public be that naive to swallow this line of bull?

It begs the question why this administration is so against publicizing detail information about the Event Center construction project. Oh yes, there are massive press releases coming out of the mayor's office all the time, but it is clear that it is only the information that this mayor wants to release. It is only information that makes this mayor look good. There is never any information that could be viewed as negative. It's all about controlling the news. Have you ever noticed that if a question is asked that might require the mayor to state something other than the "good news" he deflects to Cotter or Turbak?

I am not a star gazed follower of Councilor Staggers, but in this case, I have to agree with him. Why does City Hall use stonewalling tactics when asked for information? I can live with not releasing the information while the process is going on, but once it is complete, it should be public.

If the administration can't support and justify the result of their process, then the process and selection looks stinky even when it may not be stinky. The point is, who knows? The people who are paying for the Event Center have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. That's why transparency in government is paramount.

Transparency only when you feel like it is a dictatorship. It is controlling the message. It is not open government. And it is not what the mayor promised when he was elected. When one controls the message, it usually means there is something to hide. Is there?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Good Thing Going in Sioux Falls

The city just celebrated the completion of the first phase of the river greenway improvement between 6th and 8th Streets. It is beautiful down there and if you haven't had the chance to walk along the river front downtown, you must do so. The downtown area to Falls Park is a unique area that will only continue to revitalize our city and showcase Sioux Falls.

We didn't just get to this stage yesterday, however. At the dedication yesterday, our mayor was quoted as saying:

“Two years ago … I don’t remember anyone talking about expansion or growth (downtown),” Mayor Mike Huether said to the hundreds who came out for the ribbon-cutting. “That’s not the case today.”

Really? No one was talking about expansion or growth downtown before he got elected mayor? The river greenway improvements didn't just happen within the last two years. Nor did this mayor have the vision to make this latest expansion or growth downtown happen so shame on him for taking credit for it.

The Big Sioux River Greenway Plan was first adopted in 1975. The second Big Sioux River Greenway Plan was adopted in April, 1987. The Greenway & Riverfront Master Plan was adopted in 2004 and identified 4 Zones for development. Zone 1 was the Downtown Riverfront which encompassed approximately 2.5 miles from North Falls Park to 14th Street.

This expansion and river greenway improvement took years of planning by people who had the vision to see the potential of a river which meandered around and through Sioux Falls and a spectacular falls and park area that could become a focal point of interest for citizens of the city and visitors. People with vision have been planning the downtown revitalization development for years and have been talking about it long before this mayor took office.

Whether it's taking credit for putting up new directional signs for Falls Park because he says, “I’m a marketing guy, development guy and growth guy … or this latest completion of Phase 1 of the downtown greenway between 6th and 8th Streets, this mayor thinks he is a one man band for all that happens lately in Sioux Falls.

Sioux Falls' has had a good thing going for a long time and it has taken the collective efforts of multiple organizations, and people who had the foresight and dedication to see the what ifs, the potential in remaking and revitalizing the city's most important assets.

Downtown is the heart of this city and people recognized it and have planned it. This mayor just happens to be in office when Phase I was completed. Thank you, mayor, for not taking the money away from this project, but please don't take credit for a vision that was planned and nurtured and started long before you ever took over the mayor office.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

City Pension Reform

There is a big pension reform decision that will come before the City Council and active city employees who are members of the city pension system. This is a complicated issue and one that is not easily understood unless you are administering the pension plans or are a duly elected or appointed member of one of two pension boards of trustees. At issue is how to effect pension reform with the goal of reducing and stabilizing future employer contribution rates.

The two pension boards of trustees have studied the issue of pension reform for the past two years. They have conferred with their actuary and hired an independent consultant to study benefit changes and made recommendations for pension reform for active employees and new hires.

At the February 12, 2012 Board of Trustees meeting for the Employee’s Retirement System and the Firefighter’s Pension Fund, boards recommended tiered benefit changes for current employees and new hires and recommended these proposals be forwarded to the mayor and the city council with the belief “that the resulting plan provisions will continue to provide the City and its career employees with a sound pension plan while meeting our compensation and benefit objectives.”

The mayor didn’t agree with the boards’ recommendation on the tiered benefit level changes for new hires and subsequently made his own recommendation to close the pension plans to new hires and send them to the South Dakota Retirement System.

As a result, multiple presentations were made at the Information Meeting and the Fiscal Committee to present both sides. Presentations by the boards’ consultant, Cavanaugh Macdonald, were made at an Information Meeting.  The board asked to meet with the City Council Fiscal Committee to fully discuss their rationale and analysis for their recommendations. Representatives from the South Dakota Retirement System were invited to the City Council Fiscal Committee to make a presentation on the state retirement system’s provisions and operations.

It is not too difficult to see where councilors fall on the issue of pension reform. On the City Council Fiscal Committee, it is split 2-2. Two councilors, Jamison and Aquilar support the recommendations of the two pension boards of trustees. Two councilors, Entenmen and Karsky, support the mayor’s separate and conflicting recommendation. It has been decided that two competing recommendations from the City Council Fiscal Committee will be sent to the full council for discussion on June 19th.

The question to ask is……Why is the mayor inserting his own recommendation contrary to the Pension Boards’ recommendations?

Two years of study by the Firefighter’s Pension Board of Trustees and the Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees does not seem good of enough for the Mayor. Has the mayor attended two years of pension board meetings, read the pension board minutes, studied the actuary’s report or the report of the independent consultant before making his own independent recommendation?

City ordinance is clear regarding the administration of the city’s two pension systems and the fiduciary responsibilities of each pension board trustee:

Sec. 35-63. Administration of system. (Employee’s Retirement System)

The authority and responsibility for the administration, management and proper operation of the retirement system and for construing and making effective the provisions of this article shall be vested in the board of trustees.

Sec. 35-125. Administration. (Firefighter’s Pension Fund)

There is hereby created a retirement board whose duties shall be to administer, manage and operate the firefighter's pension fund and to construe and carry into effect the provisions of this article, subject to such powers as are retained by the council.

Sec. 35-77. Responsibility of fiduciary. (Employee’s Retirement System)

Every fiduciary shall discharge his duties solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries of this retirement system, for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries and with the skill, care, prudence and diligence, under the circumstances then prevailing, of a prudent person familiar with such matters and acting in a similar capacity. For purposes of this section, the word "fiduciary" means any person or entity who exercises any discretionary authority control over the management of this system or its assets, any person or entity who renders investment advice to this system for a fee or other compensation, or any person or entity who has any discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in the administration of this system.

Sec. 35-137. Responsibilities of fiduciary. (Firefighter’s Pension Fund)

Every fiduciary shall discharge his duties solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries of the system, for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries and with the skill, care, prudence and diligence, under the circumstances then prevailing, of a prudent person familiar with such matters and acting in a similar capacity. For purposes of this section, the word "fiduciary" means any person or entity who exercises any discretionary authority control over the management of this system or its assets, any person or entity who renders investment advice to this system for a fee or other compensation, or any person or entity who has any discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in the administration of this system.

The mayor contradicts the recommendations of the Board of Trustees for the Firefighter Pension Fund and the Employees Retirement System and comes up with his own recommendation.  He ignores city ordinance language that clearly states the administration, management and proper operation of the retirement systems and making effective provisions of the systems is VESTED in the board of trustees.

The board members have completed their fiduciary responsibility in extensively studying the issue of pension reform and have made recommendations with skill, care, prudence and diligence. Can the same be said of the mayor?

There is a compelling argument, on the surface, that the mayor’s alternative position sounds like a good idea. The SDRS has fixed rates and lower pension benefits. In the long run, it will get the city out of the pension business, albeit 30 years or more down the road. That is fine and dandy, except that is not the complete picture. What appears to be an immediate attraction to fixed costs is just one piece of the pension reform puzzle. One must also consider the fiscal viability and cost of the unfunded liability with the remaining active employees in the current pension plans.

There is a cost impact of closing the city’s two pension plans. The city must still continue to pay for the unfunded liabilities of current plans until such time as there are no remaining current employees – for next 15-30 plus years. As the consultant stated in its report, any cost savings from reducing benefits for new hires takes many years to manifest itself and the full impact is only realized after all of the current active members leave city employment and are replaced by employees covered by the new benefit structure.

The City Council cannot take any formal action on pension reform at the council meeting on June 19th. Any change to benefit levels must be approved by a vote of the employee membership. That is state law. That means the employees must approve the benefit changes first, then followed by the City Council.  If the employees vote down the pension reform recommendations, the issue is dead.

A split position among the City Council sends a conflicting message to active city employees who will be voting on the recommendations. Anything short of a unanimous recommendation from the City Council sends a bad message to city employee members of the two pension systems. 

The mayor should have resolved his differences with the pension board of trustees before it ever came to the city council. This is no way to conduct such serious business as pension reform and sends a terrible message. Is the mayor going to bully the city council to conform to his position, ignoring two years of comprehensive study by two pension board of trustees vested with the fiduciary responsibility to manage and recommend change to the city’s pension funds?

The mayor needs to support the recommendation of the pension boards and assist the boards and the city council in effecting important pension reform that will subsequently save the city and the taxpayers money in the future.

If the city council can’t come to a unanimous position on pension reform, why should the employees vote yes to pension reform.