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.