Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More of the Same for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, America

The results are in and the citizens have voted. The mayor didn't get a mandate but he did get a victory so congratulations are in order. Snow Gates, no outdoor pool at Spellerberg, new zoning ordinances and a Walmart at 85th and Minnesota - Sioux Falls is moving on. I am excited about what may occur at Spellerberg Park. Decade old zoning ordinances will be put to rest and we shall see how developers and residents get along in the future. For a Republican State that thinks there is too much government, we vote in snow gates that will cost more and slow down snow removal - just because we don't want to shovel snow on our driveways - go figure. Politics create strange bedfellows.

I am excited about Christine Erickson joining Michelle Erpenbach on the City Council. Rex Rolfing - sigh! I hope we see an engaged City Council that doesn't become a rubber stamp for the administration the next four years. Regardless of the outcome, citizens don't feel they have been listened to and no one on the Council should forget that.

I am not scared about what's happening in Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls has been robust and vibrant for decades. It's growth is phenomenal and it's civic and business leaders have been engaged and shown leadership. I don't see that changing. Personalities are big in politics. While I am not a fan of the personality of the newly elected mayor and how he treats people who don't agree with him, the majority of citizens who voted yesterday seem to like this bulldozer, so bulldoze away, mayor-elect.

You haven't seen anything yet! Why does that scare me and make me feel sorry for the internal workings at City Hall? Time will tell. When bullies get encouragement, they puff up and become monsters. Let's hope Sioux Falls, South Dakota, America weathers the second coming.  Good luck to the Mayor and new City Council. "Sioux Falls, South Dakota, America - you haven't seen anything yet!"

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Mayoral Election

Jodi Schwan wrote an insightful column in Sunday's ARGUS LEADER about the economic development possibilities, or lack thereof,  in the Sports and Entertainment District surrounding the Denny Sanford Premier Center. 

This article goes to the heart of the mayoral election this Tuesday and the future of Sioux Falls. There is no doubt that Mayor Huether made good on his campaign promise to build an event center. The problem with this achievement is it's short sightedness for the economic development future. I wish I could tell you how many times various persons have told me that this mayor does not believe in long term planning. The building of an event center in a wasteland of economic development is proof of that lack of commitment to long term planning for this city. The expediency of getting his campaign promise checked off his mayoral bucket list has left us with an entertainment venue that has nothing around it. The city has to prop up a hotel at Elmwood Golf Course to make it look like something is actually going to happen out there on a new stretch of 6 lanes of roadway with no businesses to turn off on.

Rhetoric has been this mayor's strong suit these past four years. Goodness knows, we have had more news releases and news conferences than most of the last few mayoral terms. Not all of it has been bad, some of it has been newsworthy, some of it has been self serving white noise and braggadocio.

Here's what I remember about the incumbent's first term as mayor:
  • Taking credit for road construction that has been the heartbeat and soul of the five year Capital Improvement Plan for decades. 
  • Being dubbed the downtown revivalist when Downtown SF is probably in the worse shape it's been since former Mayors Hanson and Munson took on Downtown revitalization years ago.
  • Money in the piggy bank comments when money in the reserve fund has been the norm, not the exceptional happening in the last four years.
  • The bullish economic boom enjoyed in Sioux Falls that has been bullish the last twenty years, not just in the last four years.
  • Taking credit for cheap airfares and the introduction of Frontier Airlines that had been in the works before the first term of this mayor even began.
  • The destroying and firing of city directors employed or retained as career professionals and turned into a political patronage system with the loss of some outstanding city directors and not being transparent about why they were no longer employed in his administration. They resigned, good people, I didn't really fire them.
  • The campaign talk about the wonderful city employees on his team these last few months when they were not even on his horizon or speech the first 3 years of his term. Oh, he did talk about those rich benefits city employees enjoyed when he addressed the Downtown Rotary Club his first year in office.
  • Casting a dim light on ethics and an appearance of impropriety by investing in real estate that gets TIF funding from a department directly supervised by the mayor and approved by the city council.
  • Petition drives galore - snow gates, indoor/outdoor pools, railroad switching lines clogging neighborhoods and traffic patterns, a Walmart on four corners of the city, development plans, spending issues, sweeping zoning ordinance changes. A restless and unhappy citizenry.
  • A city charter revision commission that decided it didn't need to work transparently and publicly in front of the citizens because they were being criticized for their work.
  • Choosing to not reappoint some city board members under a cloud of heavy handedness and retribution for not doing his bidding.
I could probably come up with more items but whew, this is enough to help me make a decision next Tuesday. By the way, I don't give two hoots about whether someone is a Republican or Democrat. All I care about is that the person is someone I have confidence in leading this city the next four years. And yes, the likeability factor means something to me too. So does humility, character, and honesty. A genuine, not fake demeanor, a sincerity that comes across as genuine and a commitment and respect for long term planning and a recognition and respect for the importance of city employees that is not just a convenient platitude to get someone through the next election.

I support Greg Jamison for Mayor. I encourage you to vote Jamison for Mayor on April 8th.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Superficial Republicans and Democrats

I am amused by the politics in the mayor's race this year and the crying foul that has taken place over the Minnehaha County Republican Party's flyer regarding the incumbent mayor's political persuasion. It is amusing because this state is full of Republicans who vote party line without even a thought as to the qualifications of some of the people running for elective office in this state. The word Democrat is a dirty word in this state and the people who are declared Democrats are viewed as big spending bureaucrats who don't understand how government should be run and are ridiculed at every juncture.

Yet, the crying foul and shame on you rhetoric over the republican flyer has many of the elitist and so called loyal Republicans running for cover. People are declaring I am a Republican but I can't support this and since it's so heinous, I must support Huether. What poppycock!

The fact is those redder than red Republicans were probably hiding their allegiance to that blue Democrat Huether all along and this flyer has now given them the almighty, holier than thou stance to say I don't condone this behavior and I have to show my disgust by voting for the poor misaligned Democrat. Poppycock again!!

When the city charter was voted in back in the 90's, I made the comment that local government was going to become partisan, just give it a couple election cycles. I predicted that the director/department head group would become political appointees instead of remaining career professional positions. It has come to pass, no thanks to the Minnehaha County Republic Party. It has come to pass, more so than in the past, by the incumbent mayor. Personally, I think there are a lot of Minnehaha County Republicans masquerading as Republicans when they are really Democrats because it's just not socially acceptable to admit democratic leanings and get elected in this state.

If you are now saying you are not voting for Jamison because of the flyer and are voting for Huether, you are the very superficial voter that has always existed in this state. All this flyer has done is give the mayor the venue to continue his woe is me, people are so mean to me personna. And all of you who are jumping on the band wagon calling this shameful and disgusting are superficial voters without a thought as to what party you call home.

You want to know what is disgusting? Meaningless rhetoric that moves the dialog away from the real issues and dumb voters who can't see the forest for the trees. Republicans with businesses and big money have saddled their horses up to Huether because the almighty dollar rules, not their party allegiance. So everybody just get off your high horses and vote for Huether or Jamison because you believe in what they say they are going to do for this city, not because they are Republican or Democrat or because some silly, petty flyer came out and your sensibilities all of sudden got slapped. Your superficial party allegiance is showing and it's not complimentary to your convictions.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Women Running for Office

There are plenty of articles on why women don't run for political office. A study by the Brookings Institute says women don't like the rigors of a campaign. Women don't get recruited to run like men do. Women have less freedom to balance work and family obligations with a political career. Women are less likely to feel qualified to run for office. Women don't perceive a fair political environment. Who knows why more women don't run for political office. There are plenty of men running for political office that aren't qualified to run. Whether the political environment is fair or not is debatable.

Running for office requires money and if you don't have some political connections or help, financing a campaign is going to be tough. I would think that is a problem for both men and women. There are 4 women in the local election this year, two are running against one another in the central district and the other two are running for the at large B seat and the southeast district seat. I hope we see 3 women on the council at the end of election night next week.

I think it is harder to run for an at large seat than it is running for a district seat. Running city wide is a big challenge, especially if you are running for the first time. Christine Erickson is running against Denny Pierson for the At Large B seat. Christine doesn't fit the reasons cited in the Brookings Institute study on why women don't run for political office. She's figured out how to balance work and family obligations with a political career when she served in the State Legislature.

I have spent some time with Christine and have come away with the opinion that she will be a good asset on the City Council. She comes to the opportunity with little baggage and preconceived notions. She knows what issues are important, to both her and the citizens she wants to serve. I must admit that I have a special bond for the Ericksons and their extended family. I have known her husband, his siblings and his mother for decades. That alone is a huge endorsement for me. But I know that people need to know more than that to vote for Christine Erickson.

She is a confident, well spoken woman. She has a clear vision and she is committed to serving this community.

Christine is committed to Sioux Falls:
• Small business owner
• Involved mother of three boys
• Thrives on collaborating with others to find workable

Christine will fight to:
• Improve and maintain roads
• Eliminate irresponsible government borrowing
• Make government smarter and more sensible
• Promote economic development and good paying jobs

 Check out her website to find out more about her. I encourage you to vote for Christine Erickson on April 8th. She will serve this community well and will bring a new and fresh perspective to the City Council.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Is the Mayor's Job Too Tough?

Incumbent Mayor Mike Huether and challenger City Councilor Greg Jamison spoke at the Family Heritage Alliance Luncheon on March 27, 2014. I had never heard of this organization. After listening to the audio of the mayor's comments at this luncheon, I decided to go look at FHA's website to see what this organization was all about. I did so, because I found the mayor's comments and his delivery of those comments rather strange and out of the ordinary from his usual presentations.

I understand politicians who pander to their audience. Every politician does it. It's like red meat to the masses. I am one of you, really I am. Personally, I don't like it because it seems fake and dishonest to me. These kinds of actions play people for fools. There are plenty of gullible people out there who will believe anything these days. If you doubt that, look on social media and see what people post from any far leaning left and right organizations that twist information and push people into a partisan frenzy. You see it at the national level but you don't expect to see at the local level. Family Heritage Alliance (FHA) is about as far right as you are going to get in South Dakota.

The mayor seems to be quoting scripture although he doesn't reference actual scripture in his comments. At times it seemed like he was describing himself to the group.  When he said, "But do remember, that I, your very present helper, am omnipotent" I gasped because I thought he was talking about himself. No way anyone would actually call themselves omnipotent which means having complete or unlimited power; having virtually unlimited authority or influence.

Emotionally long pregnant pauses. Strange commentary. Playing to a captive conservative leaning audience. That's politics, even at the local level these days. I guess it works but I have to wonder who is really behind the curtain. I wish politicians would just wear the same clothes all the time. Pretending must be exhausting.  He  feels persecuted, the job is so tough.  Let's relieve him of his anguish and his tears and vote for Jamison.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Freebie at the Expense of Neutral Journalistic Reporting

We are starting to see more campaign ads on TV these days because of the upcoming municipal election. It is the norm for an election cycle. Local television stations have a delicate balancing act during this election cycle between reporting news that is public information and reporting news that includes a public interest's regarding a specific candidate.

Last night's story on KELOTV regarding cheap tickets brings the subject up for debate. Let's remember that the airport is separate entity governed by an airport authority, separate and distinct from city government. It is not a city department.  It is not under the administrative jurisdiction of the mayor. 

The story lead with the statement, "When he was elected in 2010, Mayor Mike Huether said one of his top priorities was to bring down the price of airfare out of Sioux  Falls.Four years later, that's happened, for some destinations." It continued with this statement, "The airline business has changed changed considerably since Mayor Huether took office calling for lower fares. He helped bring Frontier Airlines into the city. Frontier offered lower prices to the West."

The story did get Sioux Falls Regional Airport Executive Director on camera for a brief statement and it did include a statement from a travel agent but it continued with the airport cheerleader, Mayor Huether. The piece concluded with, "Huether believes as long as people continue to choose to fly out Sioux Falls, the airlines will come. But if you work toward it, if you devise a plan, if you execute the plan then ultimately yes, I think we've got a really good chance to make that happen, Huether said. " 

Why was a candidate for the mayoral position featured in this story about cheap airline tickets? I get that he is the current mayor, but we are in the middle of a local campaign. Was including Huether in a story about the airport's achievement in increased boardings and cheaper tickets important to the completeness of the story? I'm not sure you could tell the difference between publicly important information and information that projected a mayoral candidate's purported achievements.

I don't think of our local 6 o'clock news programs in the same light as I view cable news. I expect neutral reporting of local news. Including Huether in this story limited the independence of KELO's reporting on the story of cheap tickets when they used him as source of information during an election campaign where he is one of the candidates. 

During this election cycle, the incumbent mayor walks a fine line between being mayor and being a candidate. The blame does not fall on Huether in this case. He was handed a golden opportunity and he took it. He got a free campaign ad. The story was written on behalf of a mayoral candidate who just happens to be the incumbent who just happens to be a cheerleader for cheap airline tickets.

The story would have been more credible if it had just been about cheap tickets and the airport and actually featured the person who actually runs the airport and who should have received credit for the good things happening at the airport. Just once I'd like to see Dan Letellier get some credit for what's happening at the airport. Afterall, he is the executive director who runs things out there.
Oh, and when I see a campaign ad, I don't want to see it reported by a journalist.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Government by TV

Are you a C-SPAN watcher? Do you turn on CitiLink and watch the City business happenings right in your living room? C-SPAN is marking 35 years of live coverage of the House of Representatives this week.   "It's probably the worst thing that happened to the Congress," Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, declared in an interview with USA TODAY. He goes on to say that he thinks the television coverage has contributed to the polarization between parties today.

That's partly true, I suppose. If you are a political junkie of any proportion, you have multitude of news outlets on TV to satisfy your interest. Add in the FOX NEWS, MSNBC, CNN, etc. and you can bombard your senses to eternity and never really know what is reality and fact.  

Let's be clear, however. FOX and MSNBC are not televising news. They are televising opinions and commentary. C-SPAN is televising actual official meetings of government in action without commentary.
Is what we are seeing on TV good government or is it the theatrics of elected officials pandering to their base? I'm not sure that is any better than the blathering we listen to on FOX or MSNBC, but it is certainly better than no information at all.

I have to admit that I was a strong proponent of expanding the city's cable channel decades ago. We had a cable channel and we weren't using it. The city had a unique opportunity to bring government to the people. Broadcasting official city council meetings, Planning Commission meetings, board meetings was a new idea and frankly not everyone wanted it broadcast in such a public way. The public might actually see the emperor with no clothes on, so to speak. Others embraced the concept and that's where theatrics comes into play. It doesn't matter whether you are a municipal, county or state elected official or whether you are a member of Congress, playing to the camera gives you a license to act and play to the audience. And it is done every day.

So how do we poor minions determine what is real and what is fake? The fact is we don't know. My answer to that is to watch all of it to form my own opinion. The reality is a lot of the public chooses one outlet and takes what it hears from one source for fact and that's how polarization between parties and harsh discourse is created and sustained.

Government needs to see the light of day. We need to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are millions of people who love to watch government in action. There are millions of people who watch nothing and pay no attention to what government is doing. I side with turning the lights and cameras on government, even when I know elected officials are just pandering to their base and not demonstrating good public policy for all. Because without TV, elected officials are hiding behind the curtain and when you hide behind the curtain bad things can happen to us minions.

Perfect? No, but it's better than total blackout and ignorance.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

City Election Double Standards

City Ordinance 38.023 (b)(1) (A)(B) states: Candidates shall file a statement of financial interest within 15 days after filing nomination petitions.

An article in the 3/22/14 edition of the ARGUS LEADER reported on mayoral and city council candidates financial income. What's pretty clear from the article is there are no standards in the city clerk's office when it comes to filling out the statement of financial interest. It looks like the candidates can put down pretty much any version they want when it comes to answering the financial disclosure.

Here's what the statement of financial interest form actually asks each candidate to provide:

List any enterprise which accounted for more than 10 percent of, or contributed more than $2,000 to, your family's (including spouse, minor children living at home) gross income in the preceding calendar year. Identify who receives the income from each enterprise. What is the nature of your immediate family's association with each? The value of the financial interest need not be reported.

List any enterprise in which you, your spouse, or minor children living at home control more than 10 percent of the capital or stock. Identify who has the ownership interest in each enterprise. What is the nature of your immediate family's association with each?

Evidently there is no penalty for omissions as long as it's not intentional. How the city attorney/city clerk office would determine what is intentional deception or stupidity is unclear. Both Huether and Erpenbach forgot to list their city salaries and Pierson didn't list any income at all.

Every single candidate listed specific employment or names of investments except for Huether and Pierson. Pierson stated zero to each of the questions above which should have prompted a question from the city clerk's office. Huether listed his financial interests in vague terms: "mutual funds, stocks, bonds, investment property, ethanol, municipal bonds, money markets, annuities, IRAs. The dividends, interest or capital gains are paid to Mike and/or Cindy Huether, my spouse."

Schwan attached 5 pages specifically identifying her investments and the type of investment. The ARGUS LEADER reported that "Schwan asked Hogstad (City Clerk) for guidance and was told she should list each bond." Schwan stated, "I wanted to make sure I was in complete compliance with the statement of financial interest." 

As long as the candidate meets the requirements of the law, their forms are accepted,” Hogstad said. “They can add more detail or specifics if they wish.”
There must be reason for asking each candidate to disclose any financial matter that accounts for 10% or contributed more than $2,000 to their gross income. It's a mystery that the city asks for it but doesn't seem to care how a candidate completes the form. It seems there is no standard  for the candidate's Statement of Financial Interest. Doesn't anyone in the City Clerk's office review the statement submissions for compliance or completeness? How about the City Attorney reviewing the documents for compliance? What's the purpose of letting the candidate decide what he/she interprets as compliance? It seems like no one is minding the store when it comes to election compliance.

It is refreshing to see we have council candidate who takes the statement of financial interest seriously and wants to be in compliance. The current mayor and city councilors could take a page from Candidate Schwan's ethics book.

What is a real double standard is the fact that the city expects candidates for public office to disclose their income and investments for not only themselves but also their spouse and minors living in their home but once they get in office, the ethics and conflict of interest ordinances only speak to the elected official and don't give a rip about the spouse.

Once again, we must ask where is the transparency of our elected officials and ask why there seems to be such a lack of interest in disclosing their financial information. I don't know if it is intentional deception or stupidity but in either case it is not a trait worthy of getting my vote and shouldn't be worthy of your vote. We can do better. We should expect better and we should never accept these examples of a double standard in financial disclosure.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cherry Picking How to Educate the Public?

The Mayor spoke at the March 14, 2014 Democratic Forum at the VFW. Bruce Danielson, Chairman for Citizen's for Integrity, was at the forum and during the Q&A session and asked the Mayor why the 3 Charter Revision Commission ballot measures were not part of the city's educational forums.

For those of you who don't know who or what the Citizen's for Integrity is, it is a group of Sioux Falls residents who started a petition drive on February 8th because they believe the city has stepped over the grey line of "education" into "advocacy" and says the Supreme Court has ruled advocacy with the use of tax dollars is unconstitutional. Danielson has become very visible, attending council meetings and the city's educational forums.

The city's news release dated February 27, 2014 announced they would host 8 public meetings regarding 4 ballot questions to be decided during the April 8th municipal election. For those of you who don't know, the four ballot issues the news release is talking about are: Spellerberg Aquatic Center, Snow Gates, Commercial Zoning at 85th and Minnesota Avenue (Walmart), and the Shape Places Zoning Ordinance. It said the public meetings would include video presentations and time for Q&A.  The news release went on to say the videos have been approved by the City Attorney's office to be strictly education so that the voters can be more informed when they go the pools - an obvious reference to Citizens for Integrity.

Danielson caught the VFW exchange on video and posted it on YouTube, here for you to review. In summary, the Mayor responded to Danielson that you have to find common ground, some compromise and some common sense and the ones that got the most attention by the people of Sioux Falls, the ones they wanted and brought to the ballot process, are ones that get the benefit of the education process. When Danielson pursued a follow-up, the Mayor tried to call on someone else telling him he might not have liked his response but he answered his question. Danielson pursued again and the Mayor responded, "Where do you stop?"

Where do you stop? The question should have been, Where do you begin? The Mayor has got it wrong on this issue and it has only given fodder to the Citizen's for Integrity group who is challenging the city on their "advocacy" versus "education" campaign and rightly so. The news release works so hard to convince the public that it's strictly education and yet doesn't include all the ballot measures/issues that the voters are going to facing in the ballot box on April 8th. Instead, the mayor cherry picked the issues the public challenged their official action and collected enough signatures to refer their official decisions to a vote of citizens.

Education and advocacy is a fine line and the city has always struggled with what to do on referred ballot issues. It is certainly a legal issue and one that the City Attorney's office has weighed in on over the years. Where was the City Attorney on this one? Clearly, if you want to be believable on the "education" aspect of your actions, you should be including ALL the ballot measures being brought before the citizens for the vote on April 8th. At least your "education" position would be more believable and sincere.

For the Mayor to say he had to find common ground, compromise and common sense is a head scratcher. What the heck does that mean? There is no compromise or common ground to be had on this issue. Common sense would dictate that you "educate the public on ALL issues, not just the ones you are being challenged on. It makes it look like you are using the "education" process to advocate for your position on those issues where your official decisions are being challenged by the public.

Then some woman told him that government is not business and was never meant to run like a business. The Mayor responded by saying - guess what? I never said it was, you weren't listening strong enough. That was followed by a very large groaning sound from the audience.

This administration is it's own worse enemy.  Cherry picking how or what to educate the public on is not a good idea and the Mayor got caught on this issue in a very public way.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Dim Light on Ethics

The City Council has decided to postpone any discussions on investors involved in city supported development driven projects. Let's be clear. They are postponing the discussion because it is connected to the mayor's wife and the mayor is running for re-election. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that, no matter how hard some of the councilors protest that it just ain't so. It's all about appearances and once again councilors fall short of the public trust.

The ARGUS LEADER, in yesterday's edition, published an article on the city council's latest action on this subject: "Councilor Greg Jamison wants to shine a light on who is investing in projects that receive a boost from tax increment financing, or TIF. He is running for mayor against incumbent Mike Huether and raised the issue after learning Huether's wife had invested in the Bancroft Place Apartments. That project was approved for $475,000 worth of TIF funding (from the city coffers) in May 2011.

This latest action to postpone any action, lead by Councilor Karsky, until after the election is disappointing. The Ethics Board reviewed Cindy Huether's involvement in the City financed TIF and decided she did nothing wrong. That is technically true, because the conflict of ordinance language only speaks to elected officials and city employees. It does not address an elected official's spouse or family member.

However, let's be clear about our expectations of elected officials. We expect them to be above reproach. We expect them to be able to demonstrate that they are ethical people, capable of knowing when something violates the letter of law and yes, even when it might give the appearance of unethical behavior. When you serve the public, splitting hairs on the letter of the law indicates a lack of understanding and real commitment to the public trust. Why is it so hard to say I will not only act within the literal meaning of ethics and conflict of interest ordinances but also will not act in a manner that gives the appearance of impropriety?

The city council could have taken the Ethics Board ruling and stood tall by acknowledging that the mayor's wife did not violate the letter of the law in this case but that they stand firmly behind the city's code of conduct by adopting a common sense approach and commitment that an appearance of impropriety is just as bad as actual ethical behavioral misconduct.

When you look for any way to justify your position, it shows a lack of trustworthiness, transparency and an understanding of the public trust. Elected official should bend over backwards and go above and beyond the norm to prove their behavior is above reproach. It should always pass the smell test.

The ethics board was asked to rule on whether Cindy Huether violated city conflict of interest/ethics ordinances. They said no and they were right. City Councilors used that ruling to hide behind in their public proselytising that it's not political and has nothing to do with the mayor's race for reelection. I think they doth protest too much. Doing the right thing acting above reproach means you never have twist the facts or meanings to support your position. Here again, it's the appearance factor.

Elected officials need to be and act squeaky clean, not just give it lip service. The mayor knew his wife was investing in a development driven project that received TIF support funds from a city department that he directly supervises. If he didn't know it, then he is not as on top of city business as he says he is.

The appearance of impropriety is just as important to recognize as the literal letter of law. When elected officials can't or don't recognize that, you have to wonder just where their moral compass actually lies. In this case, I'd say their moral compass is off kilter.

Dim the light on ethics at Carnegie Town Hall and the Mayor's office. Acting above reproach without a hint of impropriety is the right thing to do when you are elected official. It's the true meaning of public trust. City Councilors have failed the test and so has the mayor.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


My father had a great influence on my life. He was the high school principal and that meant we, his children, lived in a fishbowl, kind of like those kids whose fathers were the preachers in town. We were always told to act like everyone was watching our every move. And frankly, they probably were, especially the teachers at the school who worked for my Dad.

Dad talked to us about reputation and character, and honesty. He talked to us about hard work and self confidence and the meaning of keeping our word. He talked to us about hard times and enduring when things got tough in life. He talked to us about our words and how our words define who we are as persons.

I came across a quote about character and have kept it as a life reference. I don't know where I got it or who to attribute it to but it is too good not to pass on. It seems especially appropriate after reading Jonathon Ellis's article today in the ARGUS LEADER: "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

What does it say about a person who is boastful and prideful? What does it say about their character? What does it say about a person who takes the accomplishments of others and makes it their own without giving credit where credit is due? Take a look around you. We all know people or know of people who become so enamored with themselves that they seem to lose sight of common traits of humanity. They are in business, they are in church, they are certainly in politics.

Character is our destiny and it does not come cheap. Words, actions, habits, they define character.

Friday, January 24, 2014

TIF'S and Elected Officials

TIF’s (Tax Increment Financing) are getting some attention recently because Councilor Jamison wants all investors disclosed on future TIF applications because of the recent disclosure that Mayor Huether’s wife was an investor on the Bancroft Place Apartment TIF approved by the City Council in 2011. 

City administrations generally used TIF’s in areas of the city, namely in the downtown area, that was blighted or in need of urban development and where private investment probably won’t happen without government intervention. TIF’s can certainly be a good thing for a community. They can revitalize an area and keep it from deteriorating into decay and bring a whole area down into urban decay.

What is the definition of tax increment financing? Here's a definition:  It is a financing procedure utilized by local governments for redevelopment and improvement projects located in the city's jurisdiction. The cost of improvements is assessed to future tax revenues by the taxing authorities that levies taxes against the property. The local level is responsible for determining how much the increase in property tax due to the improvements will be used to repay the construction costs. 

It would appear the Community Development Director and the City Council has expanded the use of TIF outside the downtown area core area with the approval of the Sanford Sports Complex and the Costco/Apartments TIF.  What are the criteria for the creation of a TIF in the city of Sioux Falls? If you look at Chapter 37 of Sioux Falls City Code of Ordinances, you will not find any criteria for the creation of a TIF. All the ordinance says is that the Community Development Department is responsible for evaluating the application, provide a recommendation to the Planning Commission and City Council for consideration, create a project plan and district boundary maps and present the request at all public hearings. Pretty darn vague and open for interpretation.

Nobody knows who the investors are in a TIF. All the public knows is who the owners are in the TIF application. Who knows if one of the elected officials is part of the deal? Hence, the proposal by City Councilor Greg Jamison to ask the City Council to consider changing the ordinance to require all investors named in the TIF Application.

When asked about it, the Mayor inferred that former Mayors Hanson and Munson probably did the same type of investment thing when they were in office which they both denied publicly in an ARGUS LEADER article.

 In a January 2, 2014 ARGUS LEADER article, Councilors voiced their opinions regarding the news that the Mayor’s wife was an investor in one of the active TIF’s:

Council seems divided on idea
Councilors are mixed on the idea.
Councilor Kermit Staggers sides with Jamison. He said city officials should not be invested in local development projects.
“We have to keep in mind when people are involved in investing in a project that has a TIF, they’re getting a government benefit, and the public should be aware of that,” he said during council discussion this fall.
Councilor Kenny Anderson Jr. also voiced his agreement. “I just feel if you’re asking for public money, we should know who you are,” he said.
Councilor Dean Karsky said that when the council decides whether to approve a TIF, it should be judged on its merits as a worthwhile project regardless of who is invested.
He doesn’t see a problem in public officials being among the investors and said there is enough oversight with eight votes on the council and eight sets of eyes watching the process.
“If people have money to invest and they want to invest in our community, I say more power to them,” Karsky said.
Councilor Jim Entenman agreed that the council is watching the TIF program very closely and making sure it is not abused, but he said it’s not necessary that developers disclose all of their investors.
“I don’t think we’re trying to hide anything,” he said.
She wouldn’t want to discourage investors from signing on to TIF projects, Councilor Michelle Erpenbach. She also said she wouldn’t want to discourage real estate investors from running for public office.
“We always want a wide variety of people,” she said. Councilors Rex Rolfing and Sue Aguilar did not immediately return calls.
The fact is, the mayor and city councilors, per the Conflict of Interest ordinance, specifically Chapter 35 of Sioux Falls City Code of Ordinances says different:


   (a)   No officer or employee of the city shall knowingly have a financial interest clearly separate from that of the general public in any contract, transaction, zoning decision or other matter which is subject to an official act or services from the city. This provision shall not apply if the interested officer or employee discloses by written communication to his or her immediate supervisor, director and the appropriate elected official(s) and they reply with unanimous consent to the financial interest or if the person serves on a lay board and discloses to the city council the full nature and extent of that interest and disqualifies and/or removes himself or herself from consideration or future participation in the matter in any respect.
   (b)   The foregoing conflict of interest prohibition shall not apply if an interested officer or employee does not or will not act in the regular course of his or her duties and responsibilities, directly or indirectly, for the city as to inspection, any related performance issues or any operational oversight or work with the matter in question. Also, this prohibition may not apply if the interested officer or employee is an employee of a business involved in the matter in question and the officer or employee has no ownership interest in the matter and will not receive a fee or compensation related thereto.

Clearly, current TIF ordinance language does not speak to criteria or investors. Ordinance language in Chapter 37 should address criteria.  However, the conflict of interest ordinance (Chapter 35.028)  does speak to acting in an official capacity on matters where the official might have a financial interest. It is mindboggling to read the councilors responses to the disclosure about the mayor’s wife’s involvement in an approved TIF.  Do they not comprehend ethics or conflict of interest when they are elected officials?

Do I think all private investors should be disclosed on a TIF application? Probably not. However, I do think if the Mayor, City Councilors or any member of their immediate family is an investor in a TIF application, it should be clearly identified in the TIF application when it is evaluated by the Director of Community Development and considered by the Planning Commission and approved by the City Council.

Even better, how about elected officials just remember the conflicts of interest ordinance and follow it. Involving themselves in a financial matter where they must act in their official capacity as a Mayor or City Councilor is clearly a conflict of interest. Former Mayors Hanson and Munson knew it was a conflict of interest.

If the mayor and city councilors can't see that, then one has to wonder what they actually think ethics and conflict of interest means as an elected official.  They are different than other private investors because they must act in their official capacity as elected officials to approve the financial deal with the city. If you want to be a deal maker and invest in real estate property and ask the city for a financial subsidy, then don't run for public office. 

Active TIF projects (Source: ARGUS LEADER)
Year approved
Cherapa Place office building
$4.4 million
Jeff Scherschligt
Minnesota Centre office
Jim Dunham
CNA office building
$8.55 million
Al Schoenenman
Bancroft Place apartments
Michael Crane and Cary Shaw
Dekalb Lofts, Tri-state office and Larson Square
$2.86 million
Craig Lloyd, Tom Seuntjens, Norm Drake, Paul Cink
Raven headquarters renovation
$3.5 million
Raven Industries
Hilton Hotel/River Ramp
$4.1 million
Craig Lloyd, Chris Thorkelson, Paul Hegg, Kristin Hegg-Zueger, Steve Westra
Sanford Sports Complex
$10.26 million
Sanford, Inc.
Whittier Heights Development
$2.04 million
Dunham Company
Costco and apartments
$5.9 million
Costco Wholesale Corp. and Dakota Point Apartments LLC (John Archer, agent)
Phillips Avenue Lofts
$4.09 million
Craig Lloyd, Tom Seuntjens, Norm Drake, Paul Cink

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Affordable Housing and Transit - Shouldn't They Work Together?

The City's Community Development Director recently announced city funding for the development of a large affordable housing project in Southwest Sioux Falls. The Community Development department is awarding a $350,000 loan to a local developer towards an $8 million dollar project to build 56 affordable housing units out by the Tea-Ellis Road in Southwest Sioux Falls. Tenants with incomes that range from at or below 30% to 60% of the median income of the Sioux Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area will qualify to live there. 

Granted a $350,000 city loan to a developer on a $8 million project seems like small potatoes but taxpayer money is taxpayer money and taxpayers want to make sure it is a fiscally prudent use of tax dollars, as the mayor is fond of saying. The question that comes to mind is how do these affordable housing projects serve the community and does this funding match the goals of the city in terms of serving the economically challenged population from a transportation perspective.

The writing is on the wall that there is a demographic shift going on in the city. When 49.1% of school age children in Sioux Falls qualify for reduced or subsidized meals in the school district it tells you something. The Banquet and Food Bank have increasing needs in their efforts to help the working poor feed their families.

When you look at the increasing ridership of transit users in this city over the past years, it is telling us something too. From 2000 to 2010 transit ridership increased from 603,279 to 937,258. There are two types of transit riders, the commuters and the transit dependent. The majority of transit users fall into the transit dependent category. (Source: Transit Development Plan 2011-2015)

The majority of funding for transit services comes from federal and state grants and the city's general fund. There is smaller funding gained from fares, Medicaid, and advertising but those are small compared to federal, state and city general funds. It is no secret that general fund money for increased transit costs or expanded fixed route services do not get the attention or funding as those big sexy projects like the Event Center or expanded pools and parks or the necessary road infrastructure needs.

The city says its nearly impossible to expand transit services to keep up with the growth rate of the city and federal funding just doesn't keep pace with increased costs associated with transit fixed route costs. The city is growing outward from the core and many of the outlying areas don't even have transit service. So, it's kind of a head scratcher to learn that city is awarding funds to private developers to build affordable housing in an outlying area that doesn't even have transit services and probably won't get transit services.

It's fine to help build affordable housing but when you build affordable housing in an outlying area that doesn't offer transportation services to major destinations, schools, hospitals, the downtown area, or portions of the industrial park area, it seems half the agenda is met. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shape Sioux Falls - Shape Places - Are You Confused?

The city's new zoning law called Shape Places will be on the ballot in the April 8th city election. It is a big deal for the city and my bet is that most citizens don't have a clue what it really means to the common citizen. The tendency of voters is to vote no when they don't understand a ballot issue. They will probably think they are voting on whether another Walmart Superstore should be built in southern Sioux Falls.

What exactly is Shape Sioux Falls and Shape Places? Are they the same or are they two different documents? How do these documents affect us and what should we know about them before the April election? Does this new ordinance give all the power to the developers and leave the homeowner without a say? Please tell us, city officials, why this is good for property owners  too and won't leave property owners without a say in zoning matters.

Shape Sioux Falls refers to the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan which was adopted by the City Council on December 7, 2009. This is a comprehensive plan that guides future land development. The last comprehensive plan was through 2015. I tried to find the actual Shape Sioux Falls document online but it says it's temporarily unavailable. This is an important document that guides what our city is going to look like in the future. That's important especially because we are a growing metropolitan area. Actually, it's an interesting read.

Shape Places refers to the Shape Places zoning ordinance which was adopted by the City Council on March 19, 2013 and was to be effective April 22, 2013 until it was referred because of a successful citizen petition drive and is now on the ballot April 8, 2014. The Shape Places zoning ordinance is a major update to the city's current zoning ordinances that was last updated in 1983. It is a culmination of 5 1/2 years of work by the planning and zoning staff to bring city zoning ordinances in compliance with the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

You see, state law requires the city to have a master plan that is in line with its zoning laws. Jeff Schmitt, Assistant Director in the Planning and Building Services Department stated, "Because Shape Sioux Falls was designed for Shape Places, it will have to be changed to reflect the 1983 ordinance."   So, if the Shape Places zoning ordinance is defeated in April then the City will have to go back and change the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Master Plan which was adopted back in 2009. Zoning is complicated but why did it take the city 5 /12 years from the time the comprehensive plan was adopted to update 1983 zoning ordinances? I am still confused but let's move on, shall we?

Master Plan, current zoning ordinance, Shape Places Ordinance, zoning districts, i.e. commercial, residential, forms, categories, uses,  - all terms in this controversy that the voters don't understand. Those terms roll off the tongues of planning officials who assume everyone knows what they are talking about.  My head is swimming. I want to understand this important issue but I need some help so I can make an informed decision when I go to the ballot box.

I went back and listened to the March 19th City Council hearing on this issue. Director Cooper said that they were trying to accomplish two things with the Shape Places zoning ordinance. First, they want to clarify for developers, landowners, and property owners what is going to be allowed and what's not going to be allowed, especially through the conditional use process. I say, that's a good thing. They want to make sure when a property is zoned to something that zoning matters whether it's going to be residential or commercial. How will it matter? He said the expectation of knowing what's going to happen on that property now and into the future is now going to be improved with Shape Places. How will it be improved? He went on to say that the comprehensive plan (Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan) is the guiding document on how these owners or intersections should be zoned. The Shape Places zoning ordinance makes it consistent with the comprehensive plan, trying to clarify what is going to happen or be allowed in residential and commercial zoned properties.

Councilor Entemann praised city employees on their work and stated city employees are citizens too and that they are not going to propose changes to ordinances that are the detriment to citizens, that they are trying to improve processes and policies. Councilor Staggers stated that although he had some problems with the signage language in the proposed Shape Places ordinance, it is more flexible and less confusing for people compared to what we have now. A deferral to April 2nd was introduced by Councilor Anderson and seconded by Councilor Staggers but it was defeated. The City Council voted 7-0 to adopt the Shape Places Zoning Ordinance. Councilor Jamison was absent from that meeting.

The rest is history. Residents opposed to a large development proposed for the 85th and Minnesota intersection, including a Walmart SuperCenter, submitted petitions to refer the Shape Places zoning ordinance to a public vote which will be on the ballot April 8th. Personally, I think it is a shame that this neighborhood zoning issue is being lumped into the Shape Places zoning ordinance as a whole. The zoning ordinance revision needs to be done to be in compliance with the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan to be in compliance with state law.

The city needs to apply the KISS principle - keep it simple stupid - on this vote. Educate the public and start doing it now, city officials.

It's the middle of January and the city needs to get in high gear and educate the public on their work revamping the massive zoning ordinance from 1983 or  it  may very well go down in flames which will then topple the Shape Sioux Falls 2035 Comprehensive Plan. All because some people out near 85th and Minnesota don't want a Walmart Superstore in their neighborhood.

Ridding the confusion on this vote can only come from the city. If it fails, they will only have themselves to blame.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bully Politics

The Chris Christie bridge closure scandal is interesting fodder for the news media. If you listen to former NY Mayor Giuliani, he said it was just a prank. Obviously a prank not appreciated by the multitude of people, school buses carrying children to their first day of school and emergency vehicles stuck in a traffic jam around Fort Lee for hours.

“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue in its planning or its execution,” Christie said. Those words are probably true. Planning and executing the bridge traffic jam was done by his minions and he fired them, 4 months after the fact. Yesterday he played the victim. He was sad and felt betrayed. Don't get me wrong here - I kind of like Chris Christie. I was of the mind that he was more genuine and honest than most of the politicians who just parrot the party line in order to maintain their political sucking of the taxpayer teat at our expense. I think he is wearing the victim coat on this one and it doesn't fit well.

He may not have planned or executed the idea but his staff got the idea to do this little "prank" from somewhere and that's where the bully politics come into play. What is the definition of a bully? A bully is defined as a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidate people. Bullies like attention and power. Christie insists he is not a bully and maybe he isn't, but there are degrees to bullying and his personality sure projects a bullying trait to some degree.

Christie is a larger than life politician. He projects an administrative image of - it's my way or the highway. He prides himself on getting things done and he suffers no fools. He intimidates and badgers and we kind of liked it when he did it in his press conferences. He worked with President Obama during Hurricane Sandy and he was blustering, quarrelsome and badgered Republicans who chastised him for working with the enemy. He tells it like it is and he gets things done. But at what cost?

Publicly, bully politics has worked for Christie. Privately though, bully politicians make for an interesting workplace. Intimidation and overbearing management of employees, including your top advisors and confidants makes for an uncomfortable and stressful work environment. Working with a bully politician can be harmful to one's health and push people to do things they think their larger than life boss might want but who doesn't come right out and direct it. Staffers want to please and if someone is in the inner trusted circle of a bully politician and is privy to and take part in the background talking and strategizing that goes on in the office behind closed doors, it’s plausible that things like this bridge gridlock scandal can happen.  A powerful bully politician creates powerful bully staffers.

I heard the term “willful ignorance” this morning on talk TV. Willful ignorance is when you don’t ask questions, and don’t look into something. Then, when something blows up you can basically wear the victim coat and say I didn’t plan or execute what is now a hot potato scandal or problem. The problem with that stance when working for this kind of boss is that some loyal staffer is going to be the fall guy. That is just the way it is when you get in bed with a bully. The bully is never wrong.

We all know bullies. We have bullies right here in river city. When it comes to local politics, there is plenty of talk about bully behavior. The thing about bullies is that they create fear. Fear in politics is a dangerous thing and it creates dangerous results. Just look at New Jersey for an example.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Rocky Mountain High

The voters in Colorado approved a constitutional measure called Colorado Amendment 64 in November 2012 to approve recreational use of marijuana. Colorado had previously approved medical marijuana use in the State. The Governor of Colorado signed it into the state constitution in December 2012 and the first stores opened this month. Governor Hickenlooper stated at the time, "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

The problem with the legalization of marijuana is the legalization is not a coordinated effort between the Feds and the States.  Marijuana use, possession and sale remain illegal under federal law. No matter how many states pass medical and recreational use of marijuana laws, it remains an unresolved conflict with federal law and yet the Justice Department remains silent on the issue.

Passing recreational marijuana laws seems to be the next step after jumping into the passing of medical marijuana use statewide. Passing recreational marijuana laws to stave off budget deficits or shortfalls in sales tax hardly seems the right way to create sources of revenue but that seems to be the motivation of state lawmakers. Kind of like the video lottery and legalization of gambling in States.  Alcohol, gambling, drugs...potentially addicting behaviors being used to fund government coffers.

Pot makes you dumb in a different way than alcohol. Alcohol makes you dumb too but for a day or two at most unless you become addictive to alcohol which is a whole other problem. Pot makes you dumb for weeks and if you are a long time, consistent toker, you become dumb and dumber. The lingering effect and under the influence of marijuana is troublesome especially for police and employers. What is an acceptable level of "under the influence" for employers with Drug and Alcohol Policies and for Police who administer driving laws?

I am of the opinion that marijuana use for medical purposes may indeed have merit. But legalization for recreational use is a bit of a conundrum to me. Both seem to be the wave of the future. Decriminalization, making possession of a small amount for personal recreational use, is what is driving this major social change in State Legislatures across the country.  I think we are in for court battles and challenges for years to come as we navigate this minefield of change to what is considered as part of the war on drugs at the federal level.

I know one thing for certain.  The candidacy of Emmett Reistroffer for an at-large seat on the City Council will be interesting to watch over the next couple of months. I do not support changing city policy on this issue before state legislators weigh in on the issue. Based on the politics of this state, that will probably happen when hell freezes over.

Look at those lines of people outside the dispensaries in Colorado. Times are changing and I'm feeling old and slightly out of touch but I am willing to consider new ideas if we can put the horse before the cart or the toke before the flame hits it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pass the Salt and Forget the Plow

The answer to crappy streets this season is to use more salt in the mix the city applies to the residential streets. The city says dry snow melts slower so the lower salt mix isn't enough to cut through the snow packed on your residential street. Why is it packed on the street, you say?

It seems the city literally follows the 2 inch rule when deciding to deploy snow plows on city streets. It doesn't really matter how much snow is actually laying on your residential street. If it didn't fall in a 2 inch or more snow fall, forget it and pass the salt.

Lately, we haven't been getting snowfalls in 2 inch increments or more. We have been getting snow accumulating at a half inch to one inch at a time. Never mind that those inch or less snows accumulate to over 2 inches or more on the residential streets.

If the city is going to send those big trucks out to residential streets to lay salt mix through out the city, why can't they just plow the damn snow?

I agree with city officials that main routes are in good shape. I give kudos to city employees who do a good job plowing streets. But that's not the point. It's the policy of when to plow that is the issue, not the employees.

Instead of following the strict rule of not plowing residential streets until it snows 2 inches or more, how about using a little common sense and bring out the plows when there is at least 2 inches of snow laying on the streets.

I'd rather see streets plowed to improve traction than see street traction getting a boost by adding more salt and wait for warmer temperatures to clear it. Then you just have ruts and pot holes. How is that an improvement over a plowed street?

Overall accumulation should be the plow rule instead of a one event accumulation of 2 inches or more. I'm tired of driving over all those crappy residential streets filled with ice and ridges. Freeze, melt, freeze,  melt and pretty soon my vehicle will just fall into a gigantic pot hole.I say plow and plow often and save the salt. Or else, hope and pray that we get snow accumulation in 2 inches or more because right now that's only way you will see a plow on your residential street.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

To Blink or Not to Blink

The City of Sioux Falls announced their Wait No More campaign in October 2013.   I can remember discussions taking place back in my working days at City Hall on this same issue. People always complaining about sitting at stoplights late at night when there was no traffic to be seen on the horizon. Traffic Engineering officials back then were concerned about safety and the likelihood of people blowing through intersections and t-boning someone.

I am uncomfortable when approaching 26th and Southeastern Avenue when those traffic lights are blinking yellow or red. I am always careful, but how do you count on that illusive "other" driver to be careful too? It's a major intersection with multiple lanes. I worry about a speeding car coming down that big hill from the east just as I enter the intersection. I know I am careful and sober, but what about the other person?

I understand that people don't want to be delayed late at night. The City doesn't want us to be delayed anymore either, hence their Wait No More Campaign. The thing is, just because people don't want to be delayed, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do at all signal controlled intersections. The idea of "wait no more" can be dangerous to your safety if you are not careful and don't use the eyes on the back and sides of your head. 

81% of the 250 traffic lights at various intersections in Sioux Falls are now blinking at 10 or 11 p.m. That's a lot of intersections. This is not a sleepy little town anymore. There are a lot of neighborhood intersections with traffic lights where a flashing light might make sense but does it really make sense to have flashing traffic lights at those highly traveled major intersections with multiple lanes?

I hope visibility concerns or lane geometry aren't the only criteria for keeping the light cycles working late at night. I think all major, wide, multiple lane intersections should be left to cycle through late at night.  How about no flashing yellow lights at these big major intersections - make them all flashing red so it's a four way stop. Is it possible to adjust the lights to a shorter cycle at these major wide multiple lane intersections instead of turning them to blinking yellow and red?

Frankly, I was shocked to learn that the major intersection of 10th Street and Sycamore Avenue was one of the newly designated signals that were changed to flashing back in October. That intersection is known for it's crashes and fender benders and it's a major, wide, multiple lane intersection. Now, tragically, we have a fatality at that very intersection because a drunk driver blew through the flashing lights and t-boned another vehicle.

It's fine to tell people that they have to be careful when approaching intersections with flashing lights, but how do you get that across to careless drivers, impatient drivers, drivers driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. And let's face it, drivers in this town don't know what yield means, so are we sure they understand what blinking yellow or blinking red means? Just go through a 4 way stop in this town and you know what I mean.

Granted, a drunk driver may go through a cycled light intersection as much as a blinking light intersection but the point is a cycled light at a major intersection adds just a little more insurance that someone might pay more attention and not just treat the intersection as a rolling stop event or an opportunity to not stop at all.

Sometimes the city should just say no to those people who don't want to "wait no more." The city isn't a sleepy little village anymore.  As a police representative said, we can't be everywhere in this town. Granted, accidents happen but there are still things we can do to try to minimize accidents. Our lives may depend on it. Maybe this Wait No More Policy needs to be revisited, at least for the big intersections in this city.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Red or Blue - Who are you?

A lot of people seem to be defining themselves as red or blue these days. If you live in a red state, you might just be red because it is self preservation. People like to hide in groups and not stand out, especially politically. You may need to pretend to be red in a red state because you might need it for business networking purposes. It's the survival of the fittest syndrome. You have to be red to win almost any state office in South Dakota.

There are, of course, people who have been red or blue all their lives and they will never change their party affiliation. But with being red, it's like an inheritance thing, handed down from one generation to the next. It's almost heretical to think or feel you might be something other than red in South Dakota.

There is an interesting article in the Washington Post about the era of single party control nationally. What is clear to me is that with single party control, comes single minded policies that don't serve the entire population of the state. There is a clear distinction between red and blue policies when it comes to economic, fiscal and social policies. But what seems to be lacking is a balance.

If you are red, you think the blues are downright evil and hell bent on destroying this country and the constitution. If you are blue, especially in South Dakota, you are struggling for your last breath, turning bluer by the minute and dying a slow painful death.

I hate being defined by the color red or blue. I think of myself as an American first. I can see the merits in the policies of the red and the blue although I have to admit as I have become older, I have turned more blue than red. I didn't inherit the red gene from my Dad who wore the color red his entire life. I like to read both sides of the red and blue commentary - I like to watch the red and blue commentary on TV. I strive to be a color palette that is balanced but it is becoming harder and harder when I face intolerance and single mindedness that drowns out the hue of the political spectrum.

What happened to our politicians who define themselves as red or blue first and Senator or Representative or Governor second? This notion that you must say no to a blue President on everything when you are red has created an ugliness that is disturbing and which has shut down government, turned family, friends and acquaintances against each other and turned social media into lies and half truths that nobody seems able to discern as fact or fiction.

If you are blue in South Dakota, you will be blue alone, never able to get a seat at the table. If you are red in South Dakota, you never have to justify anything because being red means saying no and not even having to put an effort into it. Just being red makes it so right.

Purple is a nice color. Let's make purple together. There is room at table for everyone. It would be nice to see purple in Congress and at the State level. I can at least dream in purple about what might be instead of what can't get done being red or blue.