When you lack open government in a community you lack the ability to make positive change or progress for ALL of it’s citizens.
That is the ONLY INTENT of wanting to keep government closed, so that the specials at the top of the food pyramid eat plenty and the rest of us get crumbs.
This isn’t just about expenditures or policy because lack of openness can have grave repercussions on the reputation of a community, the economic stability of the public and private coffers, and cost taxpayers oodles of money in lawsuits due to incompetent decisions made behind closed doors with NO public input.
If government is keeping something from you, it’s NOT because it is a good thing, because if it was something good, wouldn’t they want us to know?
In just the last year several issues have arisen due to the lack of transparency;
• A childcare crisis (while I do agree that the city has few options to help with this issue besides directly funding programming, in which they do, they can put policies in place that encourage wage growth in our community without interrupting the private sector. Besides NOT having public pre-K, the real issue isn’t the affordability of child care, it’s WAGES! The city council and city hall have the power to make significant progress on this issue, but they would have to do it publicly, and that scares the living daylights out of them.)
• Several possible open meeting violations (threats of arrest made towards public inputers or they are openly mocked while at the podium by the mayor, agendas not posted correctly, Roberts Rules of public engagement ignored, public input ignored. And when you try to file a complaint they play a game of back and forth between the AG and State’s Attorney’s office until they finally come back and say ‘You need to hire your own private attorney’ You know, to the sue the very government that is supposed to be serving you.)
• Holding public meetings at inconvenient times and locations (This has actually been going on for decades but it has really been bad during this administration. If you go and just peruse minutes on this page you will see a reoccurring theme, NO one from the public to make comment and meetings held in the middle of the morning on a weekday in some public building downtown that you have to pay parking to. This is intentional folks. Any major open house to talk about large projects should be held over a weekend and any other board meetings shouldn’t occur until after 6 PM during the weekday. These are PUBLIC meetings and are for the PUBLIC. Wouldn’t you make it convenient for the public to attend?)
• Code Enforcement and Health Department out to lunch (selective enforcement is what many are calling it. I’m not sure how you have a functioning health department that refuses to make inspections and when they do, refuse to release that information to the public. Of course, this is of no surprise since our recycling rates have dipped so low, it is evident there is very little enforcement at the landfill to.)
• Several directors ‘leaving’ and being replaced by the Finance Director (Last I checked, Finance is running Health, Finance and the IT Department, heck they may be running several other departments, I don’t know? Anytime you have an accountant running multiple departments you have to wonder if something is askew on the books?)
• Internal Audit jobbed out (to this day no one knows why the Audit Manager left the city council to go back to work for the administration, not a peep. While I totally understand SOME personnel issues must remain confidential, I think the public has a right to know why a DEPARTMENT MANAGER left, after all, her departure triggered an almost total disband of the internal audit department. My uneducated guess is that someone in leadership probably screwed the pooch on this one, and maybe the reason they were not moved up the ladder.)
• Changing Ethics Code for elected officials to allow partisan groups to pay for travel (this of course all stems from the hearing held for Councilor Neitzert in which himself, Mayor TenHaken and then Deputy Chief of Staff, TJ Nelson took a trip to Texas paid for by a partisan group, but only Neitzert was implicated. Instead of taking the recusal of charges as a teachable moment they now want to make it OK to be influenced by partisan groups, slippery slope folks. It is no secret that certain elected officials and directors are taking paid for partisan trips on a regular basis. Did you know that when the mayor is absent from chairing a city council meeting that his absence is a secret, even councilors are not told of his whereabouts and whether his absence is business or pleasure. If an emergency occurs while the mayor is across the country or across the world will the council know how to react? Is there a cruise control button for navigating natural disasters?)
• City website has poor functionality (I joke with people that you would think that a guy who ran a successful web development company could figure out how to make the city website work better. Go ahead, try to find something on the actual site. If you want a lesson in frustration and have 30 minutes to kill, have at it. A city that makes it’s official website a tangled web of rabbit holes isn’t interested in telling you the truth).
• City struggles to find management employees (The city recently had to hire a recruiter to help with this. My experience is that organizations that struggle to hire managers have a leadership and IMAGE problem).
• Asking Bunker Mansion defendants to absolve the city of discriminatory intent (in other words, sign a piece of paper telling the courts that the city isn’t racist. I’m sure the letter is framed and hanging between an achievement medal and a truckstop hat in the garage. I wonder if a Sikh or Muslim could sue the city over the discriminatory nature of the Jesus Plows?)
• Sustainability Committee’s recommendations put in a meat grinder (after an all volunteer board meets for over a year, a policy advisor who once coordinated a pumpkin recycling program in San Diego takes a red pen to their recommendations. While I don’t agree with all of the committees recommendations, the amendment process should have taken place in a public meeting where members of the community could weigh in. Kind of how that democracy thing works.)
• Riverline District (This project is ‘stalled’ due to an economic impact analysis of the proposed development, in other words you pay a consultant to tell you the things you want to hear and you relay that information to the public at an opportune moment. While I support redevelopment, it is pretty obvious the public doesn’t want a baseball stadium and they sure as Hell don’t want to act as real estate agents. Besides common infrastructure around the area, the city needs to stay out of the baseball stadium business and go back to building regular parks).
• 6th Street Bunker Bridge (so how is it that a bridge that only needed resurfacing turns into a $21 million dollar project? Not sure. But I can almost guarantee there was a closed door meeting that got us to this boondoggle. I could start a entire blog around the speculation and rumors that lead up to this misguided project, but I do know one thing for sure, if this planning was out in the open, we wouldn’t be footing the $21 million dollar bill).
• Bunker Ramp Mural (this all started because the mayor thought there would be riots over a sleeping shirtless Native American man dreaming about flying buffalos and rainbows. Oh the controversy! The public process used by the Sioux Falls Arts Council and the Visual Arts Commission to push this project forward was how open government is supposed to work. Instead the mayor shredded the original proposal, met behind closed doors and presented us with a design he said a friend called ‘Ugly’. If you only want to have ONE example of the failures of closed government in Sioux Falls, this is a shining example. It was liking watching a juggling workshop for circus seals, maybe that is what the mural should have been.)
• Mounts at Zoo (This reminds me of when GW Bush said there was WMD’s in Iraq and all they found was aged weak mustard gas that caused very little physical harm. I don’t know all the deets on this matter, but keeping the decommission of the project from the public was a HUGE mistake. As a citizen jokingly commented at the recent coffee with the council, ‘Funny how these mounts have to be mysteriously disposed of right after the city announces a merger with the butterfly house.’ And that is exactly what this is about. More backdoor ranglings to hide the future taxpayer expenditures of the zoo expansion. I told someone the other day you could incorporate the mounts into a glass encased exhibit in conjunction with an aquarium. On one side of the display hallway you would have the aquatic life and on the opposite side the animal displays. It would be a unique exhibit for sure! But that would require planning, vision and oh, public input.)
• Link Contract (how is it that the city and county can fund a triage center and have that contract hidden from the public? I hope Forum News pursues the document, the public has a right to know who we are helping and what it costs.)
• Volunteer City Boards tabling recommendations (even though you could watch this 10 minute video and learn just about 90% of what you need to know about a particular topic, these 2 boards couldn’t seem to wrap their head around a bicycle with a battery mounted to it. While councilor Neitzert has spent months tweaking the changes to the ordinance to be as simple and straightforward as possible they decided to pass. I do understand they are volunteers, but the whole purpose of your board is to make recommendations, if you are not willing to do the research and make that recommendation it makes you wonder if other forces are at work, you know, like a non-list of parks that are not mowed or an event house that mysteriously goes into disrepair.)
Even if this stuff occurred over a span of the last 6 years I would be concerned. I recently told the Active Transportation Board that this is the darkest I have seen city hall in the 20 years I have been following city politics.
I am not sure what is driving this very intentional door slamming but if it continues for another 12 months, we may not have a functioning city government (it’s kind of on fumes right now).
As Joe Kirby put it so eloquently ‘The mayor’s office has become autocratic.’ Boy, you ain’t a kidd’in!