How our children are being cheated

In the last blog we explored how the taxing of owner-occupied property compared to that of agricultural property is inequitable in our state. This has led to agricultural property receiving an unfair, discriminatory subsidy and—to put it simply—not paying its fair share. This has caused an injustice to owners of owner-occupied properties and has caused our school districts to be underfunded. This blog will take a look at how this unfair taxing practice caused South Dakota schools to lose out on nearly $78 million in funding last year—funding they should have received.

For taxes payable in 2015, the education tax levy on agricultural properties was $1.782 per $1,000 of assessed value and it was calculated that agricultural properties statewide would pay $56,073,439.08 in property taxes for education state wide.

Had, in fairness, the tax levy on agricultural properties matched the—still reduced—owner-occupied tax levy of $4.252, we would have had an additional $77,719,782 available to fund education statewide.

Table-Increase in school funding with ag paying same as OO

When researching data on education funding, I came across two pieces of information which, when combined, provide an eye-opening view of how our state taxes real estate: The first was an Associated Press article reporting on a survey of leased agricultural property and second were the results of the SDSU survey on farm real estate.

Last month the Associated Press reported on the U. S. Department of Agriculture survey, The Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land, which found that 17.3 million acres of South Dakota farmland are leased. It also reported that only 11,853 of our state’s 40,260 farmland landlords are actually farmers. This makes me wonder how many owners of this leased land fit our image of the “family farmer?” Also, how many of the 28,407 non-farming landlords live out-of-state?

To help us get our minds around the size of 17.3 million acres, it is larger than the combined land mass of five of the original thirteen colonies: Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire1.

New Jersey    New Hampshire    Delaware            Connecticut    Rhode Island

That is a lot of land. And that land is not only taxed at an unfairly low rate, the very value on which it is taxed is undervalued. How do we know that? Let’s turn next to the SDSU report on farm real estate.

The South Dakota Agriculture Land Market Trends 1991-2015: Results from the 2015 SDSU South Dakota Farm Real Estate Survey, reported the average per-acre value2 of South Dakota agricultural property as $2,505.

When take the information about the number aces of leased land and the average per acre value of agriculture land, we see something amazing: the true value of just the 17.3 million acres of leased agricultural property is greater than what the state reports as the total assessed value all agricultural property in the state.

 Table-Calculated value of leased agricultural land in South Dakota

Table-Calculated value of leased agricultural land compared to taxable value

As shown in the table above, the total assessed value of all of agricultural property statewide is 5,370,526,149 less than the true, fair value leased agriculture land alone! There are nearly 43.8 million acres of agricultural property in the South Dakota3. That, taken with the taxable value of agricultural property used by the state, shows that we are taxing agricultural property at an average of $718.43 per acre. That is a very different value than the average value of agricultural property of $2,505 from the SDSU report—$2129.25 after the 0.85 adjustment4.  What does this mean for how our state is calculating the taxable value of agricultural property?

This discrimination, to the advantage of agricultural property, in property tax assessment has caused 68 of our 151 school districts—fast approaching half—to “opt-out.” That is 45% of our school districts which have determined that they cannot support even reasonable education with the current funding level allowed by the state, and decided to “opt-out” of the cap on the maximum tax levy allowed for education. Those opt-out school districts serve 54,584 students, nearly 42% of all the students in the state.

This tax levy for education is only one of the many subsidies given to the agricultural industry. When on the appropriations committee, I remember the total subsidy coming to approximately $200 million. This included such things as no fuel tax on agricultural equipment usage, no sales tax on agricultural equipment parts, subsidy to ethanol, and so forth.

How can South Dakota expect to continue to be a special place when the greed of some has led us to be cheap about how we fund education? How have we allowed greed to cause us to underinvest in our next generation?

We have allowed the inadequate to somehow become acceptable. The level at which we currently fund education is not acceptable and it is time for us to make a change.

We shouldn’t be engaged in a contest to see how little we can pay in taxes—that is greed. We, as responsible South Dakotans, should find the right level of taxes where we honor the duty to invest in our next generation—a duty previous generations honored when investing in us.

Keep tuned to this “station” because we will discuss the meaning of the nearly $78 million and how school districts would benefit.

1 Rhode Island (0.677 million acres), Delaware (1.251 million acres), Connecticut (3.562 million acres), New Jersey (4.492 million acres), and New Hampshire (5.74 million acres). Source: http://www.statemaster.com/graph/geo_lan_acr_tot-geography-land-acreage-total.
2 As of February 2015.
3 Source: http://stuffaboutstates.com/agriculture/farm_by_total_acres.htm.
4 $2,505 (average value/acre from SDSU report) x 0.85 (for adjustment) = $2,129.25.

What would happen if education were funded fairly?

As the teachers, administrators, and staff of the Rapid City School District welcome students back to school and, together, look ahead to the coming school year, it is time for us to also look ahead—to the future of public education in our state.

What is our vision for the future of our public schools? What quality of education do we want for our children, grandchildren, and neighbors? How can we set the school district and those who work for it up for success, thereby setting our children up for success?

As we set our minds to these questions and continue the work of advocating for our schools, consider the following points about how we currently fund education.

  1. Funding for education is based on taxing the value of property owned, that is how we choose to measure wealth.
  2. Owner occupied properties are taxed at a higher rate than agricultural properties. That means that the owner of a piece of owner-occupied property pays more property tax than the owner of a piece of agricultural property of the same value.

    For 2015 the maximum tax levies for school funding were set at, per thousand dollars of valuation, one dollar and seventy-eight and two tenths cents for agricultural properties and four dollars and twenty-five and two tenths cents owner-occupied properties. Owner occupies properties are paying nearly three times the amount of taxes as an agricultural property of the same value—and that unequitable ratio always stays the same if taxes increase or decrease.

    Click here to see the 2014 bill, Senate Bill 37, which set the 2015 maximum education tax levy.
    Click here to see the 2015 bill, Senate Bill 53, which set the 2016 maximum education tax levy.

  1. When we consider the amount that people of school districts with mostly of owner-occupied properties, like Rapid City, pay in taxes compared to those with largely agricultural property, the amount is staggering. We are paying more, not because our property is more valuable, but simply because it is owner-occupied.

    There has to be a way to solve this inequity in tax rates. If agricultural real estate were taxed at the same rate as owner-occupied we would increase the funding available for education statewide.

When we give our children strong education, we give them—and our community—a strong future. What do you think that we should do towards high-quality education in the future? What is your vision for education in South Dakota and how do you think we can get there?

Three Strikes

Strike One: Steve Allender will be better for our community
Steve Allender should be elected mayor of Rapid City because he has the management experience and expertise to make our city run well again. He reminds me very much of Art LaCroix in the way that he will be able to relate to business leaders as well as political leaders in the community. We know that he will seek to work with the county commissioners, superintendent of schools, president of the School of Mines, and many other important, cooperative ventures in our town—just the way that Art LaCroix did. In discussion, he clearly understands the need to establish some kind of a research park, just as Sioux Falls has done with the University of South Dakota. Once we put all of these things together we can move forward, rather than teetering where we are now.

Steve has managed a very effective police force and is accustomed to supervising a large number of individuals. He provided leadership while respecting employees’ choices in how they fulfilled the policy directives that he had established. In that police department turnover was negligible, results were effective, and the values of South Dakota were preserved.

This news story is an example of how Rapid City police officers behaved with weapons drawn, compared to what we read about happening elsewhere in the county.

Here are some specific examples of the experience and skills that Steve will bring to the mayor’s office.

  • Steve has been recognized many times over for his professional accomplishments, including his induction into the South Dakota Municipal League Hall of Fame in 2011—he was nominated by Mayor Kooiker.

    The South Dakota Municipal League website states:
    “Chief Steve Allender began with the Rapid City Police Department in 1985 as a patrol officer and served in various positions with the agency until his appointment to Chief in 2007. Allender has been an incredible asset to the force throughout his tenure and has shown outstanding courage, bravery, and exceptional leadership throughout his 26 years of service and most especially during the tragic officer-involved shootings in Rapid City on August 2, 2011. Rapid City is a better, safer community with such a dedicated and compassionate professional leading this department and guiding the city through times of peace and tragedy.”

    You can view Steve’s biography here, and a partial list of his accomplishments while police chief, here.

  • His past successes in collaboration will serve him well when joining with other elected officials in promoting the desires of the citizens of Rapid City. We need to have someone who will discusses Rapid City with the governor and with our legislators as well as being creative in cooperating with the Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations.
    Allender-Civic Center expansion
  • We will always know where Steve stands as mayor and his positions will be clear. A great example of this is his public endorsement of the opt-out in order to assure education for our children. Unfortunately, Mayor Kooiker has taken no position on that issue.
  • Steve refrained from inserting himself in the question of the Civic Center and left it to the voters to decide. After the election, he highlighted the need for more than just a few citizens to be involved in making those kinds of major decisions.
  • Steve supports our second amendment rights. A vicious and untrue orange postcard has been distributed by a group which is not recognized by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and opposed by this NRA lifetime member. The second amendment is rooted in my life’s values—the first thing that the Nazis did before the murder half the Jews in the world—was to take away each Jewish family’s personal weapons.

The fact that Sam has this group’s endorsement is itself a reason not to vote for him. This type of attack from this group, unfortunately, isn’t new. They have unsuccessfully spread this lie against many strong leaders in South Dakota.

Strike Two: Sam is a poor manager
The present mayor, with little previous supervisory experience, has dismally filled the job of chief executive and senior manager of our city.

  • There is a continual revolving door of department heads at city hall, leaving our fellow citizens—the capable people who are on the staff of the city—in a tenuous position. During his time in office six departments head positions have turned over: the head of the Library, Civic Center Manager, City Attorney, Parks & Recreation Director, Police Chief, and Airport Director.
  • There is an inability to get big things done. We have been waiting for nearly ten years to complete the new parking facility in downtown Rapid City. This is a typical example of Sam’s inability to work with others, particularly on the City Council—and with any mayor when he was a councilman. While he initially supported extensions for the project as a city council member and others were passed under his administration (click here, and here, and here to see for yourself), he turned against the project in a divisive and public manner.

    In November, 2011, Sam publicly called for the parking project to be re-bid—in spite of the fact that a contract was still in palace with the developer and city council members warned of potential legal consequences if they did so. When Sam wasn’t able to force the re-bid through, he pushed for a shorter deadline on the project. Then when he didn’t get the deadline he wanted, he meddled with the project’s private funding, read for yourself here. The mayor didn’t work with the council to build a consensus. Instead, he made demands and when he didn’t get what he wanted, he got on the phone and started making trouble. Sound familiar? This has become the “typical Sam style.”

  • Managing money is beyond our current mayor’s ability. Not only did he waste $706,000 for a Civic Center expansion that few in the community favored, he didn’t seek input from most of Rapid City’s citizens before did it. He just went ahead and spent over $700,000 on a plan that no one asked for, except maybe a few of his friends.
  • There is no apparent coordination with the county commission on anything. Potential expansions opportunities towards the fairgrounds have been discussed between individual commissioners and council members who recognize significant opportunities there, but not the mayor. No one knows exactly how to approach him in a way that would lead to a meaningful, productive conversation.
  • Though the mayor’s job is nonpartisan, Sam chose to encourage two challengers to participate in a Republican primary against very capable office holders—the effective treasurer and one of the most outstanding county auditors in South Dakota. One challenger was a former city council member and one was a current city council member—and both were his buddies. One of these challengers even asked to be named as a co-defendant with Bill Clayton when he made his now infamous remarks to a local reporter—in which he, according to the Rapid City Journal, “…told or implied to KOTA TV reporter Taisha Walker, who is black, that she should go back to Kenya with President Barack Obama.” Read the full article here.
  • Someone who runs for office would typically hope to be reelected based on what he or she had accomplished. This mayor has chosen to do a truly nice thing: to write personal notes to any citizen whose achievement he has noticed. While that will help encourage votes, it has very little to do with managing the assets of the second largest city in the state. His primary effort seems to be to give the appearance of someone who should be reelected. This is not the way to accomplish the needs of the community. As nice as that is, it would be preferable to deal with issues like infrastructure failures, delays of granting construction permits, and appointing three committees for a supposed Civic Center design.
  • A fine young police lieutenant was embarrassed he was appointed by the mayor to a position for which he was not prepared. The council overturned the appointment 8 to 2. Sam should have been in continual contact with council members to know this was the case and that his appointment would not be confirmed.
  • Instead of spending less than $20,000 to survey or even have a “focus” group to determine what the interest of the citizens would be on expanding the Civic Center, Sam spent over $700,000—nearly a three quarters of a million—to develop a “plan” that the citizens rejected by almost 2 to 1. Repeatedly, people talk about the need for infrastructure improvement—that much money would have repaired many of streets that have checkerboard and cracking, nearly invisible lane markings, broken curbs, and intersections that nearly tear out the car’s front wheels.

Strike Three: Sam has become dishonest
This last strike is raised with great sadness. Sam met with me on a number of issues when he became mayor and visited my office at least once every two weeks before I became ill in 2013. While appreciating his willingness to do so, we often did not agree; I did, however, think at that time that he showed integrity in those discussions.

What has saddened me is that his need to hold on to the job of mayor seems to have led him to outright dishonesty. In this country, running for public office is meant as taking on a position where skill and experience are focused on the citizens’ needs. The job of mayor—or any other political office—was not intended to be the person’s lifetime way of earning.

  • Following a debate with St
    eve, he chose to dishonestly distort the actual words used in the debate.
  • In this campaign, to mask his role in Kooiker website on Civic Centerpromoting a greatly unpopular Civic Center expansion, he puts words in Steve’s mouth regarding Steve’s position on the Civic Center. Steve has his own position, which he has clearly shared, that doesn’t include asking for the public’s input only after $700,000+ had already been spent. Also, Sam lauding his “insistence on a public vote” is nice spin to cover poor leadership, there are less expensive ways than a $60,000 special election to engage the public—ones that would be more genuine. A survey, as mentioned above, would have much less expensive.
  • He represented the Civic Center expansion as something which was needed because of an ADA complaint made to the DOJ, when, in fact, it was Sam who reached out to the DOJ. Click here to see for yourself, the comments start 54:50 into the video and at 1:08 the mayor again references his call to the DOJ local Civil Rights Office.
  • There is a big difference between what is contained in the DOJ agreement and the plan that Sam tried to get by us. Look for yourself at the list of what is actually required in “Attachment A” of the DOJ settlement. You will see mention of adequate seating, access to the Barnett Arena, updates restroom facilities, and changes to entry doors. What you won’t see is the requirement to build a facility that’s too large and too expensive for our community. Of course, any of us who have experienced impairment agree completely, that we need to make updates to the Civic Center. The cost to do that, however, is significantly less than the mayor suggested.
  • Do the citizens of Rapid City Lazy P6 understanding of agreement 1feel that they are being dealt with honestly by the current administration? One of the pending lawsuits against the city, which lists the city and the mayor both individually  and in his official capacity, seems to raise that point. The case is still open and this blog will leave it to the courts to determine the validity or lack of validity of the case. Read and make your own decision—all of the documents linked are from the public record. While this blog isn’t about determining guilt or innocence in the case, what is worth pointing out a the theme that has emerged. People seem to meet with Sam and come away with the impression that an agreement had been made, but the agreements aren’t followed through. How many people in our community were under the impression that a promise or agreement was made, only for it to be broken?Kooiker on KOTA 4Kooiker on KOTA part 2-1Request to delay until after election
    Another interesting and important point is that the lawsuit seems to have been conveniently tucked away, by a requested postponement, until after the election.

    (To view the full complaint click here, and here for the full response. Also,click here from documents linked to the February 24, 2014 Public Works meeting agenda.)

Now is the time for a change in the management of our city. This is the time to elect a mayor who has both significant, successful leadership experience and who has integrity and the respect of those who know him.

Please join me in voting for Steve Allender on June 2nd.

The opt-out is the ONLY immediate solution!!

It has been suggested that there is some hesitancy to support the opt-out among some in our community. Please, let me share with you why the opt-out is so vital.

The opt-out will make an additional $6 million available each year for teacher and staff salaries and vital programs. The frustration many have been feeling about the state of our school district is shared. In my days in the State Senate there were too few voices protesting the several ways in which the state aid formula and the property tax valuation system are unfair to Rapid City schools.

It is virtually impossible to expect any relief or assistance in our current crisis from Pierre. There are some interesting possibilities after the 2016 election, but today the opt-out election is the only way to make the desperately needed difference in funding levels in the next few years.

We definitely must fight for changes in Pierre, but there is no immediate hope for that route. One thing that I know for sure from my years in the legislature: if the opt-out fails, that vote will be used against us! The legislative assumption will be, “If they were unwilling to help themselves, the problem must not be all that bad, so why should we do anything?!”

The failure of the opt-out would hurt our schools, our teachers, and the children so badly that it will take many, many years to undo the damage. Without the opt-out we face three serious, perhaps irreversible, damages.

Larger class sizes
First, though we have already made cuts, teaching staff will need to be reduced even more. Those reductions would be unconscionable. If we reduce the staff by 120 teachers, as many knowledgeable friends have told me is a very real prospect, there would be an unmanageable increase in class size, yet without that reduction of 120 teachers the budget would be exceeded by $4 million.

Busing fewer students
On top of that, we’ll have to quit busing for students who live 2.5 to 5 miles from their schools. Imagine what that would do to attendance.

Programs slashed
In addition, there would need to be a $1.5 million slash in such programs as sports, music, fine arts, and debate. Many of you know that some years ago there were serious cuts in the music programs that were so serious and required personal intervention on my part.  We can’t rely on a private individual to save our schools programs.

Many of you have been disgusted with the administration and do not trust it—I feel the same way—but we are turning the corner.  Many of us, working together, will achieve substantial, positive change.  Change is now possible in the district’s leadership. You can count on me to help you assure that outcome.

Sioux Falls, which has had an opt-out in place for many years, has a much broader and effective education system than ours. After the opt-out is approved, I will form a team of manager-leaders who support education and travel to Sioux Falls and find out what they are doing to have a better system and compare the use of tax dollars. The opt-out is just the first step, we need to stay committed and continue the work to ensure that our students have a quality education system and teachers have an environment in which they can succeed.

As one who has been “on the barricades” for more local school funding for decades, I’m asking you to set aside those doubts and past grievances and join with me in supporting the opt-out.  Stop by campaign headquarters, 1309 West Main Street, to find out how you can help.  Even just a couple hours of your time can make a difference.

When we succeed, there is a smart plan, for us to pressure our legislators, our Governor, and the school board to get cracking on even more gains for teachers and students.  If we fail, it will be too late, and everyone in our town loses.

A response to a Time Magazine article

The April 20th edition of Time Magazine contained an article written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar titled, “Nothing Less Than an Assassination.” I was moved by the article and submitted following is a letter to the editor in response to it.

The training and culture that leads to shootings of unarmed individuals can be changed, as suggested by Abdul-Jabbar on page 31 of the April 20th edition. In 1976 the South Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights held a community forum in Rapid City, the second largest city in the state, on the treatment of Native Americans in South Dakota. As a member of the panel conducting the hearings, I received a call from Art LaCroix, the longest serving mayor in Rapid City’s history and its first (and only) Native American mayor. He asked if it was possible that, “My police force could be doing those kinds of things.” My reply, “Sorry, but I think so, my friend.”

Mayor LaCroix fired the chief of police and hired a new chief, Tom Hennies, who established a program to carefully develop a culture and training process to address the issue. The next our three police chiefs, including the current, went through that development process.

On March 5th, two Rapid City officers were checking on an unrelated report when they were approached by a man who seemed to be reach in his pocket for a weapon and crouched in a firing stance. The officers drew their weapons and took cover, they then realized the man’s “weapon” didn’t have a barrel (they later discovered it was a cell phone) and ordered him to the ground. The incident ended without a weapon being fired. I can’t help but wonder if the man would have been instantly shot and killed had the incident happened in South Carolina, instead of South Dakota.

After someone read my letter to the editor they asked me if a majority of Lakota people would agree with my letter. I thought about it and replied that this is something that we need to ask and address. I expressed my hope that we will soon have elected officials with whom we can have a productive conversation around that question.

Courage?? Cuba??

Here is another story of how South Dakota, in the heart of America, can change international outcomes. This is also the story of courage: what courage looks like and what it doesn’t.

Secretary Kerry recently boasted that President Obama showed courage in his unconditional reopening of relations with Cuba, but what the president did wasn’t courageous. True courage can be found in Cuba’s jails cells—jail cells which hold political prisoners who the president completely ignored in his unconditional acceptance of a terrible and vindictive communist regime.

True courage could also be found in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution. On November 16, 1989 university students demonstrated in the streets of Prague to protest the communist government. One of the demonstration’s leaders was Jan Bubeník, a young college student who would later become my friend. On that day in November and over many months that Jan continually confronted the oppressive government of his county. What began as a demonstration of university students with about 60,000 people climaxed with 500,000 people standing face-to-face with equally young Soviet soldiers in the heart of their city. These young people faced each other and without bloodshed or violence or war, communism ended in that courageous country.

Following the revolution a parliamentary government was formed and Jan was its youngest member. In June of 1990 Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946. Czechoslovakia had been under control of either Germany or the USSR since the Nazis invaded in 1939 and now—this country known for the naturalness of its freedom—was finally free.

After the election Jan moved to the United States to continue his education at University of Colorado in Boulder. It was my privilege to get to know Jan very well when he interned for a company of which I was a director. He later came to South Dakota to view Mount Rushmore shared his hopes for the future and for his life—a life which continues to this day because of a surprising intervention made by a South Dakota United States senator—Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

How did Tom Daschle come to intervene on behalf of a revolutionary and former parliamentarian from the Czech Republic? You could call it a coincidence, but as the saying goes, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

My late wife’s, Ita, niece is a physician’s assistant in Los Angeles. In 1997 or 1998 she was traveling to Slovakia to take part in research and planned to stop in Prague on her way (by this time Czechoslovakia had peacefully separated into two sovereign nations: the Czech Republic and Slovakia). I gave her Jan’s name and they had a very pleasant visit and discussion before she went on to Slovakia.

President Bush was elected in November of 2000 and shortly afterwards I received a call from Jan telling me that he was coming for the inauguration and asking if I also planned to attend. He said that he was coming with a college, Ivan Pilip, and hoped to see me. This was after my first election to the legislature, so the inaugural was impossible, and I gave Jan my regrets.

In the second or third week of my first legislative session there was an email from Ita’s niece saying that she had received an email from a doctor in Slovakia informing her that Jan was in serious trouble in Cuba. While I knew that Jan had planned to stop in Cuba to visit with some “dissidents” on his way to Washington, I knew nothing of any trouble.

Concerned, I called Florida state legislator Mario Diaz-Balart (now a member of congress for Florida), whose parents had fled Cuba. I gave his office Jan’s name and asked if they knew anything about a couple of Czechs having a problem in Cuba. I received a call back from Mario’s staff informing me that Jan and Ivan had been arrested, but was assured that they were still alive. I asked, “Still alive?” They replied, “Yes, while it’s unusual as they have been charged with serious crimes against the government because they were meeting with dissidents.” She told me that was rather unusual because while other foreigners have these meetings and are criticized or deported, she’d never heard of anything quite as drastic as they were charging Jan and his friend—who had been in the parliament with Jan and was the former deputy interior minister of the Czech Republic.

Immediately, I called Tom Daschle’s office in Washington to tell them about Jan’s situation and who he was—that he wasn’t an agitator and that he was someone who believed in freedom and that I could vouch for him as I knew him well. It happened that Tom wasn’t available as he was on his way to South Dakota to sign the Missouri River Compact on Water in Pierre. However, because Tom’s staff knew that I was a responsible person who wouldn’t have called if it weren’t serious, they immediately contacted the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Jan and Ivan’s behalf. They told them to notify the Cuban government that the majority leader was very concerned about the arrest of the two former parliamentarians from Czechoslovakia and personally wanted to be assured that they would not be harmed and would be allowed to proceed on their way to Washington.

At the compact signing in Pierre, my seat was in the front row with Speaker Pro Tem Matt Michaels and immediately adjacent to the table were Tom Daschle and Governor Janklow would be seated. It was easy for me to give Tom a note briefly explaining who Jan was, my concern, and the information that we had received.

As it happened, Tom had recently visited Cuba and met with Castro towards finding a way to help improve relations between their two countries. After receiving my note, Tom called and notified Castro that under no circumstances would he consider any assistance to Cuba if anything happened to the two former parliamentarians.

The next day Jan and Ivan were hustled on a plane to Europe.

What do the end of communism in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the detainment of two Czech revolutionaries, and current opening of relations with Cuba have in common?

As our president leads us down this road with Cuba, let’s recognize that the Castro brothers have a long memory. Longer, it seems, than ours and certainly more vengeful.

Thank you for your vote.

The power of open communication in the social media has certainly become clear to me. Over the couple of last weeks a small group of people with a small budget of only $7,000 and, separately, this blog utilizing Facebook used to facts to soundly defeated a $75,000 campaign.

Tuesday, Rapid City voted down a plan that wasn’t right for our community. Now, it is time to look forward and work together to begin the process towards a Civic Center plan that does fit us.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Rapid City should immediately notify the Department of Justice of the city’s intent to seek modifications to the agreement that was negotiated with the DOJ. The first order of business is to eliminate the thirty month time frame, which is allowed under item #21 of the agreement.
  2. Rapid City should immediately, before the end of the month, employ TSP, the A & E firm which previously evaluated and reported the needs of the Civic Center, to develop plans and specifications to address the handicapped access concerns and other critical needs. The plans should be completed by May 15, 2015 and include a timeline to address the accessibility concerns in a timely manner while developing a phased  construction plan that would allow for maximum utilization of the arena during the construction period.  The easy fixes like addressing the need for additional handicap parking should be addressed immediately.
  3. The plans for the project should include what is known as “add alternates” to allow for maximum flexibility and economy. Add alternates are items which could be to be priced during the bidding phase for improvements and upgrades to the existing facility which are suggested by TSP, but above what is absolutely necessary for handicapped access.
  4. These plans should then be submitted for competitive bid by June 15, 2015.
  5. Once the bids are received, the ad alternates should be accepted in such a manner to restrict the total expenditure to less than $45 million.
  6. Public meetings should also be held immediately, as TSP commences their work, by the city in conjunction with the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. These meetings will provide an opportunity for citizens with disabilities to discuss problems they have experienced while accessing the arena and/or Civic Center as a whole. The election caught the attention of the people of Rapid City and we now have the opportunity to engage people who were not previously reached.
  7. At the same time, individuals are welcome to contact this blog and share their experiences and difficulties while attending events at the Civic Center, or difficulties which may have kept them from attending any events.

What I’ve learned and want you to know

Here is what I’ve learned about the Civic Center expansion—and it has convinced me that the proposed plan isn’t right for our community. I think that you deserve to know this too.

The Civic Center won’t cost less than $180 million, but it should.

  • Since there was no bidding procedure, but instead a selection process for a Construction Manager at Risk, the Civic Center won’t cost any less than $180 million, but it should.
  • There are no specifications, no detailed drawings of the proposed expansion—there is just a contractual agreement that allows the Contractor at Risk to be an integral part of the design process.
  • What incentive does the Construction Manager at Risk have to complete the expansion for less than the $180 million estimate? As a heavy contractor, if asked for the cost for a mile of road in some location, I’d obviously set a maximum amount.
  • Even if the proposed expansion is approved, $180 million price tag is excessive and would need to be controlled through the design.

It’s too expensive and we are borrowing to capacity, and beyond.

  • We had to do some fancy bookkeeping to prove to the bank that our city can afford the proposed, colossal expansion—we had to combine The Vision Fund and the Capital Improvement Project Fund (CIP Fund).
  • The city’s own Finance Officer was on KOTA as saying this was necessary to get financing: “Sumption says the accounts were combined in order to show lenders that the city has enough revenue to pay off any debt obligation that would be incurred from the expansion.”
  • The Vision Fund is funded by a half-cent sales tax and the CIP Fund is funded by another half-cent sales tax.

We will be fully committing the Vision Fund.

  • Making the bond payment for the proposed expansion will require all or the majority of the Vision fund for years.
  • In recent years, the Vision Fund has provided funding for many projects in our community that you will likely recognize (click here to see the full list):
    • Canyon Lake dam reconstruction
    • Airport terminal expansion
    • Horace Mann Pool
    • Youth & Family Services renovation
    • Main Street Square
    • Skyline Drive preservation
    • Public Safety Building
    • Library remodel and expansion
    • Highway 16 Fire Station #6
  • These are representative of the types of projects that will have to be put off, killed entirely, or have alternative funding identified while Civic Center expansion consumes all the Vision Funds.

We are gambling the CIP Fund.

  • By combining the Vision Fund and the CIP Fund as a mechanism to prove to bankers that we can afford the proposed expansion, we are putting the CIP Fund into the betting pot.
  • Projects funded by CIP Fund may not be as quickly identifiable as a new Fire Station on Highway 16, but they are still important and include vital maintenance and repairs (click here to see the 2011-2016 CIP Plan):
    • Sanitary sewer extensions
    • Utilities
    • Water reservoir maintenance
    • Street drainage reconstruction

We are being given an exaggerated cost estimate to address the ADA violations.

  • Proponents of the expansion have argued that it would cost at least $70 million (and sometimes even more) to remodel the arena for ADA.
  • The truth is that the estimated $35 million ADA cost is being combined with the estimated $35 million cost to update and upgrade the Barrett Arena.
  • Click here to see the actual estimated cost for ADA repairs on the Opinion of Probable Construction Cost document (yellow highlights were added by this blog). The document lists two estimates: the lower at $32,744,121 and the higher at $34,437,602.
  • Before “contingencies” are added, the lower estimate is barely over $23 million—and a closer look at the basis for the $23 million estimate reveals that even that number seems exaggerated.
  • An example: Some of the items—including one of the largest, Civil / Utilities (Allowance) at $500,000—list “LS,” for lump sum, as the “Unit”. This means that these items have been merely estimated. As a contractor, we always considered those to be SWAGS (super wild ass guesses).

$70 million includes more than just needed repairs—it includes improvements.

  • We are being told that it will cost $70 million for ADA, Life Safety, Fire Marshal, and Building Code purposes, but our $70 million would get us more than just the needed repairs.
  • Click here to look at the estimate and you will see that it also includes sound system upgrades, a kitchen remodel and expanded storage, stage equipment, sport flooring, and a stage and back stage addition.
  • The $70 million would get us an updated, refreshed arena, and with expanded storage and kitchen areas.

We are being given an exaggerated timeline.

  • We have also been told that remodeling the Barnett Arena may take five years and that we could lose—forever—events that would, supposedly, have to relocate. That is ridiculous.
  • Five years to complete the repairs listed in Attachment A of the settlement? No. Look for yourself.

We can phase the project, without shutting down the arena for five years.

  • We have been told that we will have to shut down the area for five years, but the report from TSP says that the project could be phased. 
  • There is no reason why the parts of the construction process that might close the arena cannot be carried out in a carefully phased manner during periods that the arena is not in use or is least in demand.
  • We remodeled our airport without shutting it down for five years, surely we can find a way to make the required changes with minimal impact on events.

 We will have insufficient parking, and won’t gain as many spaces as claimed.

  • Literature in support of the proposed expansion states that parking will increase from the current 4,250 parking spaces to 6,000 spaces (click here to view)—that is incorrect.
  • In reality, the plan we are voting on would only have net gain of 300 to 500 parking spaces, depending on who you ask.
  • Though will gain a parking ramp with 1,000 (1,000 fewer than assumed in the Economic Impact Study, see page 12), but we will also lose parking spaces due to the expansion.

We will have pay for parking.

  • 2,000 of parking spaces controlled by the Civic Center will become paid parking—even the surface spaces. 
  • The fee to park will range from $3 to $5.
  • The AECOM report Feasibility Study for the Proposed Blue Concept at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, referred to as the Business Plan by proponents, lays out the plan for paid parking on pages 78 and 79. 
  • Events in the bandshell will have free parking—except for Hills Alive.
  • All attendees of the Black Hills Stock Show and the Lakota Nations Invitational will also have to pay for parking. Again, look for your self on page 78 and 79 of what proponents of the expansion refer to as the Business Plan.

Some of those parking spaces will be reserved for VIPs.

  • The Business Plan calls for 250 club seats in the new arena (and that 90 percent are fold per year at $500 each—not including the cost of tickets) that would include VIP parking.
  • We have barely made a net gain in parking spaces, and now some of those are going to be reserved for club seating—not available to the general public.

Can Rapid City support two more sports teams?

  • The Business Plan assumes that the new arena will host two new minor-league franchises: a NBA D-League team and a football or soccer franchise, just look on page 66. 
  • How many indoor football teams have we seen come and go in Rapid City? How can put ourselves in a position to rely on an indoor football team and a NBA D-League team to be successful for the proposed expansion to be financially viable?

We can vote no and still care about accessibility for people with disabilities.

  • Some are inferring that a vote against the proposed expansion is a vote against accessibility for people with disabilities—that is not the case. We can address the ADA violations without spending $180 million dollars on a new arena.
  • The DOJ recently featured a story about two individuals with disabilities, Connie Whitley and Jim Nelson, and the challenges they experienced when attending a banquet in a room at the Civic Center.
  • The challenges listed in the DOJ article include difficulty locating a parking spot, the first parking spot located not having the required accessible aisle, difficulty entering the building though the double doors at a side entrance, and entering the room where the banquet was taking place.
  • Yes! Let’s remove accessibility barriers at the Civic Center for Connie and Jim and others with disabilities. We should do that, we can do that, we will do that—and we can do it with a plan that we can also afford.
  • Notably, the DOJ article does not mention the arena at all. What is does state is that the Civic Center parking areas coming into compliance as one of the “hallmarks” of our settlement with them.
  • At no point did the DOJ tell us to build a new arena to address ADA violations.

We can vote no and still address the ADA violations.

  • The proposed plan isn’t our only hope to address ADA violations. We can address the ADA, Life Safety, Fire Marshal, and Building Code issues for $70 million—or likely less—and we could even expand on a scale that we can afford. We should be able to have that conversation.

There are too many unanswered questions.

  • What happens if the sales projections are not met?
  • What happens if a large emergency should come along while we have taxed our debt-paying capacity to the max?
  • What happens when we need another fire station? (Remember when a consultant recommended adding funding for two new fire stations be included as part of Civic Center funding package? Has the need for two fire stations disappeared, or is our ability to pay for them what is disappearing? Will we even be able to get a loan for fire stations when we have already borrowed to the max? How will we pay for them when our Vision Funds are committed for years to come?)
  • What other investments were considered, if any, that might better serve the citizens and tax payers of Rapid City?

How did we get to this point anyway—why do we have an enforcement agency breathing down our necks?

  • We want to ensure that our Civic Center—all of it, not just the arena—is accessible to people with disabilities. How did we get to the point where we have a clock ticking because of a settlement with the DOJ? You can go online and see the Mayor admitting that he initiated the telephone call to the US Attorney. Click here to see for yourself, the comments start 54:50 into the video and at 1:08 the Mayor again references his call to the DOJ local Civil Rights Office.
  • Rather than build consensus around a plan, our Mayor called an enforcement agency on us and now, with a deadline looming, we are being pressured to accept a plan that just happens to be waiting.

We are being pushed to approve the proposed plan because of ADA, but the you consider the plan the less it to do with ADA. We don’t have to be robbed of our opportunity to find a plan that fits our community’s needs and our city’s wallet. Let’s vote NO to a plan that it too big and costs too much. Then let’s pull together as a community and work together and build agreement around a plan that does fit our needs and that we can afford without committing all of our Vision Fund and gambling CIP Fund.

Falsehoods and misrepresentations—why? Indeed, WHY?

Why are we having an election to consider a nonexistent ADA complaint, about which our Mayor Sam Kooiker lied?  In fact, he invited the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make a “courtesy inspection,” then he “negotiated” an agreement—that has not to this date been signed by the DOJ.  There is NO agreement in existence, NONE.  You can go online, to see the Mayor admitting that he initiated the telephone call to the US Attorney, then tries to hide the truth behind a flood of words. Click here to see for yourself, the comments start 54:50 into the video and at 1:08 the Mayor again references his call to the DOJ local Civil Rights Office.

Why are we rushing to comply with a non-existing contract which the supporters of the Civic Center expansion are using along with exaggerated numbers and supposed time frames as a scare tactic to generate votes for a new arena? While saying they are propagating messages to debunk misconceptions about the proposed expansion, actually they are spreading their own misleading misinformation.

Let’s look at the dire warnings about the Barnett Arena, beginning with the estimated cost. Proponents of the expansion have argued that it would cost at least $70 million (and sometimes even more) to remodel the arena for ADA, but the truth is that they are combining an estimated $35 million ADA cost with the estimated $35 million cost to update and upgrade the Barrett Arena to exaggerate the cost. You can see the actual estimated cost for ADA repairs on the Opinion of Probable Construction Cost document (yellow highlights were added by this blog). The document lists two estimates: the lower at $32,744,121 and the higher at $34,437,602. Before some ridiculous “contingencies” the lower estimate is barely over $23 million—and a closer look at the basis for the $23 million estimate reveals that even that number seems exaggerated.

For example, some of the items list “LS,” for lump sum, as the “Unit”—including one of the largest, Civil / Utilities (Allowance) at $500,000. This means that these items have been merely estimated. As a contractor, we always considered those to be SWAGS (super wild ass guesses).

We get to the $70 million price point when we add the estimated “order of magnitude” SWAGS of $30,640,659 for general repairs and updates (click here to see the estimate), far beyond what is necessary to address the ADA violations. Look at the estimate and you will see that it includes sound system upgrades, a kitchen remodel and expanded storage, stage equipment, sport flooring, and a stage and back stage addition. The $70 million would get us a brand new arena, for uses which might or might not be in our citizen’s best interest.

The next alarm is the claim that if we don’t approve the plan as presented to us, we won’t have sufficient time to complete the repairs required by the DOJ settlement—a settlement that has not to this date been signed by the DOJ.  Even if the Mayor’s “deal” did exist, look for yourself at the required actions listed in “Attachment A” of the supposed DOJ settlement.

These actions can easily be completed with a separate design and bid contract within the next twelve months. They must be completed by the deadline whether we build a new arena or not—building another arena during that timeframe just complicates the matter.

We have also been told that remodeling the Barnett Arena may take five years and that we could lose—forever—the events that would, supposedly, have to relocate. That is ridiculous.

First, the timeframe: Five years to complete the repairs listed in Attachment A of the unsigned settlement? No.

Second, there is no reason why the parts of the construction process that might close the arena cannot be carried out in a carefully phased manner during periods that the arena is not in use or is least in demand. We remodeled our airport without shutting it down for five years, surely we can find a way to make the required changes with minimal impact on events.  City’s own TSP report says you can do in phases.

Phasing Civic Center renovation

In other words the Kooiker administration has started us on a path to spend $180 million in taxpayer dollars and lied about having ratted the city out to the feds to get the ball rolling. There was no formal federal action until the Mayor caused it. Outrageous.

We have gone from a nonexistent ADA complaint costing $32,744,121, to a long story that since we’re at it we ought to spend another $150 million to build some seats we might not ever be able to fill.

Time to stop and regroup. We can create a plan to make the repairs outlined in a suggested DOJ settlement for minimal cost, phased in a way to have little or no impact, in a swift manner—there is no reason to drag it out.

Then, separately, let’s have a discussion about a new plan that will address the Civic Center’s legitimate needs—one that we can afford. We need a public discussion that balances the Civic Center plan against other possible good uses for that kind of money over the next 30 years.

I am very troubled by what is happening, dishonesty is apparent. Why? Who gains?  Who is paying the cost of the propaganda and publications of the “vote yes” effort?

For a long time I really didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to need handicapped access—while I understood that it was important I had never had to use it. Then I did—for nearly a year. Months of a rented wheel chair, walking with a walker, or on crutches, or with a cane have changed my view. Months of being unable to stand or navigate difficult steps, or even make turns in a hallway, enhanced my recognition of the need for an early solution to accessibility problems at the Civic Center.

This blog would appreciate hearing from those of you who have had difficulty accessing the arena. Please tell us about your experiences. What has inconvenienced you most? What do you think should be addressed first? If this is really about ADA, let’s keep it about ADA and take care of the needs of the people of this community first—and swiftly. We can complete the other repairs in the needed time frame, but what do you think needs to be done first? What is holding you back from utilizing and enjoying our Civic Center?

Civic Center—No?!

Having served the board of the Rapid City Chamber for seven years and having been its chairman, and with great respect for that board’s process and careful decisions, I regret that I must recommend a vote against the Civic Center expansion.

Having served on Civic Center board for six years and having served as its chairman, the need for improvements at the Civic Center is clear to me, but this is not the right plan and the current City Hall Administration does not inspire confidence in its ability to do a $180 million project competently.  After decades of success in the contracting and development business, I know how to tell.

The Civic Center expansion project should not be undertaken until there is a new mayor in Rapid City. We must have a mayor who is capable of management, rather than one whose incapable management has caused many department heads to resign, including Brian Maliske, the talented and trustworthy long-time manager of the Civic Center.

While his successor may prove to be competent, he certainly does not yet have the in-depth knowledge of Rapid City, its people, and our marketplace.  I also hope that the new manager can bring Brian’s creativity and business know-how to the task, but that, too, is at this moment an unknown, and $180 million is too much to spend to find out the hard way.

It seems to me that all of the options have not been fully evaluated.  To propose the most expensive public project in the city’s history, one that would consume all of the half-cent sales tax that has been so important in the Vision Fund, is too much of a gamble.  What happens if the sales projections are not met?  What happens if a large emergency should come along while we have taxed our debt-paying capacity to the max?  What other investments were considered, if any, that might better serve the citizens and tax payers of Rapid City?

I admit to being protective about that Vision Fund.  It was made possible by creative leadership through a program initiated by my friend, the late Governor Bill Janklow.

To win public confidence on an undertaking of this size, we need a new Mayor, one who is not constantly in conflict with the council, one who is willing to show true leadership.   It’s not very inspiring to have seen our current Mayor say, in effect, “Well, here’s my plan, but I’m not really all that sure of it, so y’all go vote.”

To make a project of this magnitude successful, we need a leader who expresses confidence that the plan he proposes is the best one, he is certain it is so, and he is devoted to making it work.  The current Mayor’s priority seems to be a different one: covering his political rear end by keeping a foot firmly planted on both sides of the fence.  Alas, this isn’t the first such instance of his weak leadership, only the largest.

It’s not the kind of leadership required for an undertaking like this.

I plan to vote no and urge my friends to do the same, but that will not be the end of it.  We need a new Mayor and a new plan to address the Civic Center’s legitimate needs, a plan we can afford, and one that is not betting the farm on finding two new professional sports teams, attracting concerts that draw 10% of the area’s population at $150 per ticket, and hoping that thousands of parking spots will magically appear when needed.

It’s too big, it costs too much, and we shouldn’t spend that kind of money without first asking what other ideas and projects will have to be killed or delayed that might have been better for our economy, our future, and the quality of life here.

I should add that I have personal and respectful friendship with Mayor Kooiker, but at the same time I can see that he lacks the management skill required for such a large and complex undertaking.   It’s not pleasant, nor is it the first time I’ve had to tell a friend that he’s not the best one for the job at hand, but that’s always the best thing to do.