Sioux Falls City Council Budget Hearings

In the first city council budget hearing for 2022 there are some curious slides in the presentation. The meeting started at 3:00 PM, and the Chair, Councilor Soehl said that the cutoff time was 5:20 PM and if the council cannot get their questions in before that time they can reach out to department heads on their own time. The problem with that is that the public will not hear the questions and answers since there are NO ordinances that says this kind of communication should be shared with the public. It is also curious because the council has been told on several occasions that they are NOT allowed to contact department heads without permission from the mayor’s office, which is well within the charter guidelines. If the council has questions, they should be in a public forum and not behind closed doors. The solution would be recessing the meeting at 5:20 and allowing more questions to be asked in a public forum at a future meeting.

Let’s first look at per capita debt;

While I do not contend that ‘city debt’ is probably spot on, this does NOT include residents of Sioux Falls Minnehaha and Lincoln County debt, or school district debt which includes the Harrisburg and Sioux Falls debt.

This slide was actually GREAT NEWS;

I have known for a long time that the city’s turnover is extremely low, which is fantastic! I know many former and current city employees, they all tell me it is a great job, great benefits and competitive pay. I have always pushed back that city employees are fishing for a job in the private sector. The above slide proves otherwise. Working for the city in the public sector is a wonderful career and the stats prove it. Nobody is jumping ship for better opportunities. The administration has created a crisis that does NOT exist.

The mayor is proposing some strange new positions;

I have said that I do not oppose this position, but I need more details of what they are going to do. The city has always had a person in the planning department that is the contact for arts, but now they think they need a full-time person. This is probably coming from the Bloomberg foundation, many cities have these type of positions. It is how they are applied and what kind of decision making authority they have.

This position really had me curious;

The funny part about this is that the position already exists, it’s called THE MAYOR! The mayor should be the person pushing special projects, that is literally their job! The mayor has plenty of support staff to assist them with research, they don’t need another deputy mayor.

Minnehaha County Commission denies public input on CO2 pipeline

Besides the fact that the commission gave the green light for the pipeline to move forward (4-1 vote, Barth dissented) they also told the attendees there would be NO public input because the chair said it ‘wasn’t a public hearing.’ Ok, what the Hell would you call a public meeting with a posted agenda item? A church potluck?

14) Consider a Temporary Zoning Ordinance on Gas and Liquid Transmission Pipelines

They did follow state law by allowing general public input at the beginning of the meeting, but you are NOT allowed to comment on agenda items. I would encourage attendees to file an open meetings violation against the commission for denying them their 1st Amendment Rights and the use of Prior Restraint by the Chair. Barth asked for public input and the chair said they have pretty much heard enough thru phone calls and emails. So are those emails and phone calls going to be posted online so people can see those conversations?

City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County put on notice for high speed pursuit and accident

A 321 notice is a public record and is used to make a party aware that they may be sued. According to the notice, the victim is accusing that the Sheriff’s Department and Police Department of wrongfully pursuing a vehicle and causing an accident (Entire Document)

Since this may be pending litigation, I am not sure what exactly happened BUT I have seen police cars in Sioux Falls speeding thru traffic without sirens or lights on and wondered why.

Sioux Falls City Council Agenda, August 2-3, 2022

PLANNING COMMISSION ENTIRE AGENDA ON CONSENT FOR 2ND MONTH IN A ROW

Planning Meeting • Wednesday August 3 • 6 PM

As if it were not bad enough that the members barely have a quorum each month, have multiple conflicts of interest and the agenda reads like Chinese algebra, for the 2nd month in a row they put everything on the consent agenda. Of course, the public can pull an item for discussion, but rarely do. I also found it interesting that the entire agenda is in consent considering Item 2 (I) has NO recommendation from staff.

THE SECRETLY SELECTED HOMELESS TASK FORCE WILL HAVE FIRST MEETING

Homeless Task Force • Wednesday August 3 • 1 PM

While the task force has stated the meetings will be recorded, I am not sure if they will live stream. I still have not heard why the members were secretly selected behind closed doors and there wasn’t an open application process. Not sure this group of ‘specials’ is cut out for the job;

Rich Merkouris – City Council, Pastor

Marshall Selberg – City Council, Real Estate

Curt Soehl – City Council, Insurance Salesman

Michelle Erpenbach – Sioux Falls Thrive

Kari Benz – Director of Human Services · Lincoln/Minnehaha County

Mike Curtis – Crop production Services – Area Sales Manager (?)

Anny Libengood – Anny Libengood – South Dakota Multi-Housing Association

Terry Liggins – non-profit called The Hurdle Life Coach Foundation

From 2015 – “Terry Daron Liggins, age 29, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on the conspiracy charge, and 24 months on the ID theft charge, to be served consecutively.  Upon release from prison he will be on supervised release for 3 years.  Liggins was also ordered to make restitution to the IRS in the amount of $339,535, and to two ID theft victims in the amount of $866.83.”

Andy Patterson – President/CEO · Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation

Jesse Schmidt – Better Business Bureau

Dustin Haber – Bender Commercial Realty

Rebecca Wimmer – Coordinator of Community Partnerships · Sioux Falls School District

Kadyn Wittman – Development Director YMCA

Budget Hearing • Tuesday August 2 • 3 PM

REGULAR CITY COUNCIL MEETING FULL OF CONSULTING FEES AND CRAZY NEITZERT AMENDMENTS

Regular Council Meeting • Tuesday August 2 • 6 PM

Item #6, Approval of Contracts

Sub-Item #6, Aquatic and Ice Rink Development – Vision Plan for Kuehn, Frank Olson, McKennan, Terrace, and Laurel Oak Pools; Agreement for professional services, PROS Consulting, $99K. As I have mentioned at council meetings, we have plenty of dusty studies on the shelf of what pools need to be fixed. I sometimes wonder if Parks Director Don Swanson is getting a kickback from the consulting firms?

Sub-Item #10, Mass Notification Software Contract Renewal. Notification tool is utilized by multiple City depts. to notify residents of Sioux Falls in the event of emergency, and other mass public notifications, Everbridge, $47,745.48 per year for 3 years. I find this one intriguing considering I thought the cell phone companies help pay for this thru other fees and taxes. Can someone clarify?

Sub-Item #15, Legal Services Engagement; Amendment to professional services agreement, Woods Fuller Schultz & Smith P.C., $20K. And what is this for?

Sub-Item #29, Rail Yard Redevelopment – Quiet Zone Preliminary Design; Agreement for professional services, Alfred Benesch & Company, $73K. While a design certainly has to be done, why on earth would the taxpayers of Sioux Falls being paying for a preliminary design before the railroads have agreed to it? What about the state? The Feds? Why doesn’t the developer that wants this pay for it? How about the Department of Transportation, or better yet the Railroad? And what pocket is this coming from? I think we need to get everyone on board before we start designing this and sneaking it in the consent agenda.

Item #42, 2nd Reading: Deferred from the meeting of Tuesday, July 19, 2022; AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF SIOUX FALLS, SD, AMENDING THE CODE OF ORDINANCES OF THE CITY BY AMENDING CHAPTER 30: ORDINANCES, RESOLUTIONS, MOTIONS AND OTHER DOCUMENTS REQUIRING COUNCIL APPROVAL BY REQUIRING AN ANNOTATED AGENDA. (This item was referred to the Operations Committee at the Council Meeting of April 13, 2022 and reported to the Council at the Meeting of July 19, 2022). This is a long time coming, and I think the council needs to make more bold steps towards transparency. Of course, I am NOT going to hold my breath. It took Janet Brekke 4 years to get this on the agenda, and when she finally got it there, the council deferred it. They have NO interest in expanding transparency.

Item #43, 2nd Reading: AN ORDINANCE REVISING § 124.012 OF CITY CODE THAT PROVIDES FOR SIOUX AREA METRO TRANSIT FARES. This is also long past due, and with little fanfare, the kids ride for free!

Item #51, 2nd Reading: AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA, DIRECTING SUBMISSION OF AN INITIATED MEASURE TO PROHIBIT THE CONSTRUCTION OR PERMITTING OF NEW SLAUGHTERHOUSES WITHIN THE CITY LIMITS TO A VOTE OF THE ELECTORS OF THE CITY AT THE GENERAL ELECTION TO BE HELD ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2022. I still think this ballot question is unconstitutional, and if I was a city councilor, I would vote to NOT put it on the ballot.

COUNCILOR NEITZERT TRIES TO CLAIM NON-PROFITS ARE NON-PARTISAN, LMFAO!

Item #65, A RESOLUTION ADOPTING THE 2022 CITY COUNCIL POLICIES AND PROCEDURES. Part of the changes have to do with the travel policies of the council. Of course, councilor Neitzert who was impeached for going to a partisan event with the Mayor and former Deputy Chief of Staff, TJ Nelson, now wants to define that non-profits are non-partisan. His amendment is as follows;

For purposes of this policy, any non-profit organization under Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code is not considered a partisan organization.

Not only is that incredibly false its ludicrous he would even propose something so ridiculous. And if a majority of the council approves his amendment, we will make sure the IRS is aware that the Sioux Falls City Council thinks non-profits are non-partisan, unicorns exist and the tooth fairy is my neighbor.

Argus Leader loses two incredible journalists

While I never worked for the Argus (I did have several editorial cartoons printed) I did work with these two fine gentleman on several big stories concerning city politics. The Event Center siding settlement comes to mind. The one thing I appreciated about both of them was there ‘NO BS’ approach to creating a story. anytime I would give either one of them a lead they would dig. Ellis said to me all the time, “If only I could get someone on the record!” he was always adamant about having a reliable source. Sneve had a different approach, he would usually try to coax the information out of people with a little liquor and biker charm. I hope they both continue as great journalists in our community. I know they both have families and long ties to South Dakota, so I don’t see them leaving anytime soon.

My funniest memory was meeting Joe for the first time. I had beers with him, Bruce and Mike Myers at Monks. MMM’s communications manager saw us and quickly told her boss about our meeting. Joe told me soon after that Mike told him not to talk to us and Joe told Mike “I will talk to whoever I want to.”

Joe Sneve

Today marked my last day as a reporter at the Argus Leader, a newspaper which I’ve had a relationship with for the entirety of my 37 years on this planet.

From the announcement of my birth that ran in a 1984 August edition of the paper, swimming in disheveled copies of the paper on the floor of my grandfather’s house as a tot, to delivering two routes in Dell Rapids as a young teen, to becoming an intern while in college, to eventually becoming a new hire in 2012 – the Argus Leader has been part of the fabric of my life more so than just about anything else besides my family.

It’s a been a wild ride that’s opened many doors, brought me to many places I’d never have gone otherwise and has enriched my life deeply.

I’d like to thank every single co-worker, many of whom have become some of my best friends (which isn’t going to change), that I’ve had over the years. You made me a better journalist.

But the Argus Leader chapters of my life have come to an end.

However, I am not letting my years of experience as a watchdog journalist go to waste. And despite having some safer career alternatives presented to me, I am forgoing those to continue to hold South Dakota governments and the officials that operate them accountable.

My time at the Argus Leader is done, but I’m only getting started when it comes to kicking ass and taking names.

Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks about what’s next!

Jonathan Ellis

After nearly 17 yeas, today marked my last day at the Argus Leader.

It’s been a great run. I’ve worked with some phenomenal people over the years. First-rate journalists and just good people. Sadly, a couple of them are no longer with us. Dave Kranz was an outstanding political columnist. Maricarrol Kuiter a great editor.

When I interviewed at the Argus in 2005, I had also interviewed at the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News. Working at the Argus gave me opportunity I never would have had at a larger metro daily. Thank you Amy Johnson Ellis for highly suggesting that I take the job.

Less than three years into my time at the Argus, I was doing one-on-one interviews with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as they battled in the 2008 Democratic primary. I never would have had that opportunity at a larger paper.

The Argus has supported my numerous efforts to win public information. We’ve been to the South Dakota Supreme Court several times, and we also went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not many newspapers would have had the moxie to do that.

So I will always be indebted to what the Argus gave me. But now, it’s time to move on. It may seem crazy to some, but I believe we are entering a golden age of journalism. And Joe Sneve

and I are ready for what’s to come. Standby.

Finally, I want to thank the institution and the great people I worked with and under. We’ve had solid newsroom leadership at the Argus. We’ve done amazing work. That can never be taken away from those of us who labored there. We can be proud of much.

Has the Denny Sanford Premier Center lost its luster?

Well, I could have seen this coming a mile away. As Scott Hudson and I discussed on our podcast before the Denty was built, the industry wasn’t really moving in a direction of big sold out concerts. The Premier Center was a splash in the pan, but unfortunately, we have to pay the mortgage and maintenance on the facility for its life.

Part of the issue was the way the bonds were passed to build the facility. It was many first time voters that didn’t know that it was an advisory vote (a real bond election would have required a 60% passage). If it would have been a REAL bond election, the EC would have failed.

I still think remodeling the Arena, turning the current convention center into a recreational facility and moving the Convention Center downtown would have been a better choice.

I had a person ask me the other day what I thought were Sioux Falls’ best years since I have lived here. (He moved here with his wife in 2010 and runs a successful small business). I told him that golden years were between 1997-2007. Downtown Sioux Falls was full of great live music and live music venues and was really a great place to be. I think we could have continued that trend if it were not for the 2008 recession. I don’t think the Sioux Falls middle class really bounced back from that recession. Wages were frozen throughout the city for several years and the only ones moving forward were the welfare queen developers who were cashing in on all the tax incentives. I think that ruined Sioux Falls, growth for growth sakes.

If the 2008 recession could have been avoided, and we throttled back on the growth in 2007 we would be a much better community for it. But hey! At least we have a dented up empty can to be proud of.

City of Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force lacks neighborhood representation

Besides the fact that there was NO public call for membership to this group they have NO one from the neighborhood (residents or business owners) serving the on the group.

While we could certainly wait to see what this group accomplishes, it’s hard for me to have much confidence when the selection of the task force was done in secret and lacking transparency.

While some of the members of the board do work in affordable housing and social work, I’m not sure athletes, realtors and directors of business organizations really have a grasp of what is going on in this neighborhood. Where is the director of one of the homeless shelters like the Mission or Dudley house on the board? Or a rep from the Banquet? What about a pastor or deacon? A business owner or homeowner in this neighborhood would have been an excellent addition to the group. It is pretty much a group of bureaucrats that are going to craft policies that uphold the bureaucracy instead of fixing the problem.

The SFPD really needs a group of officers dedicated to outreach to the homeless. That would be a great first step. Instead of reacting to the problem, a proactive approach.

I live in the Nelson Park neighborhood, and to be quite honest with you I have never seen so many homeless people before, the problem has exploded.

I do wish them luck and I want to thank Chair Merkouris for wanting to take this on. I also think it is wonderful the meetings will be open to the public, and WILL be recored. Nothing can be accomplished in the dark.

Joe Kirby critiques Sioux Falls city government on his new blog

While there are many parts of the Home Rule Charter and Strong mayor form of government I don’t like, Joe’s perspective on its current status is spot on;

We intended that the city council would be a strong partner of the mayor. The council is a part time, legislative body with control of the purse strings. As the city charter says, “all powers of the city shall be vested in the city council.” We thought the council would provide the long-range policy guidance needed to complement the mayor’s focus on daily operations. While many incredible people have served on the city council over the past thirty years, it has never quite performed as we intended.

The council sometimes seems to lack a strong, separate identity. All too often, it has done little more than rubber stamp the mayor’s proposals, both good and bad. That has occasionally created big messes, such as the ugly and incomplete Village on the River project in downtown Sioux Falls.

That project was rushed through the approval process without much transparency or chance for public dialogue. Some city council members and many citizens raised good questions about it. A pause would have been appropriate, and perhaps likely if the council had been able to do its job right. Instead of the promised fifteen-story building housing two hotels and a bunch of retail, we are left with a homely seven story parking garage with an unclear future.

Oh, but it gets better, he brings up why we don’t need the mayor chairing meetings and breaking ties (a tie vote would result in failure of an item);

Another related problem with the city government model we put in place is that the demands on the mayor can sometimes be too great. Some mayors have told me the job can be overwhelming, especially when they must run city council meetings after a tough day at the office. Given all that, I think I know what would fix these problems.

We went too far in our effort to ensure strong, centralized leadership by the mayor. We failed to adequately separate the executive and legislative functions in city government. Of course, the mayor is the city’s chief executive. Unfortunately, we also provided that the mayor chairs city council meetings and even casts the deciding vote on ties. In short, the mayor has a large measure of control over the council. All things considered that was a mistake.

He outlines why it is important to separate the council from the mayor’s office;

Separation of powers provides necessary checks and balances on power. In government it is a tried-and-true way to avoid the pitfalls of an individual or group exercising too much power. Can you imagine the President having the power to run congressional sessions? Or the governor running the legislative session? Of course, that wouldn’t work well for federal or state government, just as it doesn’t in our city.

Based on what we have seen, I would amend the city charter to separate the executive and legislative branches of our city government. I have proposed this idea a couple of times to the charter review commission, but they aren’t interested. Inevitably, those who are part of the system aren’t motivated to rock the boat. As they say, “you can’t fight City Hall.”

Yeah, the CRC isn’t big on doing anything. Those meetings are a graveyard of good proposals.

I hope Joe continues blogging, and I hope he brings a petition forward to let voters decide if we should make these changes. Now is the time to take the mayor’s power away and return it to the council.

If Wholestone Foods decides to sue over the petition, who will foot the settlement?

As I have mentioned in the past, I believe the petition is unconstitutional and violates state law due to property rights.

The city council must approve the petition for the next election, but who is ultimately responsible if the petition passes voters (I think it will get over 70% approval).

If Wholestone Foods little loophole butcher shop trick does not work, they may sue the city. The defense fund would likely come from the Public Assurance Alliance, but if the city looses and WF wants damages (legal bills, etc.) it would be the taxpayers that would have to foot the bill.

I encourage you to vote NO on the petition, not because I want another sh!t factory in Sioux Falls, but because it doesn’t have the legal muster to stand, and we could ultimately be paying for it, and NOT the petitioners.

This is probably the reason they decided to do the petition. By having the voting taxpayers of this city change the law, it puts the liability on us. The petitioners could have easily just used the money to fight WF in court themselves, but this way they can wash their hands of the legal implications. Very piggish of them.

Is another City Manager bailing on us?

I remember when we were told how incredible our liquor cart boy Technology Manager was going to be and there was push back from concerned councilors. He got hired anyway. Then he left, and recently his replacement left. You know, all that ‘building a team’ bullsh!t Paul feeds us.

Remember when we were told how great this person would be as our internal auditor even with push back from city councilors.

Now I am not sure if Shana Nelson is quitting the position, but I find the above employment listing interesting since I thought they were fully staffed in the auditors office.

But I do know that while her and her husband Matt Nelson (parking director) are full-time paid directors with the city they are also owners of a very busy pet store franchise. So how is it that you can both work as full-time city managers and manage a retail business? At least we can’t accuse them of drinking at 3’O Clock in the afternoon at a DTSF bar on a weekday like two other directors were a couple of weeks ago (yeah, I saw you Ron Swanson).

Like I said, I am only speculating that there will be turnover in the Auditor’s office, again, but if it is true maybe this time they will actually do a national search for someone who is qualified to run an auditor’s office, or at least one that actually does audits.