Sioux Falls City Council needs to put transparency policies into ordinance, ASAP!

Some may be wondering why NO one spoke at public input at last night’s final city council meeting before a new administration starts. As I said to someone, “Would it do any good to talk about transparency to the current outgoing councilors and mayor?” Not at all. I have tried for 8 years to get a more transparent government, but our mayor stuck to his guns to the end. He claimed that transparency with the public and council only costs us money because we ‘can’t get things done’ in a timely manner. I would argue on the contrary.

I don’t elect people to entertain me. No where in the Constitution does it say our government must entertain us.

I elect people to spend my tax dollars wisely on public safety and infrastructure and other social needs for the public good, and to do it in the open. The mayor’s ‘business acumen’ of secrecy has only cost us millions in debt. Nothing I will ever do will change the governing philosophies of Mr. Huether. And hopefully, he will never serve again in that capacity.

But moving forward the council has the power to change it, not only for the newly elected mayor (who has promised more transparency) but for future councils and mayors.

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of snipping and griping going back and forth between current councilors about how new leadership will handle passing along information. For instance leadership has known for a very long time that the council’s broadcast equipment needed an upgrade, they just didn’t bother passing along that information to the rest of the council. This has been going on way before Huether stepped into office and it needs to end.

Instead of all the pissing and moaning behind the scenes, the first thing the council needs to do is have an open public discussion about how that information WILL flow. In other words the council needs to put on their big kid pants and inform leadership and the mayor that they WILL share all (early) information with them and the public.

After this very productive discussion, they should implement policies into ordinance that says that the mayor’s office and leadership WILL share the information. Not ‘maybe’ or ‘might’. And if it is sensitive to personnel or litigation it can be shared in an executive session.

I’m sick of listening to all the griping (and not just by me) about more transparency. It does no good to complain about it on this blog, in a letter to the editor, in front of a TV camera or at public input unless the council is at least willing to put legislation forward to fix the problem. If they can’t do this early and soon, the next four years are going to be just like the last eight, fighting like little kids on the playground about who gets to play in the sandbox.

The council and media may want to blame the public for poor decorum at the meetings, but all this secrecy is the lowest level of decorum that I have ever seen. Lets start acting like big kid government and pull open the blinds and let sunshine in.



7 comments ↓

#1 J on 05.09.18 at 2:14 pm

In my mind, the public doesn’t always need to see “how the sausage gets made”. However, our councilors, as representatives of their constituents, do need to be privy to everything that is going on. It baffles me that information is not shared with the city council until the moment they vote on it.

#2 Theresa stehly on 05.09.18 at 4:28 pm

Mr. Scotty…Some of us on the Council have been working hard for months to bring light into these City policies and projects…..

For example, the parking ramp ordinance brough forth by Councilor Pat Starr and myself, to repeal the sale of the bonds and put the brakes on the problematic mixed use parking ramp. Then there was the effort by Councilors Starr, Nietzert and myself to vote down the secretly negotiated golf course contract. There were backroom conversations happening to work out defense strategies to ramrod these through with certain Council members and City staff . That’s not open and transparent for the citizens.
They deserve to hear all the rationale behind the proposal.

How about my insistence that we know who the investors are in that 15 story City supported parking ramp. The Argus editorial board agreed with me. Council members..not so much.

Other transparency efforts were the ordinance to video tape the Park board meetings, the resolution supported by Pat Starr and myself to release all the safety audits and studies done at the Falls, and the efforts I have made during past meetings to defend the citizen’s right to speak and the City Council member’s right to speak and ask questions.

We also have had to push hard and persistently to get information and reports. I have requested the names of all individuals who have benefited from TIF money. (A tax break). After many attempts,I was told that the City would not release the names. Other communities do, but not in Sioux Falls. I called the communities of Watertown,Yankton, Aberdeen and Rapid City. All of them said they allow their elected officials to see all the proposals and contracts. They said they couldn’t get by with keeping it from their citizens either.

It really comes down to a culture of “Special,Secret deals for Special people”. This assault on transparency has been allowed to permeate our City government for many years. You are right that the councilors need to take action now.

So yes Scott,this is a huge challenge that the public wants changed and addressed.
I’m hoping that with the new Council and a new responsive Council leadership, we will have a new era of trust, transparency and citizen representation.

#3 Bruce on 05.09.18 at 4:45 pm

It is the right and in the law to allow the public to see, hear and read how the sausage gets made. Only those trying to slip something in will fight transparency.

#4 anonymous on 05.09.18 at 6:39 pm

In my mind, the public doesn’t always need to see “how the sausage gets made”.

EVERY tax dollar spent is a ‘PUBLIC’ tax dollar.

#5 Rachel on 05.09.18 at 7:15 pm

I think Huether has epically failed the citizens of Sioux Falls, but it’s interesting to me that the council members who also have failed Sioux Falls don’t get the same heavy handed treatment that Huether has. For example, Erickson was re-elected over Nick Weiland who in every encounter I’ve had with him is a “top of the line” human being. I hope Paul conducts things differently…betting against him, but hoping he will turn out to be a decent mayor.

#6 "Very Stable Genius" on 05.09.18 at 8:00 pm

Oh, I think we have the right to watch the “sausage” being “made” at all times. It’s not like we are at war with Sioux City and there are city security issues at hand…..

#7 l3wis on 05.09.18 at 9:18 pm

Theresa, Trust but verify. I don’t have an issue with trusting Paul, that is why this is the perfect time to put the legislation forward, when everyone is on the same page about transparency instead several months down the road when you are at odds about a project or contract. It’s kind of like body cameras, they not only protect the suspects but they protect the police officers. If everyone is playing by the same set of rules you can get past the petty arguments about ‘he said, she said’. Put a transparency policy in place you all agree on NOW and when problems arise you can never go back on the tired old arguments about the lack of transparency.

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