John Tsitrian attended his new mayor Steve Allender’s speech at the Black Hills Forum and Press Club Friday. Tsitrian found Mayor Allender’s speech a bit fuzzy and the questions a bit too controlled.
Mayor Allender explained to the Forum that his decision to remove city notices from the Native Sun News was strictly business:
I got the sense from Allender that he believes running official notices in NSN is a redundant effort, considering the notices already run in the much more widely-circulated Rapid City Journal. Though I take issue with that conclusion, the answer seemed adequate enough to me. We elected him to make these sorts of decisions and I accept this one…. Allender did add that the $40k/yr budgeted for NSN is money he wants to use to hire a tribal relations specialist in the city’s administration [John Tsitrian, “Rapid City Mayor Allender Goes Public,” The Constant Commoner, 2015.08.29].
Tsitrian salts his tolerance of this rationale with some skepticism based on some anti-Native Sun News commentary Mayor Allender added:
But why Allender chose to gratuitously describe the give-and-take between him and NSN’s editorial management after he pulled the city’s business is a mystery. I think I’ve got this right, but most certainly invite correction if I’m misinterpreting Allender’s narrative. Apparently a satirical and highly critical piece about the mayor appeared in NSN shortly after his decision to pull the ads, which caused Allender to complain to the editor, who responded that NSN writers are generally left alone to write as they see fit. End of story, I would think, but Allender’s unsolicited recitation of it seemed unnecessary and potentially provocative [Tsitrian, 2015.08.29].
Publishing the city’s notices in Native Sun News began two years ago during Sam Kooiker’s mayorship. Mayor Allender’s ending of this policy may have its political motivations. It may also be based on exaggerated numbers, according to information NSN editor Jackie Giago presented to the Rapid City Council earlier this month:
“Originally, we were told it was a $40,000 budget, and that’s a far cry from where we were. We ended up with, as of right now approximately, $3,149.50 as far as what we we’ve earned for the city minutes and $2,605.60 in human resource ads placed through the city,” Giago added. “And the total is $5,755.”
…“If we was to keep doing this annually, it looks like it should run somewhere between twelve to fifteen thousand dollars. This is to reach out to the Native American community that reads our publication. So we would like to be asking you guys to let us please be part of the city minutes again,” said Giago [Richie Richards, “NSN Makes Its Case to City Council,” Native Sun News via Indianz.com, 2015.08.06].
Native Sun News also contests Mayor Allender’s estimates of NSN readership:
Each week, more than 20,000 people read the physical Native Sun News newspaper around the state and country. In Rapid City alone, there are 4,000 dedicated readers.
Native Sun News articles are distributed to the Associated Press and Native American online news providers like Indianz.com, nativetimes.com, pechanga.net, rushmore.com, and newsfinder.com. It is not uncommon to find NSN articles posted on social media pages like Teton Times, Navajo Times, and Red Power Media.
The total readership of Native Sun News articles about local and tribal stories reaches hundreds of thousands of loyal readers each week, this is a much larger number than the “800” which Allender told the Rapid City Journal recently [Richie Richards, “Allender Says NSN Cut Not Retaliation,” Native Sun News via Indianz.com, 2015.07.31].
The Rapid City Council sees merit in working with Native Sun News. At their August 19 meeting, the Council voted 7–1 to add $15,000 to the 2016 budget for “Native Sun News publication activities to be identified by the Mayor.” Those “publication activities may not be the official minutes; according tot he August 19 minutes, Alderman Ritchie Nordstrom agrees with Mayor Allender that publishing the minutes in two newspapers is unnecessary duplication. Alderman Steve Laurenti cast the lone dissent, saying that “tax payer monies should not be utilized for outreach programs.”
The council’s decision allows Mayor Allender to use that $15,000 to pursue publication efforts that might produce more benefits for race relations in Rapid City. So we can’t really hang Mayor Allender on this one policy position; we just have to scrutinize how he uses the $15,000 to see if he comes up with a better plan for improving city–Lakota communication.
It is worth noting Mayor Allender isn’t prohibiting NSN or any other media outlet from publishing the city council’s minutes. The minutes are available for free online and can be easily copied and pasted into any article. Here, for instance, are the minutes from the most recent Rapid City Council meeting, as published online, August 19, 2015:
PROCEEDINGS OF THE CITY COUNCIL Rapid City, South Dakota
August 19, 2015
Pursuant to due call and notice thereof, a special meeting of the City Council of the City of Rapid City was held at the City/School Administration Center in Rapid City, South Dakota on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at 5:30 P.M.
The following members were present: Mayor Steve Allender and the following Alderpersons: Steve Laurenti, Jerry Wright, Ron Weifenbach, Brad Estes, Darla Drew, John B. Roberts, Ritchie Nordstrom and Amanda Scott; and the following Alderpersons arrived during the course of the meeting: None; and the following were absent: Charity Doyle and Chad Lewis.
Staff members present included: Deputy Finance Officer Tracy Davis, City Attorney Joel Landeen, Community Planning and Development Services Director Brett Limbaugh, City Engineer Dale Tech, Police Chief Karl Jegeris, Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne, Parks & Recreation Director Jeffrey Biegler, Civic Center Executive Director Craig Baltzer, Airport Deputy Director Operations & Security Peter Girtz, Library Director Jim McShane and Administrative Coordinator Sharlene Mitchell
FY2016 Budget Review-Discussion and Direction – Estes presented the items for discussion. In response to a question from Weifenbach, Estes added the CPI to the discussion items. In response to a question from Estes, Davis outlined the corresponding actions required to increase expenditures and maintain a balance budget. In response to a question from Scott, Davis addressed the required CPI resolution of intent action. Laurenti requested that the Police discussion be expanded to include staffing in general.
Police Staffing – In response to a question from Laurenti, Jegeris clarified the number of new officer positions proposed for 2016 noting that the positions are subject to the COPS grant award. Jegeris indicated that the city match for the six positions is included in the 2016 budget. In response to a question from Laurenti, Jegeris addressed the grant funded positions expiring in 2015 and 2016. Jegeris clarified the manner in which the grant revenues and expenditures are addressed in the budget. Jegeris addressed the new officer hiring process and the cost sharing percentages of the grant noting that the new positions will focus on community trust building. Laurenti addressed the transition of officer positions to the general fund in 2015 and 2016, the use of the COPS grant to increase the police staffing and the unfunded staffing requests from other departments. Jegeris addressed the utilization of the grant program to fund sworn officer positions at a reduced initial cost and to then retain those positions to maintain pace with the city growth and need for police services. In response to a question from Nordstrom, Jegeris clarified the grant term and reimbursement for the six positions and the process to hire the positions once the grant has been awarded. In response to a question from Wright, Jegeris addressed the number of sworn officer positions, including the requested grant positions, noting the attrition through retirement and resignation. In response to a question from Scott, Jegeris stated that he would seek staffing direction from the council should the grant not be awarded. In response to a question from Scott, Davis addressed the revenues available through the CPI and undesignated cash. In response to a question from Roberts, Jegeris addressed the current staffing levels, the statistical analysis projections for future staffing levels and the ten year plan developed to achieve the projected staffing levels. Discussion followed regarding the impact of a growing community on the Fire and Police calls for service. In response to a question from Roberts, Jegeris addressed the parameters and focus of the COPS grant. Jegeris addressed the drug crimes focus of the streets crime program. In response to a question from Weifenbach, Jegeris addressed the grant term noting that the city is not obligated to retain the positions once the grant expires. Weifenbach addressed the financial benefit of the grant program. In response to a question from Weifenbach, Jegeris addressed the state wide competition for the grant funding and its impact on the city’s request. Jegeris addressed the reasoning prompting the city to verify the statistical crime information provided with the grant application. Jegeris addressed the policing
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interaction experience of children in high risk families noting that the focus of the grant program will be trust building with those individuals through the school presence. In response to a question from Estes, Jegeris addressed the training period for new hires and the impact of recent retirements and resignations on staffing levels. In response to a question from Laurenti, Jegeris addressed the percentage of new hires that are experienced officers and clarified the policing responsibilities of the grant positions. Motion was made by Laurent, second by Roberts to reduce the COPS grant request to three officer positions. Laurenti addressed his reasoning in reducing the number of grant positions. In response to a question from Scott, Jegeris outlined the process to replace an unsuccessful grant candidate noting that the city would continue to receive the grant revenues during the replacement period. Scott voiced support for all six grant positions. Wright voiced support for the Police budget as submitted noting the city’s responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens. In response to a question from Roberts, Jegeris outlined the policing focus of the grant officers. Weifenbach voiced support for the grant request. In response to a question, Davis clarified the grant accounting in the 2016 budget. Drew voiced support for the COPS grant as submitted noting the importance of the trust building program. Jegeris clarified that while the grant request was for six officers the number of positions awarded can be reduced noting that the council would be updated should there be a reduction in the grant award. In response to a question from Laurenti, Jegeris identified the proposed annual increase in sworn officer positions. Laurenti urged support for the motion noting that the proposed reduction will provide one additional position in excess of the projected annual need. Upon vote being taken the motion failed (1-7) with Laurenti voting Yes.
Police Department Chemist – Motion was made by Scott, second by Roberts to not include the Police Department Chemist in the 2016 budget. Noting the benefits of the position, Scott encouraged Jegeris to address the position in the 2017 budget. Nordstrom encouraged Jegeris to work with the Mayor to fund the position for 2017. Weifenbach addressed the critical necessity for the chemist position to successfully prosecute drug crimes. In response to a question from Drew, Jegeris addressed the legal changes in the blood testing procedures the development of an electronic warrant system to facilitate drug and alcohol enforcement. In response to a question from Roberts, Jegeris indicated that reallocating an active sworn officer position to the incoming grant program would adversely impact future grant requests as the intent of the grant program is to assist communities in increasing their sworn officer staffing. In response to a question from Estes, Jegeris address the need for timely drug and alcohol analysis, the dismissal of drug cases due to manpower inefficiencies and the ability to refile charges upon completion of the drug tests. Jegeris advised that the new position will not increase revenues but will balance the workload. Weifenbach addressed the benefits of early intervention with drug crimes noting that the chemist position is a critical need. Upon vote being taken the motion carried (6-2) with Estes and Weifenbach voting No.
Code Enforcement Advertising Budget – Scott reviewed the thought process behind the advertising suggestion and recommended addressing the item in the 2017 budget. Scott acknowledged the educational articles currently generated by the Communications officer. Motion was made by Nordstrom, second by Roberts to acknowledge the item. Nordstrom recommended that the Mayor consider the item for the 2017 budget. Drew suggested that educational notices be added to the water billings. Motion carried.
Parks & Recreation shortfall for sidewalk repair – Wright encouraged the Parks Department to increase the line item for this activing in their future budget requests to more accurately reflect the need.
Parks & Recreation deficits in programming (ice, swim, golf) – No discussion.
Business Analysts – Wright addressed the staff recommendation for a Business Analysts position to addressed fleet and building management. Wright recommended that the position be addressed in the 2017 budget.
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Interdepartmental Charges Detail – Scott commented on the previous administration’s efforts to identify and clarify the allocation of interdepartmental and PILT charges to the general and enterprise funds. Scott indicated that she has voiced her concerns to Mayor Allender and has offered to assist in addressing the charges for the 2017 budget. Wright indicated that interdepartmental charges should be for services received and not a process to increase revenues. In response to a question from Estes, Scott acknowledged receipt of the requested information.
Native Sun News Publication Costs – Motion was made by Drew, second by Weifenbach to add $15,000 to the 2016 publication costs for the Native Sun News. A friendly amendment was offered by Scott and accepted by Drew and Weifenbach to add $15,000 to the 2016 publication line item with the City and Native Sun News to identify the best use of the publication funds. A second friendly amendment was made by Scott and accepted by Drew and Weifenbach to fund the publication expenditure through the elimination of the council compensation increase and the salary savings generated by the reclassification of the Mayor’s Executive Assistant position. Scott addressed her reasoning for eliminating the council compensation increase noting her opinion that the current rate is sufficient. Mayor Allender indicated that the purpose of the increase is to encourage a greater cross section of the community to serve noting the need to engage young professionals in the government process. Mayor Allender encouraged the council to accept the increase based on the requirements of the position and the need to attract people into community service. Wright voiced support for the council increase and recommended that an alternate funding source be identified for the expenditure. Wright suggested that the community would be better served by publishing educational items in the Native Sun News. Weifenbach questioned the need to identify a funding source for $15,000 noting the importance of reaching out to the Native American population. Laurenti indicated that he could not support the motion noting his opinion that tax payer monies should not be utilized for outreach programs. Laurenti stated that the expenditure should not be considered in view of the proposed tax increase. Nordstrom indicated that he could not support the motion noting his opinion that the lower compensation benefits the incumbent. A substitute motion was made by Weifenbach, second by Wright to identify unencumbered cash as the funding source. In response to a question from Nordstrom, Estes advised that per the motion the Mayor will determine the publication activities and that expending the full allocation is not required. Nordstrom indicated that it was unnecessary to duplicate publication of the minutes and encouraged identifying alternative publication activities. Mayor Allender indicated that he would work with the Native Sun News to identify a publication activity that would provide greater benefit to the Native American community. Drew recommended utilizing the funding for the Human Relations Commission publications. Wright called the question, no objections were noted. Upon vote being taken the motion to add $15,000 to the 2016 publication line item for Native Sun News publication activities to be identified by the Mayor with the funding source being unencumbered cash carried (7-1) with Laurenti voting No.
Estes recessed the meeting at 7:32 p.m. Estes reconvened the meeting at 7:42 p.m.
Control of temperature at the Dahl – Baltzer advised that the Dahl can control the temperature at the facility through their consultant group. Baltzer indicated that the Energy Plant, Civic Center and Dahl staff will meet to address the temperature control and energy saving measures.
Performing Arts Center – In response to a question from Estes, Davis indicated that the $26,000 expenditure has been included in the 2016 budget. Motion was made by Laurenti, second by Weifenbach to defund the Performing Arts Center $26,000 and to reallocate the funding necessary to restore the Humane Society to the 2013 budget level with the remaining funds reverting to unencumbered cash. Wright encouraged funding the Art Center as proposed. A substitute motion was made by Drew to fund both the Performing Arts Center and the Humane Society at $16,000 each; motion failed for lack of a second. Motion was made by Scott, second by Wright and carried (5-3) to split the question with Roberts, Laurenti and Weifenbach voting No. A substitute motion was made by Scott, second by Wright to reduce the Performing Arts Center 2016 allocation to $16,000. Scott stated that the Vision Fund monies were to be the extent of the city’s financial commitment as the facility was to be self-
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sufficient. Scott indicated that the funds will be used to maintain the facility noting that she could not support funding the operations of the facility. Weifenbach recommended funding the maintenance expenditure from council contingency and urged the council to prioritize the funding requests. Roberts commented on the previous funding allocated to the facility noting that he could not support the funding request. Laurenti indicated that he could not support the funding request noting the annual cost to tax payers for the arts. In response to a question from Estes, Davis indicated that the Center received $53,229 in 2013. Estes indicated that the Performing Arts MOU does not prohibit the city from providing additional funding. Nordstrom voiced support for the motion. Weifenbach asked if the request was anticipated to be on-going noting that maintenance is an operational expenditure. Drew addressed the withdrawal of the Schools funding for the janitorial services noting that the city funding will be utilized to clean the facility. Estes identified the percentage of the funding request in relation to the Center’s overall budget. Laurenti called the question; no objections were voiced. The motion to reduce the Performing Arts Center 2016 allocation to $16,000 carried (5-3) with Roberts, Laurenti and Weifenbach voting No. In response to a question from Scott, Estes recommended that the Humane Society portion of the split motion be addressed when the item comes to the floor.
Destination Rapid City – In response to a question from Estes, Davis indicated that the $80,000 expenditure has been included in the 2016 budget. Motion was made by Laurenti, second by Roberts to defund the entire 2016 allocation for Destination Rapid City. Laurenti addressed the proposed property tax increase, the Fire department staffing needs and the Humane Society needs. Laurenti voiced his opinion that cleaning the downtown area is the responsibility of the benefiting property owners and should not be a tax payer responsibility. Roberts recommended that funding from BID Assessment be directed to the clean team activity noting that he could not support the general fund expenditure. Wright voiced support for the funding request noting that the property being maintained is right-of-way. Wright complemented the DRC maintenance insuring that the downtown remains an attractive place to visit. Scott indicated that it was difficult to justify the use of tax payer monies to clean private properties noting that there is insufficient information to justify the request. Weifenbach voiced his opinion that DRC failed to justify the request. In response to a question from Weifenbach, Biegler outlined the division of the downtown cleanup responsibilities between the Parks department and DRC noting that the Parks department has also assumed maintenance of the promenade. Wright recommended that DRC be allowed to re-address the request noting his opinion that the city should participate in maintaining the downtown area. Estes advised that DRC can defend the funding request at second reading noting his personal observation of the clean term operation. Estes suggested that the appearance of downtown attracts people to the area and increases sales noting that he could not support the use of tax payer monies to maintain the downtown area. The motion to defund the entire 2016 allocation for Destination Rapid City carried (5-3) with Drew, Nordstrom and Wright voting No.
Humane Society – Davis identified the current Humane Society allocation of $258,000 and 2013 allocation of $278,318. Motion was made by Laurenti, second by Weifenbach and carried with Nordstrom voting No to increase the Humane Society 2016 funding allocation by $20,318 to a total of $278,318 with the funding source being $20,318 from the defunded DRC request.
Black Hills Vision – Davis stated that the item is not funded in the 2016 budget noting that the program was previously funded through the Vision fund at $100,000 annually for five years with the allocation expiring in 2015. Motion was made by Scott, second by Wright to allocate $100,000 from the general fund undesignated cash to Black Hills Vision for the 2016 budget. Scott addressed the importance of Black Hills Vision in promoting economic activities in Rapid City and the surrounding region and in supporting Ellsworth Air Force Base. Laurenti indicated that he could not support the motion noting the various entities that the city currently supports that also promote business development. Weifenbach addressed his history with Black Hills Vision during the first BRAC noting the value of Black Hills Vision connections. Weifenbach voiced his preference that the request be funded through the Vision Fund program. Scott addressed the impact of the ordinance changes on the Vision fund noting that funding would not be available until 2017. Scott indicated that the Citizen Committee will begin vetting projects in
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2016 for funding in 2017. Mayor Allender addressed the importance of economic development to the city noting that the funding oversight occurred during the Mayoral transition prompting the request to include Black Hills Vision in the 2016 budget. Mayor Allender urged support for the motion noting his intent to provide a revised economic development package for 2017. In response to a question from Estes, Davis stated the undesignated cash is the only available funding source. Wright voiced support for the Mayor’s request. In response to a question from Roberts, Davis clarified the funding available in undesignated cash. Nordstrom indicated that he would support the motion because of the delay in accessing the Vision funds. Laurenti urged the council to be disciplined in spending the tax payer funds. Motion carried.
Fire Department – In response to a question from Roberts, Maltaverne indicated that the Fire Department can support two new FTE positions for 2016 from the Ambulance enterprise fund. Maltaverne addressed the shift requirements of the Fire Department requiring staffing to occur in multiples of three. Maltaverne indicated that the general fund monies would be required to support the third position. Maltaverne proposed hiring the positions mid-year 2016 to reduce the impact on the 2016 budget with the three positions being fully funded in the 2017 budget. Wright suggested delaying action on the request to determine funding alternatives for the three positions. Maltaverne addressed the funding allocation required to support the third position from the general fund for the last half of 2016. Motion was made by Wright, second by Roberts to support the addition of three Fire Department FTE positions with two positions being funded from the Ambulance Enterprise fund and one position being funded from general fund undesignated cash. In response to a question from Scott, Maltaverne stated that the department has the ability to activate the three positions immediately noting that locations and resources are in place to support the positions. Maltaverne indicated that the department is currently short staff due to retirements and resignations noting that the upfront costs for the three positions will be absorbed in the 2016 budget. In response to a question from Weifenbach, Maltaverne addressed the current staffing levels and training for new staff. Maltaverne advised that first responders are cross trained to handle both EMS and Fire service calls noting the categories of calls which require both Fire and Police response. In response to a question from Laurenti, Maltaverne addressed the grants available for fire fighters noting that the city has submitted as grant application. Maltaverne indicated that the grants are more likely to be awarded to the larger cities to assist in the rebuilding of their stations following the recession. Laurenti addressed the efforts to balance the staffing needs of Fire and Police noting he would support the staffing proposal. Maltaverne addressed the efforts to insure that the enterprise fund is self-supporting. Wright addressed the need to keep the Fire and Police staffing issues in mind with the 2017 budget development. Weifenbach voiced support for the staffing request. Motion carried.
CPI – Motion was made by Weifenbach, second by Laurenti to not include the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the 2016 budget. In response to a question from Nordstrom, Estes recommended debating the motion at this time noting the ability to debate the issue until passage of second reading of the ordinance. Wright urged the council to take the CPI to insure that the city maintains pace with inflationary costs. Scott stated that she could not support taking the CPI noting that the budget was developed on the premise that sales tax revenues continue to increase. In response to a question from Scott, Davis identified the revenue available through the 2013-2014-2015 claw back noting that only the 2016 CPI is included in the 2016 budget. Laurenti addressed the impact on property taxes should the council elect to take the CPI noting that property taxes increase as property values increase. Laurenti addressed the School opt out action noting that tax payers defeated the measure because they felt government must be more accountable with the current tax revenues. Wright suggested that by not taking the CPI operational monies that should be paying for additional services will be utilized to pay for inflationary increases for materials. Wright suggested that removal of the CPI will result in an unbalance budget. Weifenbach suggested addressing efficiencies to reduce costs noting that increasing property taxes results in a disproportional impact on low income families. Weifenbach indicated that he would not support taking the CPI. Nordstrom voiced support for taking the CPI to address the city’s street maintenance issues and to maintain pace with inflationary costs. Laurenti suggested that sales tax revenues will increase as personal incomes increase and recommended returning the budget to the Mayor with the direction to
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remove the CPI and balance the budget. Drew indicated that she could not support the motion noting the need to maintain pace with inflation. Roberts indicated that he would support the motion noting the impact of tax increases on low income families. Mayor Allender voiced his appreciation for the discussion noting that the increase is sales tax revenues is being absorbed by increasing costs. Mayor Allender commented on the negative impact the increasing costs have city projects noting the property tax increases being proposed by Pennington County. Mayor Allender urged support for the CPI noting his intent to revamp the 2017 budget. Mayor Allender stated that the purpose of the CPI is to maintain pace with inflationary costs. Scott suggested that the budget will auto-balance as the required funding will be taken from undesignated cash. Davis summarized the changes to the undesignated cash balance noting the Finance Officer’s recommended balance. Weifenbach commented on the tax increases being enacted at all levels of government and their impact on low income families. Wright commented on the impact the motion will have on undesignated cash and the 2016 budget. Wright clarified that the CIP and Vision funds continue to be maintained as two individual funds noting that the CPI is needed to insure the city maintains pace with inflation. Upon vote being taken the motion failed (4-4) with Roberts, Scott, Laurenti and Weifenbach voting Yes; Drew, Nordstrom, Wright and Estes voting No. Davis indicated that the CPI Resolution of Intent would accompany second reading of the ordinance. Wright clarified that the CPI remains in the budget until there is an approved vote removing it.
There being no further business to come before the Council at this time, motion was made by Roberts, second by Laurenti and carried to adjourn the meeting at 9:54 p.m.
Finance Officer (SEAL)
CITY OF RAPID CITY Mayor
There: search, paste, and link took about two minutes; formatting paragraphs took another two minutes. Cost: zero. Any news outlet can do it. It’s just a question of whether they want to devote their electrons, ink, and keyboard time to the minutes. It would be nice if city, county, and state governments would pay all of us in the media for helping publicize their activities, but sometimes, in a democracy, the press has to pull its own weight. (And that’s why we get a sales tax exemption on advertising, right?)