No Cents

The Rapid City Journal’s “Two Cents” section is a great tool for people to thank a good Samaritan, make a comment about the parks or other items of interest and so on.  It’s kind of a cute idea really, but it has turned into a gathering place and public forum for ill-informed and disgruntled folks who need to get  something off their chest. The Rapid City Journal defends the Two Cents and hails it as an important means for the public to have a voice without repercussion from those they attack.

Why is it a good idea to encourage anonymous criticism?  How does this make us a better community? It’s not and it doesn’t. I’m not surprised at this, since we have seen social media start as one thing and devolve into another.  People are becoming not only critics, but experts in areas of which they have little or no knowledge.

Two cases in point from the RCJ’s July 4th 2016 edition:

Two Cents 1

First of all – the Humane Society has not approached the City to assist with their maintenance costs (the City already contributes $278,000 per year).  Secondly and more importantly – who ever said a City task force costs money? City task forces are not paid groups, they are without exception volunteers from the community. The “paid meal” comment comes from RCJ reporting about the Civic Center Resolution Task Force having lunch meetings with food provided.  The fact is, the Civic Center caters meals for many groups throughout the weeks and months, and task force members have been eating excess meals from those events during their meetings… except for the times I asked the Civic Center to prepare brown bag meals: Those turkey sandwiches were more expensive than the gourmet-ish meals left over from events.  The bottom line: This volunteer task force made up of business professionals from the community has probably cost no more than $100 in food per month.

Two Cents 2

This one has to do with the campaign to build a new Civic Center arena a couple of years ago.  The City’s Capital Improvement Fund (generated by a City .46 percent sales tax) and the City’s Vision Fund (also funded by a separate .46 percent sales tax) were combined on paper, in other words in a City ordinance, in order to allow the City to get a better interest rate on proposed bonding for the massive project.  That’s it.  There was never a time when the funds were “combined” into one fund.

Capital improvement funds are used to rebuild roads and other infrastructure, build government buildings, help purchase new fire trucks and fund other large City improvements.  That’s why the fund exists and it will never go to a new arena as long as we have a Vision Fund process.

As far as my “new projects” go, the author of this comment must know something I don’t. Certainly they don’t think fixing ADA issues at the Civic Center is a “new project” since that seemed to be the impetus for the initial Civic Center expansion discussion.

So, there are two issues here: (1) Some people are uninformed and choose not to be better informed prior to attacking others, and (2), The local newspaper feels it is important to give people a public platform to anonymously criticize others. The only major accomplishment I see with the Two Cents is another tool to cause division among the people of our community. This makes No Cents to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I support a business doing what they believe will benefit them, it’s just that with the newspaper, I expect more news and less gossip.

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Sturgis Rally Exposes Local Ethical Dilemma(s)


The 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is only a couple of weeks away. This year, upwards of one million people are expected to visit the area, most of which will appear in many of our region’s small to moderately sized communities. Naturally, all of Rapid City’s 5000+ hotel/motel rooms will be full, as will every other hotel within hundreds of miles. Bad news for the fly by the seat of your pants tourists who failed to reserve a room in our area that week, not that they could afford to anyway. This is also bad news for another group of people in Rapid City – the homeless.

A number of lower-end motels house poor individuals or families on a weekly or monthly basis for much of the year. Unfortunately this is the only way some folks in our City can afford shelter. Now comes the motorcycle rally and these virtually homeless people are either asked to leave, or asked to pay the going rate, either of which sends them packing.

Economics is every business owner’s motivation so understandably, if a room that brings in a few hundred dollars per month will now bring a few hundred dollars per day, it’s a head-turner for someone who’s bread and butter centers on the profitability of their business investment. That’s the part we can understand from a business perspective.

Here’s the part that raises our moral and ethical eyebrows: Why is the poor family’s money good enough for the motel owner 49 or 50 weeks out of the year, but the not the rest? It would appear the poorest among us are the lifeline for some of these run-down businesses for 96% of the year, yet during the Rally, the loyalty to their customers is suspended to make a few thousand dollars.

Is it possible that business Darwinism in the example of an almost lifeless motel is being interrupted by this economic anomaly we call the Sturgis Rally? And is that necessarily a good thing?

Waiting for me to suggest a solution? You’ll have to keep waiting. Government can’t intervene with business owners to force them to be good humanitarians. In Rapid City, we seem to always be on the cusp of the next great idea, but more often than not, fall short of a solid plan.

Many people look to the government to solve issues like this, but I would say in order to be solved correctly, community problems must be solved by the community. Are you ready to help?

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Rapid City’s Economy

In this mayoral campaign there has been talk of the local economy.  The Mayor says it’s fine and improving and I say it’s stagnant and in need of improvement.  I’ll take this opportunity to show you how I came to my conclusion and you can decide for yourself.

First, let’s look at total gross sales in the Black Hills region, by industry sector:

Rapid City Gross Sales by sector

Source: Black Hills Knowledge Network

As you can see, most major sectors progress well until 2008, when there is a downward trend, the most obvious of which is in the manufacturing sector.  In 2006 and 2007, manufacturing saw its best years in local history topping at $1.49 billion and $1.54 billion respectively.  2008 fell to $928.6 million followed by $310.6 million in 2009.  Since then, manufacturing sales have hovered around the $300 million mark.

Next, we see total gross sales growth for South Dakota, compared to the Black Hills region:

Real gross sales state vs black hills

Source: SD Dept of Revenue

South Dakota’s gross sales are growing steadily, while the Black Hills sales are flat.  Even with low unemployment and high retail sales, being satisfied with lower paying retail and hospitality jobs is a bit short-sighted when considering the complexity of all the working parts of the economy and especially with the variable component of tourism.  Between 2007 and 2010 the black hills lost over 800 manufacturing jobs.  Higher paying jobs, or the lack of them, is a major issue for Rapid City.  We cannot expect a thriving, growing economic condition if everyone is making 9.00 per hour or less.  The below chart shows Black Hills incomes falling behind the rest of the state:

Median income SD vs Black Hills region

Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Manufacturing jobs traditionally pay better than retail jobs.  More income = more discretionary income = more spending on homes and durable goods and a better economy in general.

Rapid City has high housing costs and 32.8% of its households pay more than 30% of their income to housing.  The below chart demonstrates that on average, 24% of South Dakota households experience this housing cost burden:

Housing cost burden

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Decennial Census and American Community Survey

During this campaign, my comments about the economy have been centered on manufacturing sales, mostly since 2009.   I have referred to Rapid City’s economy as flat compared to the State’s economy, which I believe the data here supports.

I believe the local economy must be measured by many criteria such as unemployment and underemployment, median income level, cost of living, retail sales, output of each of the major economic sectors and city sales tax receipts and building permits.  The building permits must be broken down to reflect of the $200 million, what of the total are government initiated projects and what are housing and commercial projects.

Something I cannot chart, is the affect individuals with multiple jobs have on families and community.  If one or more parents have more than one job, especially full time jobs, the parent-child contact is reduced, the quality of life experienced is reduced, exhaustion and despair become issues and we may not experience any consequences of this for generations.

To summarize my analysis of the economy – It is not as stable as one might believe when a politician only uses building permits and sales tax data to reassure us that everything is good.  I am not satisfied that we have done all we should be doing.  I intend to be involved in finding the areas where improvement is needed and to work with others to make that improvement.  Our economic health depends on it.

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The Issues and How I See Them

Water TowerI want to be the Mayor of Rapid City because Rapid City is a great community. I raised my family here. We enjoy benefits of living in this area that you just don’t find everywhere in America. Rapid City is a great city, but it can be better.

General philosophy and vision:

City government should be a true form of representative government whereby the people elect representatives, entrust them with their finances and empower them to make policy decisions. In return, the people expect efficient, cost effective, quality services. Just as importantly, the people expect and deserve government officials to lead with integrity and serve fairly, with the interests of the greater community in mind.

Rapid City – A Wonderful Place. That’s my vision for Rapid City. City government, hand in hand with its citizens, has an obligation to identify road blocks keeping us from experiencing that vision. Can Rapid City be a wonderful place when the community is divided? No. How about with a stumbling economy? No. How about with crumbling streets and failing water and sewer systems? No. Once identified, these and other roadblocks should be the subject of an organized planning process whereby priorities are made, and corrective plans are put into motion. Continual feedback should be sought by the government and continual updates are to be given to the citizens.

When I am Mayor of Rapid City, I will focus my attention in the following areas:

(NOTE: Explanation of these topics here is intentionally brief for the purpose of this blog post)

Leadership. First and foremost, keeping City workforces healthy and productive is essential. Maintaining a professional City Council process is also needed. I’ve written in more detail about the leadership needs of the City. You can read more by clicking here.

The Civic Center ADA issues. In addition to ADA, there is also the issue of addressing the inefficiencies and building code modifications of the Don Barnett arena. After a deep breath and clearing of the political air, hard work and leadership will resolve these issues. I believe we can come up with a plan that addresses the ADA needs and building inefficiencies for far less than $180 million.

Communication.  Communication and openness is paramount to accountability.  I will launch a comprehensive public information system to ensure better communication with the public. There should be greater effort to communicate the goings-on at City Hall with the people who fund it. I wrote about this topic in detail in an earlier blog post. Click here for more details.

Invest in our future. I will seek to implement youth engagement programs within City Hall. There are many options from advisory councils to paid positions within City Hall.

Intergovernmental cooperation. I will launch efforts to establish a positive working relationship with Pennington County. The fact is, the two governments are not known for their mutual admiration and respect. Certainly City and County government focus is slightly different, but there are many possible opportunities to explore joint ventures. I know from experience working cooperatively with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office that there is one main beneficiary to such cooperation: The taxpayers.

Efficient government. I will evaluate existing processes and work toward a system of self-evaluation for the purpose of increasing efficiency and to ensure spending accountability. The people of Rapid City deserve value for their tax dollar, and they deserve to know and understand what that value is.

Street repair and replacement. I will address the deteriorating and dangerous streets in Rapid City. About $35 million is spent each year on local infrastructure, yet the streets you drive on every day are not the ones being fixed. A better short term repair policy is needed.

Economic development. I will work in cooperation with many others to create a technology and intellectual property corridor with the SD School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT). Our City and economy lost a significant portion of our manufacturing jobs in 2009 and we have not recovered. We must make a concerted effort to bring new companies to Rapid City.

Infrastructure. City government has an obligation to keep the City functioning in terms of water treatment and delivery, sewer systems and treatment, roads and drainage. I believe there is evidence that the current pace to maintain our infrastructure is not keeping up with demands.

Race relations. Decades of failed attempts at reconciliation and understanding do nothing more than predict future failures. The Human Relations Commission is fine for addressing complaints, but this reactive approach won’t improve overall relations. The next attempt at race relations must be a different approach, one that seeks to get to the core of the problem rather than merely treating the symptoms. We will assemble community partners to explore root causes and solutions that can bring about healing and improve chances for success significantly.

There are other issues to be concerned about, but I consider them to need further investigation before stating an opinion on them. These issues are affordable housing (the lack of it) and the state of the aging Rapid City Water Treatment Plant.

Aside from City operations and maintaining the political processes, the above items will be my first list of issues to focus on as Mayor. The process of gathering information on important City issues is an ongoing and evolving process. More information will be made available as time goes on.

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My Record Speaks

allender-websize cropped 2I am going to reveal more about me, my beliefs and my vision for Rapid City. I will do this in two consecutive blog posts: One about what I’ve accomplished in my past career, to give you a glimpse into how I think and how I work. The second one will be about where I am focusing my attention as a mayoral candidate and the top priorities, as I see them. Let’s get started:

This is a partial list of the things I accomplished as Chief of Police in Rapid City between 2007 and 2014:

  • Implemented Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) in cooperation with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office for RCPD Patrol Officers, Pennington County Deputies and other area law enforcement officers. This prepares officers for effective communication and de-escalation techniques when dealing with mentally ill or emotionally disturbed people.
  • Led the effort to rewrite the agency ethics and core value statements. These are the department’s guiding principles for providing service to the community.
  • Initiated daily media briefings. This streamlined the process for passing daily updates to local media agencies.
  • Implemented the TIP411 system, allowing citizens to send anonymous crime tips to police
  • Initiated the pedestrian safety program, including enhanced enforcement and a professional public awareness marketing campaign.
  • Initiated the Oglala Sioux Tribe police exchange program. Nearly 100 RCPD officers traveled to Pine Ridge to ride with tribal officers, to learn about the reservation, tribal law enforcement and to build relationships with tribal police.
  • Negotiated a security partnership with Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) basketball tournament organizers that partnered tribal police officers working together with RCPD officers, at a significant cost savings to the tournament.
  • Led the department senior staff in forming a new department mission statement.
  • Led an effort to increase the success rate of released prison inmates returning to the community.
  • Implemented an early warning database system to identify police employees who may be showing signs of personal or professional distress. Indicators such as poor performance, or high-risk behaviors help identify employees in need of early intervention.Street Crimes 2
  • Implemented the Street Crimes Unit to address crimes affecting the central area of town including parks and bike paths.
  • Original member of the Black Hills Mental Health Substance Abuse Systems Change Collaborative. This group devised and implemented the Crisis Care Center in Rapid City, to assist people having personal crisis, mental health episodes and a range of other emotional crises.
  • Implemented the Police Department’s (and the City of Rapid City’s first) full time community relations specialist. A position dedicated to facilitating communication between a city government agency and the people it serves. This position accomplished an organized communication interface through several forms of media such as news releases, news conferences, email, annual reporting, and a robust social media platform.
  • Facilitated a partnership with Neighbor Works Dakota Home Resources to revitalize Lemmon Street in Rapid City with a community garden, park space and renewed neighborhood relationships.
  • Outsourced the Police Department’s crime analysis function to Bair Analytics a professional crime analysis firm. This was done to ensure state of the art technology and crime analysis resources were being used to help bring Rapid City crime under control.
  • Established the Community Resource Officer position. These employees perform tasks police officers are usually called to do, but are not needed to do. Taking reports, retrieving found property, clearing traffic obstructions and other non-hazardous functions. This creates more time for police officers to tend to law enforcement and public safety issues.
  • Implemented a new records management system, switching from a Michigan company to a South Dakota company, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Controlled spending, saving millions in budgeted funds between 2007 and 2014.

I want to draw attention to two major points:

  1. The items on this list are examples of how I actively pursued methods to take care of the workforce, communicate with constituents and worked to provide value to taxpayers.
  2. None of the items on this list were mandated by law, policy or a higher authority. All were measures I either personally initiated or authorized others to pursue as part of a proactive management plan. All of the items on this list were accomplished in cooperation with, and to the benefit of other city employees, managers and the citizens we serve.

As Mayor of Rapid City, I will bring a proactive leadership style to City Hall. Proactive leadership – not micromanagement.

I urge you to follow the campaign using our Facebook page, Twitter and website.

The next post will be about my vision for Rapid City. Stay tuned!

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Let’s Talk about the Civic Center Expansion

Blue-Option-Option-1Over three years ago, the Mayor and his staff started the planning process for an expanded Civic Center Arena. The reasons for an expanded arena were generally based on the fact that the Don Barnett Arena is 40 years old…one of the older arenas in the regional entertainment and convention market. Another apparent reason was the ADA non-compliance issues within the Don Barnett Arena. The city was faced with $35 million dollars in ADA compliance modifications as well as another $37 million dollars in building code upgrades. These reasons, along with the Civic Center losing regional market share, eventually brought the City to propose a $180 million expansion/renovation project.

Among other taxes, the City of Rapid City collects ½ cent sales tax for capital improvements and ½ cent sales tax for what Rapid City refers to as the “vision fund.” In an action taken by the Mayor and City Council in November 2014, both halves were combined by City Ordinance to provide a funding scheme to repay the bonds which would be required to fund the $180 million project. Then, in a December 2014 council meeting, the Mayor made his first real public statement revealing that he was a proponent of the expansion. Following the meetings and approval of the tax measure, the Mayor along with other council members and citizens passed petitions to get the item referred to a special election.

The special election was held March 10th at which time the citizens declined to authorize the funding of the Civic Center expansion.

For over three years, Mayor Sam Kooiker was aware of and involved in the expansion planning. During that time he made essentially no effort to communicate with Rapid City residents about the need for the expansion. In fact, the Mayor went to the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce and urged them to lead the communication campaign, evidently to shield himself from political fallout. The question in my mind after learning this was probably similar to the question in your mind: who is leading our City?

I’m not a seasoned politician but I am smart enough to understand that City Government does not have enough credibility and trust within the community to put a $180 million price tag in front of them and say “vote for this, trust me.”  I am also smart enough to conclude that this entire expansion debacle was NOT a great example of Sam Kooiker’s promise of “open and honest government.”

I believe that if the Civic Center expansion would have passed the public vote, it would have been a successful endeavor. I also believe that there were many errors made during the planning process, public information process and marketing campaign. Overall, no one in their right mind could have expected a majority of Rapid City residents to accept the expansion plan after being kept in the dark for over three years. Plus, $180 million is too much money.

While the $180 million Civic Center expansion project was the most expensive purchase proposal in the history of Rapid City, Mayor Kooiker sought to shield himself throughout the entire process. There are people in Rapid City who voted for Sam Kooiker because he promised to protect them from big government. There are also people who voted for him because he promised economic development. Ironically, when you try to play both sides of the coin, you can’t win.

Unfortunately, during this massive failure, the City spent $700,000 for studies and design and we are no further ahead on this issue than we were three years ago. In fact, the City has taking a giant step backward, if the original intent was to merely bring the Civic Center Arena into ADA compliance.  One thing is for certain: we now have a legal, binding agreement with the federal government to bring the Don Barnett Arena into compliance with ADA codes. Tens of millions of dollars will be spent doing so, and in the end, we will have the same Civic Center arena we have today. Is this progress?

These are my thoughts on moving the City forward:

  • We need to make the best use of the $700,000 already spent on design and other related studies. To do this, we need to assemble a new panel of experts to evaluate the feasibility of an alternate expansion. The Civic Center board will play an essential role in this.
  • We need to start building a system of public information and education that will allow everyone to understand the pros and cons of building a new arena, prior to any such measure being brought forward.
  • A decision must be made on the future of the Barnett arena and how that future will affect the plausibility and timeline of any proposed addition.
  • Immediate public consideration and decision making must be accomplished to weigh the pros and cons of separating the two half-cent taxes until the larger issue can be fully vetted and decided upon.
  • A decision to move forward with an alternative expansion plan or not, must be made prior to end of 2015.

Economic stimulus is vital for Rapid City, but so is responsible government. Your vote for me guarantees that if and when the voters have to decide this issue again, they WILL have enough information to do so. 

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Communication is Needed

Remember three years ago when the city announced it was entering the planning process for a new Civic Center? Remember a short time later when you got an update on that plan? Remember the periodic updates and public forums held in order to help citizens understand the need for the Civic Center?  Of course you don’t. But maybe you read about it on the City’s Facebook page? No, you didn’t, because the City doesn’t have one.

I wonder if you remember how the current mayor promised “open and honest” government when he was campaigning in 2011. I do. Certainly, the new openness of City Government must have included an enhanced communication plan, so let’s take a quick look at how City Hall communicates now that we’ve had four years of open and honest.

Here are your options for being informed of the goings-on at City Hall:

  • You can read the minutes of the City Council meetings in the Rapid City Journal.
  • You can attend City Council meetings if you have three extra hours every other Monday night.
  • You can watch or listen to the City Council meetings if you have high speed Internet access.
  • You can follow print or TV news stations in the event they have chosen to report on a particular topic within city government.
  • You can read the mayors quarterly progress report found on the city website, or you can drive to City Hall, go to the second floor to the Mayor’s Office and request hardcopies of the Mayor’s quarterly newsletters.

With the exception of a highly cluttered website, City Hall communicates with its citizens much like it did in during the past several administrations. Oh sure, there’s the recorded and televised City Council meetings, but who has the time to sit and sift through seeminglytelegraph1 senseless debate to understand what’s really going on in our fine city? And if you do this, you’re only getting a snapshot view of the items on that particular agenda. In summary, without their limited use of the internet, City Hall communicates with its citizens the same way it has for decades.

Here are the questions I have:

  • With the exception of a Twitter page, why doesn’t the City of Rapid City have an active social media platform? It could contain links to important agenda items, commentary on recent events, and a two-way communication path could exist between city government and those they serve. I have experience with this, and it’s easy!
    • NOTE: The City has a Twitter page and has tweeted 337 times to 1516 followers, about five times per month since it was started.  For comparison, the Rapid City Police Department has tweeted 2021 times to 4264 followers, about 30 times per month. The two pages have been in operation for the same period of time.
  • In this technological age, why can’t a citizen sign up for a periodic email newsletter from the City of Rapid City?  If “open government” does not include enhanced communication, then it is simply not open. It’s filtered. People today do not choose to receive news the same way they have over the past several decades. Walter Cronkite no longer delivers fact-based evening news as the primary method of news distribution. There are a multitude of media options (channels) to help inform citizens about how their tax dollars are being spent.
  • Aside from media communication, whatever happened to Town hall meetings?

It appears in order to call community members together, a crisis is required. If government is not trying to find new and better ways to deliver information, then they are not trying to communicate with their citizens. This bothers me and it should bother you also.

I believe there is a better way.

  • City Council members should be used as information conduits between City Hall and the people in their wards.
  • Council members should have their own websites and social media pages to encourage communication. Up-to-date information could easily be posted for all to see. Questions could be asked and answered (a benefit to all who view the page) and updates on projects could be given periodically. It should be noted that this work would not have to be performed by the Aldermen themselves, but it could be.
  • The City hired a Communications Coordinator (Public Information Officer) within the past year to keep citizens better informed. This is a position I urged this mayor and the prior mayor to create to tell the City’s story. I urged at the time, that the employee should work anywhere in City Hall except for the mayor.  As an elected official, a mayor has a personal motivation and responsibility to promote himself rather than paying someone with City tax dollars to do this. I warned that even creating the appearance of the mayor having a PR employee would result in the lowering of the mayor’s credibility within the community. It appears today that the communication employee writes all of the Mayor’s press releases and proclamations while the other City Departments are not fully utilizing this important asset.

Rapid City residents today should be complaining about too much information from City Hall rather than not enough.

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