Sioux Falls City Councilor Greg ‘Ethically Challenged’ Neitzert responds to killing public input

I was going to stay away from an extensive blog post on why keeping public input at the beginning of the meeting was important. I have literally ranted about freedom of speech, open government and the 1st Amendment for over 13 years on my blog.

Our founding fathers made it #1 for a reason, dissent and grievances towards your government make your government better because we hope our elected officials are modeling legislation out of what we find important to the majority but more importantly the minority;

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Sometimes this happens, sometimes it does not. But if those leaders are NOT willing to listen or put us to the back of the line, you can guarantee they do NOT think what we say is important (while digging in our pockets to fund the very government they run).

I have to respond to this long and extensive rant by Councilor Nutzert on Facebook today. You may not agree with all my retorts, but give me a listen;

Late last week a postcard hit mailboxes in Sioux Falls.  That postcard was a “call to action” regarding a vote the City Council will have on Tuesday night regarding our general public input.  That postcard was misleading, irresponsible, and inflammatory.  It uses the technique of creating a false “rich vs poor”/”developer vs average citizen” conflict.  It also makes the irresponsible allegation that City Councilors and the Mayor care about rich people and developers, but don’t care about the “average citizen”.

Everything Greg says in this paragraph is hyperbole. The very people who have funded the campaigns of most of the city council (even some I support) have been from the ruling class. Those who support public input at the beginning of the meetings have pointed out the truth; the very business people showing up to the meetings to do business have a financial stake in the decisions made. In other words waiting an extra 30 minutes to do their business doesn’t cost them a dime, they are probably actually going to be financially rewarded. That goes for the developer getting millions in a tax rebate to the small theatre owner getting a beer license. Waiting is the cost of doing business. As for the citizens, who fund the lion’s share of city government, we are there on our own time. If anything, public input should be moved, before the invocation and pledge of allegiance.


I’m going to set the record straight, and then move on.  This issue is really much ado about nothing.  It is procedural and has no impact on citizens day to day life.

Wow! He is right that it is procedural, procedurally moving citizens to the back of the line, dead last in the dark of the night. They even have the gall to say you can’t talk about the meeting that just occurred. Greg’s statement reminds of when Monty Python famously says, “It’s only a fleshwound.”


Council meetings, like many other governmental bodies meetings, have a designated time that people can talk to the elected body about anything that they want that is NOT already on the agenda.  We call this our “general” public input time.  We allow up to 30 minutes of general public input (3 minutes per person).  You can talk to us about ANYTHING, and people do.  It may be completely irrelevant to the city.  

Greg leaves out that not only is it state law to allow this time in most public meetings, it is covered by the US Constitution and a recent Supreme Court ruling.


We also allow public input on every agenda item at our meeting.  Agenda items can be many things – approval of a new beer license, a rezoning of a property, annexation of land into the city, an ordinance to create a new law in the city, a fee increase proposal, and so many other things.  Any citizen can give input on these agenda items.  They may support it.  They may be the applicant requesting it.  They may oppose it.  They may be a neighbor who opposes what a builder/developer/owner is trying to do.  They may oppose a rate increase, or a new restriction.  They are all citizens.  Interested parties for agenda items, and those giving input are not just “developers” or “rich people”.  They are citizens who may have deep concern about a new law, a new fee increase, or something that might happen near their home or neighborhood.

Yes, but these are very separate from general input, this is reserved for things NOT on the agenda, and that is why they take precedent over the upcoming business. And unlike the welfare queens that come each week to fatten their pockets on the regular agenda, they are welcome to bitch and complain also during this time, and some do.


Regardless of the order of our meetings, SOMEONE has to wait.  It is not a choice of making citizens wait or not, it is a matter of WHICH citizens should have to wait. 

Ironically, he is right (in this statement alone) and the tradition is to allow the people who own this government to speak first. Rich or poor, contributors or bloodsuckers. Come at the beginning and get your dissent on.

Should those that are there to speak, support, or oppose an agenda item (that is urgent because it is up for approval) and may affect them personally have to wait, or should those who are there to talk about something that is not on the agenda, and may not even be something the Council has jurisdiction over, have to wait.  Whatever you think is the right answer, I only ask that you recognize that you are asking some citizens to wait, no matter what.

Okay, we call this ‘splitting hairs’. As I linked above in the 2018 SCOTUS ruling, as long as what you are saying is ‘germane’ to government business (which is most everything), your statements are protected by the 1st Amendment. Nothing anyone says at these meetings has more importance than the other. Where the line is drawn is what is more important? Dissent or business? I think our founding fathers found dissent of the citizens is more important than those who seek refuge from our government in favorable taxes, fees and licenses, which have ZERO affect on our health, happiness and wellbeing. If Developer ‘X’ gets a massive tax rebate or favorable rezoning, the trickle down effect to the public as a whole is so minute you could measure it with a pubic hair.

  
As an example this Tuesday night, general public input will be first, because that’s where it is set at this point. 

And why is that Greg?

That means those citizens who want to speak about the proposed mask mandate will have to wait.  Are they “less than” those who are there to speak about something not on the agenda?  Ironically, those who are there to speak on THIS ISSUE (where to put public input) will have to wait for those that speak at general public input because this issue is an agenda item.  It would be odd to argue that citizens there to speak on this ordinance to change where general public input is held are less valuable than those actually speaking at the general public input time. 

As I said above, Greg is just circling back to hyperbole. The agenda is separate from public input. Always has been. I often tell people the official business of the council doesn’t start until the agenda items are presented. So yes, people have to wait.

 
The ONLY choice is WHO – WHAT CITIZENS – should have to wait.  Everyone will get their chance to speak, the only difference is who and what goes first.

And you think the ‘business’ of the city should go first, which as I have said is just you and your fellow rubberstampers doling out our money. Let’s put it to you another way, it would be like your employer putting you on a pay schedule in which you are paid one week in advance instead of being paid after you completed your required hours a week later.


A few other important notes: 1. In recent years, around 75% of general public input has been given annually from 10-12 citizens.  That means 10-12 citizens out of almost 200,000 are using the vast majority of public input time. We are literally allowing ourselves to be held hostage by a dozen citizens of our city.

First off, let’s state the obvious, Greg took that statistic directly from of his ass. Secondly, until the census is done, that 200K number from certain elected officials seems to grow like a whitehead on a teenagers nose, thirdly, citizens have not held anyone ‘hostage’ on the city council, in fact, I would argue it is the exact opposite, as councilor Brekke said, you are OUR guests, not the other way around. The 1st Amendment is NOT based on how many people speak on a specific topic. The same person could come to every single council meeting for the next 20 years and be the only person to speak, it would still not change the dynamic of that right.

2.  Anyone who has watched general public input in recent years has seen that while there are some great things that are brought to us, the majority consistently are items we have no jurisdiction over, are the same people, and are mostly grandstanding and self serving.  I’ll be very blunt, general public input has degraded into an embarrassing spectacle. It does not reflect well on our meeting or our city.  

I agree 100% it has become ’embarrassing’ and mostly because the citizens have been pointing out the ridiculous (and fraudulent) actions of this council. Greg said it best, he is embarrassed, and he should be, I can give him 26 million reasons why. If our elected leaders in this city have done such a great job why do we have a city attorney’s office? Maybe we should make an amendment to disband that entity.

3.  We rarely have Boy Scouts and other children at our meetings, and they’ve told us they no longer come or don’t stay because the public input can be so outrageous and inappropriate at the beginning of our meetings.  They could be learning about the civic process, but they don’t anymore.

So I heard this argument last week from a text sent to me, and I about died laughing. Public input is the ‘perfect’ example of learning about the civic process. Teaching our youth about Freedom of Speech and Open Government is the finest of civic lessons. I think little Johnny should learn and engage his parents about the homeless, prostitution and drug dealers. Why would we want to hide this from our children? Does Greg really believe our children are this naive? Sometimes the only way I learn what atrocities that our taking place in our community is by listening to citizens lay them out at Public Input. The only way you fix these problems is by recognizing them first.

4.  The vast majority of people tell me our general public input is not valuable, it is an embarrassment to our city and they want us to do something about it.

Well, then, why move it, just get rid of it. Seriously. Wipe it completely off the agenda. Oh, that’s right, like I have mentioned above it is against the US Constitution and State Law, and if you did that, you would all go to jail. So what is the difference if a citizen tells you suck at the beginning or at the end? This argument is just as childish as the person who is making it. He should get a badge for Bullsh*t.

5.  There are a LOT of ways to give your elected officials input.  Call, email, send a letter, use social media, talk to an agenda item, etc.  General public input is just one, and its frankly one of the least effective.

I also agree with Greg on this. In fact the reason I started a blog is because I felt my letters to the editor, my public input and our lazy ass local media were not cutting the mustard. But if you think our city council is responding to these other forms of contact, you are sadly mistaken. One of the reasons many show up to the public input is because they get ZERO response from councilors. I have had citizens tell me with real concerns about zoning and crime in our city they have NEVER gotten responses from the current and former mayor and 80% of the council. Then they wonder why they come on Tuesdays and chew ass? Greg, is it that hard of a math equation?

6.  Many of our city employees are hourly employees.  When they have to come to meetings to speak to an agenda item, they are being paid to sit there. All of those employees are being paid tax dollars to sit through the general public input. 

What Greg leaves out is that they receive flex time for those hours. In other words if an hourly city employee has to work two extra hours on Tuesday, they can work two less hours in the remainder of the week. As for the directors who mostly speak at these meetings, they are salary, they get their mostly 6-figure paychecks no matter how many hours they work. Boo Hoo. What Greg is saying in this statement is that he represents the city employees, who we pay, over the very people who pay them. Our city councilors are elected to represent us. It is in the freaking charter! It is the mayor’s job to represent the city employees, which I have heard he tried to screw in the last union negotiation.

7.  Many applicants who have agenda items need to have their attorneys, engineers, and other representatives at meetings.  They are paying them usually hourly, and they have to arrive at the beginning of the meeting because they don’t know when their agenda item will come up.  They are being paid to sit through the general public input. 

8.  Even if you think “developers”, “builders” or whatever you wish to refer to these applicants are “less than”, consider that they (or an average citizen) who get on the agenda, have paid significant fees to do so.  They have paid to have us consider their agenda item.  Why is it a given that they should have to wait and those there with nothing on the agenda get to “jump the line”.  Why is that automatically right?

And like I already said above, that is the price of doing business in a capitalist society. Did Greg vote for Bernie Sanders?


We have had any number of big items on our agendas over the years that citizens have cared deeply about.  In my 4 years on the Council, we have had proposals to big large apartments near or next to single family, fee increases, bonding millions of dollars including the parking ramp downtown, the downtown city center building, and the water treatment plant.  All of these items are HUGE decisions and impact citizens directly, and in many cases citizens see them as life changing for them.  They are average citizens.  They aren’t the applicants.  They aren’t developers, rich people, or whatever other term you wish to use if you accept the rich vs poor/developer vs average citizen division.  They have to wait if you leave general public input where it is.  


The rhetoric of making this into a developer vs average citizen is inflammatory and meant to rile people up and divide us.  It should be rejected.

You are correct. Let’s reject it, and leave public input as is. Personally, I hate having to bring it up, because I know it embarrasses the Mayor and Council that you consistently kiss their rings. All this ‘division’ could end when you realize that the public IS who you serve. We only bring this up because it is true. If it bothers you so much, maybe you should turn off your sucking device?


Wherever you come down on this, just realize you are asking citizens to wait their turn.  The only decision is WHO should wait.  There are many elderly, “average” citizens (using the postcard terminology) who want to speak to agenda items, and you are asking them to wait if you have general public input at the beginning of the meeting.  


Those who support moving general public input to the end of the meeting care about citizens, and they care about input.  Saying or implying that they don’t is irresponsible and a unfounded personal attack on their character.

Is it? Because I have yet to hear from one of the ‘specials’ in our community that having to wait an extra 30 minutes is hurting their businesses. They don’t have to say anything because they have puppets like you Greg to defend them, because they have spent a lot of capital making sure you do what is best for them, including crying on Facebook they deserve to go to the front of the line. I would expect the very business people of this community you defend to testify on Tuesday night that public input at the beginning of the meetings has hurt their bottom lines. I’m guessing that number of dissenters will be a big fat ZERO.

Remember every agenda item allows for citizen input, does that matter?
If you accept the premise that moving general public input is “oppressing” citizens, you must necessarily concede that if you support keeping general public input at the beginning of the meetings, you are “oppressing” all citizens there to speak on an agenda item.  You must be consistent.

And we have been consistent. We have it at the beginning. Why do you want to change this sacred consistency? Why do you choose to ‘oppress’?


To repeat again, what should be first, items that are pressing and on the agenda, or items that are not on the agenda (and may never be).  That’s the choice.  It is not a for or against citizens, or for or against input.  Period.  


I have learned in my time on the Council that people care about items that affect their lives.  If we vote to fix their road, raise fees on their water bill, they care about that.  Our procedures at our meetings don’t affect people’s lives.  It’s inside baseball.  While a few people are VERY loud and make it appear there is controversy or wide public sentiment, it does NOT represent the vast majority of citizens.

Your procedures don’t affect lives????!!! Was that a typo?

As a guy I heard on FB recently talking about Trump’s apparent loss, “We’ve had enough of your nonsense, grab your tape and boxes, and pack it up.”

Our constitution is meant to protect the minority. Read it, you freaking moron!

You can decide what citizens should wait, but don’t fool yourself.  No matter what you choose, you are making citizens wait.

I’m going to simply this all for you and make it shorter than Greg’s diatribe. The 1st Amendment guarantees your right to dissent your government. Period. And any government official who wants to mess with that precious right is full of garbage and should resign, I have plenty of tape and boxes if you need them.



3 comments ↓

#1 D@ily Spin on 11.09.20 at 9:20 am

Obviously a postcard outline prompted some lengthy rhetoric from one who accepts vacation bribes. I wish he’d listen more than defend himself. We elected councilors to listen, not preach on social media.

#2 Mike Lee Zitterich on 11.10.20 at 8:53 am

Lets be honest, Greg has basically said what I have been saying for a few weeks; and the fact is this, some of the citizens have made public input a time where all they wish to do is attack, disrespect, and speak outside out jurisdictional controls; this would NOT be happening IF we all ‘respected’ each other, councilors, citizens, ALL OF US; you do not have the right to disrespect each others opinions, thoughts, comments, beliefs, and that is what public input has become today. Lets be clear, this is why it keeps getting brought up.

There is NO WHERE in the U.S Constitution, State Constitution, nor our City Charter that states Public INPUT must be first, middle, or last; “WE” get to decide where to put it, “WE” get to decide how to manage it, “WE” get to decide how to use it;

Any given week, a concerned Citizen or Resident gets to speak before the COUNCIL no less than 75-200 minutes when you include public input, agenda items included.

Take my proposals I made to the Council …

Break up Public Input into 2 parts:

A) 20 Minute Public Input @ 6:30 PM – make this a 20 Minute/4 person special request up until 48 hours prior to council meeting, no one gets more than 1 time per 15 days (2 per month) to pitch their concept, idea, plan, or proposal to council and each get 5 minutes; City Clerk arranges and manages these allotments of time;

B) 15 Minute Public Input at the Rear of Each Council Meeting – anyone attending a council session now gets 3 minutes to speak on any issue they wish, that is or was not on the agenda prior, this allows for no less than 5 people to speak within this timed allotment.
My proposed concept expands public input to two distinct sessions; 35 minutes, while allows for the citizens to request a special time before each Council Meeting to pitch or discuss a proposal, concept, idea, or suggestion; while after the agenda, the public may come back freely to speak for 15 minutes on any topic for up to 3 minutes.

Also note – that the public gets to speak for 5 minutes per each “agenda item” on First or Second Readings; so one person could actually speak for a total minimum of 8 minutes + plus each additional 5 minutes per ‘agenda items’.

WE must find compromise AS a COMMUNUITY if we want to save Public Input, Protect Our Ability as Citizens to voice ourselves, promote our ideals, concepts, and ideals to the governing body;

Greg is right – this is NOT about being a Developer vs Citizen, “WE” are all citizens whom pay ‘taxes’. WE ALL MATTER, and until ‘we’ learn to respect each other, this topic will keep coming back, and back, and back again.

Sincerely,
Mike Zitterich
Sioux Falls

#3 "Very Stable Genius" on 11.10.20 at 3:27 pm

WWKBD? (Koch Brothers)