Sunday, October 9, 2011

It’s in the Genes

Thursday I had the joy of reading at Pre School Story Time at the Ronning Branch Library. This opportunity was afforded to me as a member of the Siouxland Libraries Board of Trustees. City Councilors and members of the Library Board were invited to participate in the nationwide effort to promote reading.

Others participating in schools and libraries throughout Sioux Falls were City Councilors Sue Aguilar, Michelle Erpenbach, Vernon Brown, and Greg Jamison, County Commissioner and Library Board Member Cindy Heiberger and Fire Chief Jim Sideras.

A trip down memory lane – As a pre adolescent I never read books, though I grew up in a house where reading was the number one recreational activity. My Mom never missed reading each week’s edition of both “Life” and “Look” (photo) magazines. She subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that were published quarterly incorporating current Best Sellers in condensed versions. Mom read many best sellers (usually novels) that were rented from a rental library at Monnigs, a local department store in Fort Worth.

Mom for a time was also on the Board of the Fort Worth Lighthouse for the Blind (today it is called by a more politically correct name, eliminating the blind word and incorporating sight impaired or something similar.) Her Board position at the “Lighthouse” was a result of her working through the local Council of Jewish Women and her volunteer time reading to the blind.

My Daddy was a reading machine. A student who never had the opportunity to attend College he was self educated. Dad treasured books and had a large library. His reading was massive and varied. Included in his reading were history and current events, the Classics, even college textbooks on very technical subjects including chemistry and life sciences. He read cover to cover the “Encyclopedia Britannica”, all 24 volumes and “The Book of Knowledge” (a student’s encyclopedia some 20 volumes). His reading often included works of poetry. His favorite books were historical fiction. Late in his life he focused on Judaism and Torah studies.

Being in a home of readers gave me an appreciation of books both in learning about the world and for recreation. Never a good student, I did read a lot but mostly sports magazines, the newspaper, and Mom’s “Life” and “Look” - really never a book.

I was exposed however. Soon after my fifth birthday when bedridden for about 6 months both my Dad and Mom read to me incessantly. This was just before television entered our lives so reading was still entertainment to a young child. Mom read Fairy Tales and children’s books and Dad read young people’s editions of “The Adventures of Marco Polo”, “Robin Hood and his Merry Men”, “Tom Sawyer”, and “The Life of Abraham Lincoln.”

And there was always Poetry - Occasionally after Supper, sitting at the dinner table or in our Den, my younger Brother and I listened as Dad read many poems including favorites “Casey At the Bat”, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”, “If”, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, and so many others.

Only when I was in the seventh grade did I open the cover and read the first real book I remember – “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Even through high school though not a scholar I became a heavy reader.

I love books; I love Libraries, and focused diligently to try to insure that my children became readers as well. Despite a less than stellar effort (I was pretty engrossed in business and volunteer political work) I must have succeeded. Both my son and my daughter Jackie (received her University degree in English Literature) read extensively for pleasure.I am very proud to say my nine year old grandson is an avid reader. Last week in just two days he read and finished “Percy Jackson – The Lightening Thief”.

Yes, reading is hereditary.

Obviously all this came back to me when I read to the three and four year olds at Story Time.

Siouxland Libraries is delivering excellent Library Service to its Citizens. Exposing young children to the world of books and libraries is an essential public service. (Not public safety or utilities but still essential.)

Jim Oliver the senior staff member of the Youth department does a wonderful job of providing enticing programming. Siouxland Libraries’ entire leadership team is focused on getting the young people in our community understanding and using libraries.

I especially want to thank and say I am impressed with the work of Ronning branch director, Jane Taylor (who is high fiving the three and four year olds and calling them by name) and the enthusiasms of Paula Goettsch, the real Reading Lady of Siouxland Libraries.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Standard & Poors on Friday downgraded its credit rating of the United States.

The primary reason given was because of the inability of the political system to deal with the rapidly increasing federal deficit. Standard & Poor’s stated in part:

“the gulf between the political parties” had reduced its confidence in the government’s ability to manage its finances:

“The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge”

The Administration and the Congress are deeply divided as reflected by the divide between the Democrats, Republicans and the President in Washington (no one seems pleased with the absence of Presidential leadership.) The downgrade action by S & P has done what no one else has been able to do and united the D C players in their demonizing of Standard & Poors. As so often happens – When you don’t like the message you shoot the messenger.

There is a lot of he said, she said going back and forth over the downgrade; A downgrade that has damaged American prestige and world economic leadership and certainly raises the cost of debt.

While we may surprised that the S & P downgrade actually happened, I don’t think there is much disagreement that the deficit ceiling increase deal put off fiscal decisions (actual cuts) or that S & P had not previously warned they were considering such action unless the Government got it’s fiscal house in order. In fact on April 18th S & P lowered its Outlook on U S debt from stable to negative.

A little Background – Standard and Poors is a credit rating agency that is a nationally recognized statistical rating organization (NRSRO) by the Securities and Exchange Commission. You do not have to go back very far to remember their work in giving high ratings to those many iterations of mortgage backed securities. Before the brickbats begin think about the fine job of regulation that the SEC, Federal Reserve, Comptroller of the Currency, FDIC, and Congress did in their regulatory oversight of that one. Whoops did I forget to mention those other innocents Fannie and Freddie?

S & P's Downgrade is not just about the U S Government’s ability to meet its obligations but perhaps S & P’s action as noted by the actual facts (not everyone’s political talkers) but as their statement says is about the failure of our political system (in its current configuration) to deal with deficits and spending. The President in recent remarks about a lowering of the credit rating said if that happens it would not be about our failure to pay our bills but the failure of our political system.

The deficit issue is not going away. A 2012 budget still has to be adopted by October 1 (won’t happen – can you say Continuing Resolution?) Putting on my GOP hat here once again, the GOP did pass the Ryan budget plan. Then we will have the report of the Committee of 12 that is due before Thanksgiving and must be resolved before Christmas or the trigger will be pulled. There is a lot of poison in the Trigger (Medicare changes and severe cuts for Defense spending) so I am undecided if it will be pulled.

For any hope of consensus we may have to until the 2012 general election to, as the President would say have any hope of real change.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Plan B

The Mayor has selected and the City Council has approved the Arena site for a new Events Center.

The decision was made by a tie vote of the City Council with the Mayor casting the tie breaking vote. The division of the Council is not surprising in that Citizens are equally divided as to whether to build a new Center and where to build it, either at the Arena site, Downtown, or even as some suggest at a venue on the outskirts of the City.

At the probable point of the highest approval (the Argus Leader poll prior to the 2010 City election) 57% supported a new Events Center. The 57% presumably included approval without details as to specifics to locations, costs, or means of finance. Consequently it is no surprise the Community is divided.

There were interesting divisions in the location debate. Those that outright oppose an Events Center were generally silent, hoping I suspect respective proponents and opponents of the two primary locations would divide and the opponents of any center would conquer.

The Arena proponents and there is some support for the Arena site were generally quiet and rarely heard on the Internet or at Public testimony. (I qualify this comment somewhat in that the City sponsored forums were Question and Answer sessions without the ability for follow up questions, i.e. questions were submitted and responses were given. When attempts were made to follow up, the questioners were reminded by moderators these were not debates.)

There seemed to be no organized group supporting the Arena (and I emphasize I do talk to citizens who like the Arena site), the Build It Down Town group was organized. They have over 2000 “friends” on Facebook (Straight Talk included) and the testimony before the City Council on behalf of Downtown was extensive. I thought particularly Casey Murschel, Kevin Nyberg, and David Billion among others were impressive. I am also impressed that a large group of support for DT comes from young professionals, thirty and twenty somethings.

There is another group of supporters worth a mention. Those event directors and convention types that want more to sell. This includes but are not limited too, officially the Chamber of Commerce, the Sports Authority and the Management Companies of the Arena, and Convention Center. These groups just want more inventory to sell. NOW is their issue not so much where.

This past week the Mayor and his Finance Director have come forward with a cost estimate of $110 Million and the method of finance (essentially sell bonds for the total project costs with repayment from future tax collections from the 2nd penny of the sales tax). It’s summertime and going forward there will be much hot air expended on the costs and finance question. Quite possibly the rhetoric surrounding the cost and finance question may be more divided and heated than the location question.

Bottom line – Construction of an Events Center issue will not pass if put up to a special election this November. While location, costs, and finance are salient issues, it has far more to do with public confidence in the Economy and Community leadership, but mostly confidence in the Economy.

For the past number of years I have supported building a new Civic Center. I believed the Arena is too small, outdated, have worse than awful acoustics and in some cases terrible site lines. Our City is worthy and deserves better. While I have never traveled to Sioux City or Fargo for concerts, I think that Sioux Falls is worthy. I supported and still do a dedicated sales tax to finance such special projects with voter authorization and specific tax rescission when the project is paid for. Unfortunately and I believe for a variety of reasons the Legislature has been shortsighted in not giving local government the power to suggest to the voters such a tax.

Given the expert studies, the debate, and my own research and thought these past several months I currently no longer support an Events Center for Sioux Falls.

I previously posted that Sioux Falls should build a 21st Events Center Down Town. I continue to believe if built it should be Down Town and near the River and the Greenway improvements where nearly $100 million in government money has already been committed. I also believe a Down Town Center would be transformative to Sioux Falls.

The economic studies were narrowly focused to economic benefit with mixed results. The primary argument that surfaced was there could be more conventions if only we had more flat floor space (at one location).

I checked several times, the Quest Center (Omaha), Tyson Center (Sioux City), and Fargodome (Fargo) to see what activities were taking place. It was startling to me how few public activities (concerts in particular but also sporting events) were taking place. The Quest Center does have a large number of conventions but from the website I was not able to reliably determine how often the Events Center was used by the convention. Having Creighton Basketball is also a big plus. Thus I question why for maybe an additional 24 nights (over the current Arena occupancy) a year Sioux Falls needs to build an expensive EC. (Note: The experts did conclude the floor space would be used an additional 34 days – see my discussion below on putting a new enlarged convention center Down Town).

My sense (not verified by fact) tells me that for $110 mil it will just be a big hay barn and will not be too nice. As I in-artfully suggested in my prior post an EC at the Arena would reinforce a Sioux Falls’ 1950 meat packing image not the reality of Sioux Falls in 2020, a diversified economy, including financial services, medical services, medical research, manufacturing, meat packing, service industries, and education.

One man’s opinion on how to proceed – After the proposal’s defeat, to move forward two things should happen (immediately). First the campaign should be analyzed and the election results studied to understand where public opinion is and the cause for the results. Second, there should be a cooling off period without acrimony and give the public time to digest what has happened and time to have some political healing. There will be other important issues to deal with, given that next year State finances exacerbated by the flooding and continued pressure of Medicaid, education funding, public employee salary and wage freezes, and the federal deficit.

I don’t know if the cooling off period should be 6 months or 3 years or more, probably something in between but given that Sioux Falls continues to grow at a 1½ to 2% growth rate. with improvement and of the economy, public confidence of the economy restored, and the railroad removal East Bank will be accomplished - I would suggest the following be considered.

Build a new Convention Center Down Town (preferably East Bank with provisions for ample parking) leaving enough room for a Civic (Events) Center to be added at a later date as the City grows into it both in population and higher average per capita income resulting from the better jobs that are coming to Sioux Falls.

In order to accomplish this, after the new Convention Center was occupied I would convert the Arena site campus into the Sioux Falls Sportatorium. Renovate the Convention Center into an indoor Olympic size swimming pool, and convert the remaining space for additional ice activities and indoor tennis.

Thus the Sportatorium campus would include: The Arena, Howard Wood Field, Matt Staab Stadium, swimming, ice hockey, tennis, gymnastics, wrestling, volleyball, and other flat floor activities. Any of these indoor activities presents multiple opportunities for winter tournaments at a time when hotel occupancy is particularly low (especially on weekends.). Additional athletic facilities are also very near by: softball diamonds (McCart Field), hardball near Russell and Kiwanis, and 12th and Kiwanis, Elmwood Golf Course basically across Russell Street and not too far away are the soon to be Junior football fields at Westport and Benson Road.

Plan B is thus the Phoenix not of defeat but opportunity.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Flood of 2011

Getting back into social circles since the Memorial Day holiday, all talk has been about the impending flood. Everyone I come in contact with, at the gym, talk in the hot tub, coffees, lunches, customers –all about the Missouri River.

Since 911 I do not remember talk almost solely about a single issue.

There seems almost universal agreement about the disastrous nature of this unwelcome occurrence. First things first, there hasn’t been a flood of this nature along Big Muddy since the construction of the Main Stem Dams. While floods were far more often prior to the Pick Sloan Plan they have not been seen at anything approaching this year. Perhaps after two generations floods of this magnitude have been forgotten by the majority who were not born when the Dams were constructed.

It seems ironic and many of those I talk to and read about are blaming the very Dams (or the management thereof) for this years flooding. Without question this past couple of year’s climate has been challenging.

Many feel that it’s the mismanagement by the Army Corps of Engineers that has caused the problem. When the crisis has subsided along with the water this will get a political airing, there is talk about lawsuits that will inevitably be filed by those looking to be made whole. I doubt they will go anywhere; however there will be immense political pressure on our Congressional delegation for federal financial help beyond the usual Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deal.

For a look at the Corps of Engineers response a peak at today’s report in “The Wall Street Journal”:

“Col. Bob Ruch, commander of the Corps's Omaha, Neb., district, said engineers had been releasing water from the reservoirs at a measured pace to clear way for snowmelt. But rains in eastern Montana over the last three weeks equaled a full year's normal total, he said, and "it filled up the space we created to take on the snowmelt, which still sits up in the mountains."

Now, the real danger is a rapid melt. To prepare for that, the Corps must act quickly. It began warning communities last week and is slowly increasing the amount of water in the river to give them time to prepare.

Flood and its aftermath talk will continue most of the summer and well beyond.

Straight Talk Commentary on two associated issues –

State Finances -What impact will the flood have on the already dreadful situation of State Government finances? How much of the emergency costs is the Corps of Engineers providing? What is the percentage and magnitude of FEMA assistance? How will the State pay the State share (%)? What will be the State’s out of pocket expense? Overtime? Reimbursement for other County and local governments (whose finance are stressed) for the assistance they are providing? How much will the increased social costs be for government assistance to the displaced? How much lost revenue will there be to South Dakota’s tourism industry? What longer term effects will there be on Pierre’s fishing industry? How many businesses will be affected with a loss in revenues? Many questions.

More than a year ago in response to what was then a very wet year throughout much of South Dakota, Governor Rounds raised the possibility of a temporary flood tax to help with the State FEMA match and other costs associated with flooding? Will State government look at such a tax again?

Governor’s Leadership – Governor Daugaard is providing proactive and steady leadership. He has been thoughtful, shown resolve, and been out ahead of the problem. Unlike Governors Miller’s reaction to the 1994 flooding and generally Governor Rounds’ wait and see reactions, our current Governor’s proactive approach is welcome.

It will be no surprise to those who know me, that I am a fan of former Governor Bill Janklow. Like Governor Daugaard, Governor Janklow dealt with problems before they got bigger (pro active), was a problem solver, and almost no one disagrees a great communicator. You would only have to remember Fireman Bill fighting forest fires or being driving into the ditch in the storm on I90 being one of the first to arrive at Spencer when they had the tornado. Like Patton in the movie, directing traffic, I envision Bill Janklow standing of the levees taunting the River to Bring It On!

(Getting off the subject here) One of my regrets is that Governor Janklow did not become the first Director of Homeland Security, or the Director of FEMA.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

1 Year Main Library Update

Siouxland Libraries renovated Main Library in downtown Sioux Falls has been open for over one year.

Last year I posted on the opening and with pride and optimism of the potential the Library presented to our community and especially our children. In terms of usage I am never satisfied, the Main Library has exceeded my realistic expectations.

The building itself is a jewel in the welcoming environment and its extensive use of natural light. But what happens at the Library is what really counts and it has been happening. Good architectural design can change neighborhoods. This would be true of a DT Events Center also but it is the Library usage I would like to update on.

In the first 51 weeks the Main Library has been BUSY!

Consider the Numbers
674,966 visitors came in the building
512,335 items were checked out
282.309 items were checked out at self check terminals
464,000 items were checked in
4,358 library cards were issued at Main
12,057 titles were catalogued
29,756 items processed by technical services
7.799 Interlibrary loans were processed
126.330 times computers were used by the public
691 times the meeting rooms were used
273 children’s programs
6,979 children attendance
85 adult programs
981 adult attendance
107,715 items in the collection (January 1, 2011)

Uncounted are the many lives that were enriched! – A GREAT First Year!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A 21st Century Events Center

Mayor Huether has made his preference official. He is recommending that an events center be built at the Arena Convention Center site.

His selection is logical because he is anxious to “get things done” but long term the Arena is not the correct choice.

The focus of where is the best location has been based solely on time and money. Without question the Arena site will certainly cost less and can be constructed sooner. The economic study was narrowly focused primarily on the cost tradeoffs of the two suggested sites and what seemed to me an obsession about parking. (Certainly parking is an issue but not one that couldn’t be dealt with (at either location) with a longer timeframe.

When Howard Wood Field and the Arena were constructed Sioux Falls was a meat packing town. The best jobs were in the meat plants. The Sioux Falls Stockyards was one of the top terminal markets in the Country; Sioux Falls was the center of a large ag trade area. The large businesses in town were Ag based: Zip Feed Mill, Dakon Industries, Sioux Steel, several ag related trucking companies, Sioux Falls was a banking center for agriculture and a correspondent for the rural banks.

In the mid 1970s Sioux Falls began to change. For a more complete look see Dr. Ralph Brown’s study, A Tale of Two Cities. Essentially what Dr. Brown describes are two cities (Sioux Falls and Sioux City) that had roughly the same population and the same ag based meat packing economy in 1970. Yet Sioux Falls changed, grew and prospered. (It’s the changed part I want to discuss.) Why? There were two primary events, South Dakota’s government decision in the mid ‘70s to have a four year medical school and South Dakota’s government decision to invite Citbank to South Dakota in 1980.

Read the study but the upshot is that Sioux Falls’ economy diversified and the character (Finance and Health Care) of the City began to change. There are other demographic factors as well as with transportation and communications improvements along with farms becoming more mechanized and efficient, the exodus from smaller more rural towns was exacerbated.

Moving the clock ahead about 25 years the nature of Sioux Falls had another seismic event. T. Denny Sanford established the Sanford Project at then Sioux Valley Health System (now Sanford Health), $400 million initially, now $500 million. On announcement day, Senator John Thune stated this was a “transformational event.” The Senator could not have been more right. With Kelby Krabbenhoft at the helm, the Sanford money is being leveraged and Sioux Falls is becoming a center for medical research. I would stand corrected but I have heard that Sanford Health has nearly 10,000 employees in Sioux Falls.

Today the Stockyards is closed, Zip Feed is gone, Greenlee Packing is no longer and while John Morrell & Company is still a very large and important economic force, their closing would not cripple the city’s economy.

My point here is that Sioux Falls has changed and putting a new events center at the Arena site is looking backward.

A Downtown Events Center looks forward and would rebrand a transformed Sioux Falls. It’s clearly synergistic to capitalize on and take advantage of the millions of dollars that have been spent and are being spent near the downtown site. Consider the Phillips to the Falls, the Sioux River Greenway improvements, and the railroad relocation projects. I don’t know the exact number but I would guess it is pretty close to a $100 million investment by local, state, and federal governments.

The East Bank is also ripe for redevelopment. There is a multitude of vacant sites and older structures available for development. Cherapa Place and the new CNA Surety are contemporary anchors that a new Events Center would only compliment and enhance. I understand that arguments are being made that commercial development is different than economic development, but I don’t see it as more than a political argument (a he said she said – a distinction without real difference), Increasing employment with better jobs and increasing our population to me is economic development that is steady day in and day out not economics based solely on tourist dollars.

Also missing from the discussion is the value of the City’s image and what will entice people to make Sioux Falls there home. An enhanced image will also prompt visitors and conventions to come to Sioux Falls. The EC at the Arena will just be a venue for an event, nothing added. An invigorated East Bank, Greenway, Falls Park, Uptown, and Downtown gives the city a forward image consistent with the new Sioux Falls. Over time this is the image that Sioux Falls can portray.

Civic and cultural institutions also play a large role in attracting new businesses. Like good schools, roads and a modern updated airport are to our economy, quality of life venues like libraries, parks, and recreation facilities are important as well. (Ask yourself what a research scientist is looking for in a community.)

Now – my political side – Polling at the time of the Mayoral election (April 2010) showed that a majority supports the concept of an Events Center. But the support was unqualified, no location, no means of finance, no location etc. Also I am unsure if a simple majority would be needed to pass or perhaps 60% because a bond issue approval would be part of the process.

However under almost any conditions I do not think the Citizens of Sioux Falls will currently support and vote for an event center. Partly it’s about location because that is so much of where the public discussion has been focused, partly because of finance, but mostly it is the lack of confidence in the economy. State workers haven’t had a raise in 3 years, our teachers are taking a pay cut (it’s not that I don’t support these austerity moves – the State doesn’t have the money), Social Security recipients have received no inflation adjustment, and gas is nearly 4 bucks. Simply put, voters regardless of what they say will not want to spend the money right now.

One other important component to passage is the discussion has been focused on side show issues like location and the red herring of parking not on selling the benefits of an Events Center to voters. If voters can be convinced an EC is a good idea and will benefit the community they will support it. All of us have wasted a lot of oxygen on less important differences.

Endbar – While I don’t think an Events Center will pass under the current economic and political environment, I would not give up. The economic study did show there was an excellent return with an addition of “flat floor space” at the existing convention center site. (Don’t you just love those terms that make you sound like you know what you are talking about? Flat Floor Space, Black Box Theatre). Maybe the City Council in their deliberation of the Mayor’s proposal will go with a 30 million dollar (yes I made up what I thought was an acceptable number, but that is all anyone else has done on costs to this point) addition to the Convention Center and then when economic conditions improve and the railroad has relocated Sioux Falls can build an transformational Events Center Down Town consistent with the Sioux Falls’ new image looking forward to the 21st Century.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Musings Response

I was asked to respond to some discussion and conjectures at Jennifer’s Musings blog but of course my response was too long winded to be accepted. Consequently my answer is posted here at Straight Talk.

What Say I?

I suspect my opinion has been solicited because I currently serve as President of the Siouxland Board of Trustees. Since asked, I’ll weigh in.

It is very easy in situations like are described in the above comments to get caught up in rumor and innuendo so I’ll attempt to keep to the facts as I know them with just a little opinion at the conclusion.

As to the Library Board, our duty is to represent the Users and make policies relative to users interactions with the Library System (establishing the annual calendar, usage policies, setting fines, and the like) however the operation of Siouxland Libraries is the responsibility of the City of Sioux Falls administration, i.e. the Mayor. The Mayor’s is given authority by the Joint Agreement between Minnehaha County and the City of Sioux Falls that was agreed to (I believe) in 1995 when the separate Library systems were merged into Siouxland Libraries.

For information - Siouxland Libraries operates 4 libraries in the City and 8 libraries in Minnehaha County. All of the City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County are served with the exception of the City of Dell Rapids which operates their own Library. The population served is approximately 190,000 of which about 90,000 are Library patrons. Minnehaha County contributes almost $1 million annually to the Library’s operation.

The Facts (per my recollection, any misstatements are mine) – When Mayor Huether took office last May and put together his first budget, he cut the Library funding going forward by about $1.5 million and one staff person for the 2011 Budget. He also delayed construction plans for the Westside Branch by one year. I had forgotten but the cuts were also made in the budget for the 2 City branches as noted.

In place of the funding for the $1.5 million cut money was taken from the funds that were left over from the Main Branch renovation that had come in (because contractor’s were hungry for work) significantly under budget. In the Library budget, money for materials (books, dvds, cds, ebooks, etc.) and considered capital expenditures, thus the leftover construction money could be used for materials purchases.

Consequently, while there was a significant budget cut there was no cut in service. In fact, Library usage is growing at about a 3 to 4 percent rate.

Concerning the Westside Branch, the Mayor set forth in his budget proposal 0 percent spending growth goals for 2011 and 2012. The reason, the Mayor expressed to me for the delay is that he did not want to add the operational employees and operational overhead expenses (lights, heat, insurance, and the like) until 2013.

Regarding the budget cuts to the Caille and Ronning branches; the money was to be used for facilities renovation (HVAC and the like) and were rescheduled in future years’ CIP.

Currently the Westside Library construction is moving on consistent with the revised 2013 occupation schedule. In November and December a City / Library Task force selected a lead Architect Design firm, to implement construction of the Westside Branch. The selection was finalized in January and the Mayor’s office negotiated the contract that was signed by the Mayor in March. (Yes it takes time, but this is bureaucracy – the contract has to be reviewed by legal, finance, engineering, and the library departments). The Architect firm selected was Architecture, Inc. of Sioux Falls.

Several meetings have been held with the various interest groups and senior library staff to plan what is needed in the library and what a possible design might look like. The library staff is also meeting internally to make their best effort to “get it right” both for the users, the staff and operationally for the taxpayers. A meeting was held today to review and discuss many aspects of the design and library operation, many big and small details. In attendance in addition to the Architects staff of four including engineering, were six members of the senior library staff, several representatives of the City engineering staff, a senior planner from the Parks department (remember the branch is being sited in Memorial Park – 26th Street and Discovery Avenue), myself and I probably left out a few more.

The next planning meeting will be an open house type forum in the first part of May for the Public and the Neighborhood to ask questions and give input.

“The Plan” is to have the design work completed by early fall, contract documents completed by around Thanksgiving, and the bid letting the early part of 2012 with construction to begin in the Spring of 2012. The project appears to be on schedule.

It is very important to note (as noted above) that the Quality of Life II bonds were sold and the money is in the bank. There is no foreseeable need for new appropriation.

This may be more than you wanted to know, but your Library Board is engaged and this is what IS happening.

A Little Opinion - Yes folks in the “Library World” were more than disappointed in the construction delay of the Westside Branch but the Mayor was just elected and given the big benefit of the willingness to let him show his stuff as the newly minted Mayor coming off a highly contested election. It is important to understand that the Library Director works directly for the Mayor (their Boss). You should also remember that the City Council also pretty much went along with the Mayor on the 2011 Budget and Westside Branch delay for pretty much the same reason.

None of this should be interpreted as a defense of Mayor Huether only a recitation of the facts. Divining the Mayor’s motives and drawing conclusions (at this point) I will leave to others. The proof is in the pudding, actions speak louder than words, we will know by the Mayor’s deeds (whether the building is built.)

I must add that it is an honor to serve on the Library Board of Trustees and I am grateful to former Mayor Dave Munson for the trust he placed in me. Finally any discussion of Siouxland Libraries would be incomplete without mention of the accomplished staff and noting the great job they are doing of delivering library service to the patrons of Siouxland Libraries.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Legal Shenanigans

The Saloon Keepers are upset – AGAIN!

Government grants a license of special privilege and overtime the grantee develops a belief of entitlement. Last month a lawsuit was filed to challenge, in hopes of overturning, the smoking bans for bars that was passed by the 2009 Legislature.

The Booze Boys already challenged the law once when they referred it to a public vote in November of 2010. They in effect t delayed the bans implementation for seventeen months regardless of the election’s outcome. They lost by a landslide - a 2 to 1 margin. If they wanted to challenge the Constitutionality of the ban why didn’t they just file their lawsuit instead of going thru the Referendum process?

Press reports state they are challenging the law, claiming the law restricts the rights of private property owners to make their business decisions. Their attorney is former South Dakota Attorney General, Mark Meierhenry. He is very experienced and will make clever arguments that I expect will appeal to libertarians and anti Nanny Staters. Unfortunately the Constitutionality in regards to the State implementing smoking bans is pretty well established.

They are entitled to Justice and their day in Court. I guess we will see.

I posted on this issue when the legislation was being considered. I said then, “Acting in one’s self interest is the Golden Rule of economics.” In that regard nothing has changed.

During the campaign last fall, the argument was pretty much about the Freedom issue with some discussion about the possible loss of revenue to government (specifically video lottery and sales tax revenue).

Let’s just get this straight – Government gives them the right to operate and sell alcoholic beverages. Pretty close to 100% of the barkeeps are also video lottery operators that is an additional government grant that other businesses don’t have. Yet the minute that awful government does something that impacts their Golden Rule, then government is infringing on their private decisions.

Just for sake of argument – maybe all gas stations, convenience stores, maybe even grocery stores, and ALL restaurants, fast food and otherwise should be able to have video lottery machines, with or without beer and wine or booze. Why are these businesses freedom to do business being restricted by Big Brother? Maybe (again for the sake of argument) every food establishment ought to be able to sell alcohol for on premises consumption. You go to the C Store and fill up your car’s tank and then have a quick draft beer in the Store to fill up your tank.

Of course this is not how it operates or should operate but if such a scenario were suggested the Saloon Keepers would be up in arms telling you of the evils of deregulation.

Finally just a word on Deadwood Casino Gambling (excuse me Gaming). The folks from the Gulch tried several initiated Constitutional amendments for “historic gaming” before it finally passed on Statewide ballot, I think in 1988. My recollection is their campaign theme was: “Deadwood You Bet.”

Essentially the argument was, South Dakota would legalize Casino gambling only in Deadwood (nowhere else in South Dakota), there would be a modest tax that the State would receive and a portion of the revenues would be used for historic preservation. They also suggested that it would be a plus for Black Hills Tourism.

Well it wasn’t too long that the Deadwood folks who in the beginning just wanted a low yield revenue stream and some economic development for their community (for which they received a very special privilege (the only Community in South Dakota with legal casino gambling)) that they wanted more. The cries for more have been endless - Higher limits, more games, state loans for developers, a railroad line and more. Even today they are blaming their receipts or lack there of on the smoking ban as well.

Back to the Smoking Ban and the Booze Boys - I am not sure that they care that not only did the people’s Representatives (the Legislature) but the People themselves had (at their request) the Final Word.

While I believe this lawsuit attempt won’t succeed. I also don’t believe the barkeeps will acknowledge they operate their businesses with the authorization of the Government. Until they acknowledge this I am not sure the legal shenanigans will stop.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thune for President

It seems very likely John Thune will become a candidate for the Republican nomination for President.

JRT has been carefully laying the groundwork for a Presidential for campaign since soon after the 2008 general election. He has enhanced his presence among Republican activists and through his ecampaign and a series of online petition signing please enhanced his already considerable database of online contacts. It is important to note that the Thune organization already had a nationwide network of support as a result of the 2004 campaign against every GOP activist’s arc enemy Tom Daschle.

The 2004 defeat of the Senate Majority Leader raised Thune’s status as a giant killer. During the post 2004 election, Senator Thune’s exposure to Republican activists was further enhanced by high profile speeches across the country at Republican fundraising dinners.

It helped Thune’s stature when he was elevated to the #4 GOP leadership post, the Senate Republican Policy Committee, position when Sen. John Ensign (Nevada) embarrassed himself and had to resign.

For his 2010 re elect effort he hired a recognized top notch campaign manager and put in place a first rate finance and ecampaign infrastructure.

When the petition filing deadline in June of 2010 passed and finding himself without opposition, Thune was freed up to campaign nationwide on behalf of other Republican candidates. This obviously is very desirable in that it enables a prospective Presidential candidate to meet activists and build a national network.

Having $7 million in the bank and not having to spend it on a November campaign doesn’t hurt either. $7 million is a nice nest egg to begin a national primary campaign.

Certainly candidate John Thune has some advantage in that the campaign begins in Iowa. He shares a media market (Sioux Falls and Sioux City) with northwestern Iowa. He understands Agriculture, talks Midwest, and is a Champion of Ethanol. (Thune’s challenge maybe to downplay expectations in Iowa but that can wait for another look in January of next year should he become a candidate.) While Thune is unknown among the National electorate he is very well known among the GOP activists whose help he will need to organize the requisite get out the vote campaigns in the States.

John Thune has said he will make a decision by the end of this month. The questions I believe he is considering are:

Can I make a difference in leading the Nation?

Is this the right thing to do for me and my family?

Can I Win? And the subset, can I raise the requisite campaign War Chest?

How will it affect my political standing in South Dakota (campaigning vs.spending time representing South Dakota)?

John Thune is an excellent political strategist, thoughtful, careful, and determined. He has a history of making excellent decisions. This is not a decision he will make driven solely by power or ego.

Thune has several natural advantages (and one historical disadvantage – U S Senators don’t fair well – 2008 a modern historical exception) working for him in a Republican battle royal. As a candidate he is physically attractive, he is articulate and he is studied on the issues. His name identification as indicated earlier is low but not with those that count at this point. As yes he has that $7 million in seed money and I believe the skeleton of nationwide organization ready to start asking.

Just a note on who is John Thune. If you checked his Senate voting record, I think you will find that he is rated at the top or near top in being the most Conservative. That being said, as a Federal Legislator he has worked very hard to deliver for his constituents.

John Thune believes in Government. It is often forgotten that he worked for 4 years in the federal bureaucracy at the Small Business Administration, worked as Director of the South Dakota Division of Railroads, and for several years (4 or more I think) as the Executive Director and Chief Lobbyist for the South Dakota Municipal League.

He has laid the groundwork. Will he do it? The answer seems to be YES!

Just reading the tea leaves – Friday a week ago he spoke at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), most Prexy want-to-bees did. But what was unusual was, it was reported that his wife Kimberly went to Washington for the speech (and I assume for the purpose so that John Thune could introduce her). I do not think she would have flown in for the speech if he were not planning on a Presidential run. I also note an interesting article in last weeks in the Wall Street Journal. Finally I heard a rumor from a credible source that there John Thune will be in Murdo next week. Maybe his just going to the Pioneer Auto Museum but I’ll leave it to others to connect the dots.

John Thune can be successful. He has the skills to run a nationwide campaign and having a President from South Dakota would be good for America and South Dakota (Yes it is a values thing). I could also like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Hoosier Gov. Mitch Daniels and think I could grow to like a Mitt Romney.

Finally, John Thune is the only candidate that has an excellent exit strategy. Running a first class campaign with even modest success would raise national awareness and truly make him a National “Player.” That would leave several doors open to him – a Vice Presidential nomination, a future run for President in 2016 or 2020 depending on the 2012 outcome and even more importantly could put him in line to succeed GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell when the time comes.

For John Thune the future is NOW.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Celebrating the Ordinary

There is another Do Not Miss exhibition at Sioux Falls’ Washington Pavilion – In Search of Norman Rockwell’s America.

Us Baby Boomers grew up with Norman Rockwell. He was seemingly always there and illustrated the ordinary but what is best about America – its People – the product of a melting pot of many former nationalities. Life was less rushed in those days, and perhaps seemed ordinary though there the omnipresent “Cold War.”

Norman Rockwell thru his art, chronicled America. He partnered with the Boy Scouts and illustrated their annual calendar and many of Boy Scout publications. Most weeks Rockwell drawings could be found on the cover of the popular weekly magazine, “The Saturday Evening Post.”

The Washington Pavilion exhibit in terms of the Art probably only rates a solid B but if you want to see into the soul of America it is an A Plus!

Most of the Rockwell pieces are lithographs or other reprints. There is very little original work either sketches or oil painting. In terms of the art, it is less prestigious than the Pavilion’s earlier exhibit of August Rodin.

An interesting aspect is the presentation itself. The subject matter of Rockwell’s work is juxtaposed to photographs by Kevin Rivoli. While I do not know who produced the travelling exhibit, I sense (am guessing) that Rivoli has his hand in the promotion mix. Using the renowned Rockwell to help exhibit his own work seems to be a good (if not great) idea.

The exhibit ends on Sunday, February 27 though Pavilion evening hours have been extended on many nights.

Long End Bar on the Washington Pavilion - When the Pavilion project was put to a vote in conjunction with the Convention Center at the Arena I opposed it. I thought the Convention Center was a good idea and would provide for economic development but keeping the Pavilion nothing more than a white elephant. I did not understand the Sioux Falls mentality of sentimentality in keeping buildings that has outlived their purpose and had on idea of what to use them for. I thought that the Pavilion would inevitably incur cost overruns and be costly to maintain. I was correct about that.

What I was wrong about was what a great place (though expensive) the Pavilion would turn out to be and how the Convention Center has not lived up to its expectations. The Convention Center is very nice and too requires a municipal financial supplement. In the over 10 years we’ve had the Center I can’t remember more than maybe 10 events or conventions that came because of the facility or events that could not have been hosted in the Arena (and yes we need a new Arena – Events Center).

The Pavilion turned out to include the Great Hall (La Scala on the Plains), the CineDome (Imax knock off big screen theatre), black box theatre (love that name). Discovery Science Center, and Visual Arts Center.

These are all first rate and La Scala on the Plains actually spectacular. While expensive, Sioux Falls is lucky to have the Washington Pavilion.

I use it very little. In its time I have not yet attended the Symphony. My highlight reel includes besides the Rodin and Rockwell exhibits, three big screen natural history movies (excuse me films), songstress Anne Murray, Hal Holbrook in “An Evening with Mark Twain”, the travelling road show of one of my favorite musicals, “Show Boat”, and a String recital in the Black Box with students of Ray Sidoti. I missed Willie but so it goes.

In case it is not clear, I am glad we have the Pavilion, it’s a Plus for Sioux Falls.

Management of the Pavilion has had a rocky history but its fortunes are improving under the capable hands and leadership of Larry Toll. (That’s a theme for another time.) Larry is another big Plus for Sioux Falls.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Courageous State Budget

Governor Daugaard will propose his State Budget this week to the Legislature.

During his State of the State Address last week he said that his budget will be “austere.”

There have been suggestions and reports in the last weeks that the Governor will propose 10 percent cuts to K-12 Schools and to Medicaid payments. Reports have also indicated that their will also be cuts in Government departments of 10 percent. In the spirit of sacrifice the Governor has taken a 15% cut in his own salary and his Cabinet officials have also taken symbolic and significant cuts in their pay.

If substantiated by fact these steps are bold and politically risky for the Governor. While risky if he is able to have his budget substantially enacted he has in the long run the opportunity to be a winner.

Such a budget takes on two pretty heavy political hitters, the local school districts, the docs, hospitals, and medical community. While these groups are able to weather such revenue cuts to varying degrees (more later) they will not just stand still. They will push back.

Under the previous Rounds administration, State Government has been deficit spending for 7 of the last 8 years. Structural deficit (a new political creation of Governor Rounds and in this case balancing the budget with reserves) is deficit spending. Deficit spending (by the Rosenthal definition) is spending more money than you take in.

This year is time to right the fiscal ship of state. The most important fact to understand is the money is not there.

Raising taxes is a political non starter; this Governor, this Legislature (Republicans and Democrats) and the people are in no mood.

Revenues projections are a mixed bag. The sales tax may have some modest growth, consumer spending has picked up a bit and ag commodity prices are high. Video lottery receipts are expected to be lower because of the Iowa Casino, the bank franchise tax may again be in the tank, thanks to the so called federal bank reforms, the contractor’s excise tax given the economy shouldn’t be at previously higher levels, and who has any idea what to expect from Deadwood revenues as their story changes if not weekly at least monthly to whatever calamity they only are expecting.

Candidate Daugaard has said he will not spend money he does not have and he will not raise taxes. The Governor is also said that State revenues will come back as the economy recovers. I never try to say never, but does anyone see robust economic growth in the near or medium term. I read recently that unemployment may not go below 6 percent until 2020! Expect modest economic growth at best.

Just a couple of factoids to throw into the mix: The DUSEL Laboratory does not appear going to receive the expected revenue that will pay to keep pumping water out of the Homestake Mine Laboratory. Will the State continue putting money down that hole? The Governor has expressed several times he would like to increase the REDI fund for economic development loans to perhaps the $90 million level. Where will that money come from (the budget) and when?

This is the year to get back on a paygo (pay as you go) basis (I am stealing that one from the Congressional Dems, though they don’t do it.) We will not see the numbers until the budget is unveiled this week and we won’t have firmer estimates (an oxymoron?) until later in the Session (perhaps late February) but for my part, this is the year to right the books and get pure.

No spending more than we take in.

What follows I understand is provocative. If the 10 percent cuts are not enough and because the Med and School Communities are being asked to take significant and austere hits; State employees at all levels including all Regent institutions should take a 5 percent pay cut.

For Background – K-12 last year received no increase and Stare employees for 2 years have not received any pay increase (while their medical insurance cost did rise.) Some school districts probably can weather a 10 percent cut by using reserves, though others may have to option out and ask school district voters for a real property tax increase. Schools in the growing districts tend to have fewer reserves and of course receive their state aid a year after the growth in the number of students has occurred.

Cutting State and University workers is a hard ask, though the Governor would be taking a shared sacrifice approach that might make the 10 percenters to the medics and schools more palatable. He just would not be cutting others but more than symbolically cutting his own fiefdom as well.

Sidebar – I expect the Board of Regents will scream even louder than the K-12 or Medicals are. They will tell us about the brain drain and losing staff to surrounding States and Colleges. While maybe true in former times, in today’s economy and environment that just ain’t so. Having a job is its own reward.

Repeating here but the more important point is that the State would be positioned to face the future whatever that is, on solid fiscal ground.

I come from an earlier generation, but I clearly remember when the government (Local, State, and particularly Federal) was not so BIG. Coming out of the 1930s government work always earned less than the private sector. Government workers received lower pay because they had desirable benefits including (most importantly then as well as now Job Security. They also had vacation, pensions, and later health care.

Just a word on the politics – If the State is whole in funding its expenditures after the first year as the economy stabilizes we will be in a position to then grow responsibly. If our budget is balanced as formerly stated the vast majority of South Dakotans will reward the Governor politically.

Whether the Daugaard plan with or without the Rosenthal suggest 5 percent pay cut option succeeds, short term or long term Schools and Medicals will be seeking their own legislative candidates in 2012 (read here recruiting Republicans as well as Democrats to oppose incumbents.)

The Governor was elected on his life lessons of hard work and frugality. Governor Daugaard this is your time and your place. Continue showing Courage.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Model for Political Leadership

Tommy Joe Vandergriff, the “Boy Mayor” of Arlington, Texas passed away on December 30. Vandergiff who held elected political office for 44 years is the sterling example of not only of civic accomplishment but leadership.

Tom Vandergriff was elected Mayor of Arlington, Texas in 1951, In the 1950 census the population of the town then located 12 miles east of Fort Worth was 7700. The population by 2010 national head count was 380,000 making Arlington the forty-ninth largest City in the United States and the seventh largest in Texas. Arlington is home to the Dallas Cowboys and The American League champion Texas Rangers.

During Vandergriff’s tenure and as a result of his leadership, the City obtained a General Motors assembly plant (in the days when that amounted to a big deal) and brought a major league baseball team to town(the second Washington Senators (after the original Senators were moved by the Griffith family to Minnesota to become the Twins.)

Besides economic and tourism development (Arlington is home to both the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers and because of Vandergriff’s efforts was also home to the original Six Flags Over Texas), Mayor Vandergriff spearheaded building the first local hospital and built a lake (nearby Lake Arlington) to secure the necessary domestic and industrial water supply for a growing City.

Sidebar – Let me repeat. Arlington needed water, the Mayor provided vision (the plan), convinced the Citizenry to provide the means ($) and built it. No anxiety about need, location, federal grants, and no waiting. Just we need it, lets pay for it, and lets do it now.

In 1982 Vandergriff was elected to Congress in a newly created Congressional District, the result of the 1980 Census reapportionment. A conservative Democrat he supported President Ronald Reagan more often than not. However he lost his seat in the 1984 Reagan Landslide (Reagan won 49 states, losing only Minnesota and the District of Columbia) to Dick Armey. Texas was Reagan country and it shouldn’t be lost that the GOP National Convention was held in nearby Dallas (Phil Gramm won the Texas U S Senate seat that year after switching parties from Democrat to the GOP as well.)I haven’t researched this but I understand that Vandergriff did not campaign very hard and perhaps took his almost heroic status in Arlington too much for granted.

In 1990 Vandergriff by then a Republican was elected to County Judge for Tarrant County (Fort Worth is the County Seat). In Texas, County Judge is the Chairman of the County Commission and politically the most powerful politician, though arguably, maybe not, as Sheriffs are held in very high respect.

In posting on Mayor Dave Munson several years ago, I said, “being a political leader and in particular a Mayor requires many skills but perhaps the most important is being a consensus builder. Mayor Rick Knobe was superlative in his ability to bring diverse groups together. He worked closely and listened with senior citizens, our schools and youth organizations, labor unions, the business community, with the non-profits as well as with the cultural and arts community. During Knobe’s tenure Sioux Falls grew and prospered. Dave Munson shares these skills learned as a former teacher, State legislator, local businessman, and lifetime resident he understands and has access to the diverse Sioux Falls community.”

Vandergriff understood this in spades. He brought people together to get things done, particularly the Citizens. Arlington was a blue collar town – defense workers, warehouse workers, freight handlers, and later auto workers. Beyond GM Arlington was a small business town. (Oops I forgot to mention that Vandergriff was successful in elevating the status of a two year junior college (Arlington College) to a four year State College (Arlington State College). Today it is The University of Texas at Arlington and has an enrollment of over 32,000 students.)

Besides his physical accomplishments and getting things done, was his style. It was never about him. It was about what made the community a better place to live and work. He never sought the credit, had no personal or political agenda – just get er done!

Vandergriff was a listener. He spent zero time blowing his own horn. Once he set a goal, he just convinced everyone to get in the wagon and start going in one direction. Ideas were important but they all did not have to be his.

Consider this from the report of the public memorial service for T J Vandergriff:

"Tom's favorite personal pronoun was always 'We.' He never wanted to be credited for what the community had done," former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene said during the service.

Greene also read a quote from Vandergriff, who was asked years ago to recall his greatest achievement in office.

"I don't consider what happened as a 'personal achievement.' ... It was an era when, for example, if we needed a hospital we could build it, or if we had to have a lake for our water supply we constructed it. If we wanted our junior college to become a university we had the ability to see that it was done," Vandergriff was quoted as saying.

"In other words, a spirit developed that if we as a community wanted something strongly enough, we could reach that goal ... during those years a feeling emerged that anything was within our reach if we wanted to attain it."

Following is his Obit. (note the mention of former U S House Speaker Jim Wright) Not mentioned is that the Vandergriff Auto dealerships under the ownership of Vandergriff’s son Victor are now the largest privately owned auto sales group in the United States.

Visionary Leader Tom Vandergriff Put Arlington On Map
By: Susan Schrock and Gordon Dickson
December 30, 2010

ARLINGTON -- Tom Vandergriff, the longtime Arlington mayor and Tarrant County judge whose more than 50 years in public life virtually defined growth in the western half of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, died Thursday.

He was 84.

The man once known as Arlington's "boy mayor" -- widely credited with luring the Texas Rangers baseball team and General Motors assembly plant to the city -- died about 3 p.m. Thursday at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. He had been ill for many months and had suffered a broken hip in October, the day after his beloved Rangers won their first American League pennant.

Still, his son Victor Vandergriff said, "We weren't expecting it today. We haven't had a watch on him. He just gave out."

Tom Vandergriff earned the nickname "boy mayor" in 1951 when he became the city's youngest mayor at age 25.

Mr. Vandergriff also secured land to build Lake Arlington, spearheaded the creation of Six Flags Over Texas and raised money for the city's first real hospital, Arlington Memorial.

Considered the father of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Mr. Vandergriff is also believed to be the first public official to use the word Metroplex, which today is a well-known nickname for the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With his trademark broadcaster's voice, Mr. Vandergriff was a tireless cheerleader for his city and the region.

"He was a tireless, aggressive promoter. There wasn't anything Arlington couldn't do," Victor Vandergriff said.

His 55 years in politics also included one term as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the early 1980s and 16 years as a Republican while serving as Tarrant County judge until his retirement in 2006.

Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright and Vandergriff both came to public life in the mid-20th century as the "boy mayors" of their respective cities. Weatherford and Arlington both had populations of 8,500 in 1950.

"Whenever we saw each other in recent years, each of us reflected on how long it has been that anyone called us a 'boy' of anything," said Wright, 88, whose 60-year association with Vandergriff included two years as House colleagues.

"Arlington became one of the most rapidly growing cities in the United States because of the creativity and ingenuity of Tom Vandergriff. I don't know anybody who quite matches him during that span of time."

Mr. Vandergriff had been treated at a rehabilitation center since he fell and fractured his hip in late October.

"His last public appearance was seeing the Rangers beat the New York Yankees to win the pennant. What a way to go out," Victor Vandergriff said.

Luring General MotorsMr. Vandergriff was born in Carrollton on Jan. 29, 1926, to W. T. "Hooker" and mother Charles Vandergriff. He was 12 when his family moved to Arlington, which at the time was only about 1 square mile with 3,500 residents, relatives said.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California in 1947 and married his high school sweetheart, Anna Waynette Smith, in 1949. He moved back to Arlington to work for his father's Vandergriff Chevrolet dealership downtown.

At age 23, Mr. Vandergriff became president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. Soon after being elected mayor, his father encouraged him to court General Motors, which was planning to open an assembly plant in the Southwest. So at age 26, Mr. Vandergriff stationed himself outside the office of the General Motors chairman in Detroit for a chance to sell the company on North Texas.

The pitch worked, and in 1954 the first car -- a Pontiac -- was assembled in Arlington.

"I was there when the first vehicle came off the line," Mr. Vandergriff told the Star-Telegram in 2006. "It was a miracle. ... Definitely the first car to come off that assembly line is the one that will have a place in my memory, always."
Mr. Vandergriff also oversaw the fundraising campaign to build Arlington Memorial Hospital, opened in 1958 on Randol Mill Road on land donated by the Vandergriff family. He served as chairman of the hospital board for 37 years until retiring in 2006.

Major league pitchMr. Vandergriff spearheaded the creation of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which was formed in 1966 to meet the common needs and planning activities of cities, counties and other political entities. Mr. Vandergriff was the council's first president and served as a board member for 15 years.

Mr. Vandergriff championed major road projects, including Texas 360 south of Texas 183 and Interstate 20 in southern Tarrant County. He also believed in and defended the idea of cities and counties working together.

"He was criticized in the early days of COG by people who said we were going to create a new layer of government, and local members would lose their identity," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the council. "But look what's happened. He put together a group of people that every day worried about the region and created a partnership."

For 13 years, Mr. Vandergriff worked to bring a Major League Baseball team to Arlington.

The first step was to build $1.9 million Turnpike Stadium, which opened in 1965, and was home to the minor league Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, which played in the Texas League. Then in 1971, he persuaded the Washington Senators to move to Arlington, overcoming pleas from President Richard Nixon, himself a baseball fan, to keep the team in the nation's capital.

The team became the Texas Rangers, and Turnpike was renamed Arlington Stadium, with Mr. Vandergriff declining attempts to have the stadium named after him. He threw out the first pitch at the Rangers' inaugural game on April 21, 1972, and this year saw the team advance to its first World Series.

Not everything Mr. Vandergriff supported was a success.

The taxpayer-financed Seven Seas park, which featured dolphins, killer whales and a life-size pirate ship, opened near Arlington Stadium in 1972. But the crowds didn't come. The park lost so much money that the city closed it after less than four years.

After stepping down as mayor in 1977, Mr. Vandergriff regretted that he did not get comprehensive mass transit in place or do more to preserve downtown Arlington, which lost some of its character to redevelopment, his family said. He was also unable to dissuade the University of Texas at Arlington from disbanding its football program.

Still, Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck described Mr. Vandergriff as "Mr. Arlington."

"I don't think there has been a better mayor. Every big thing that has happened in Arlington has been because of his great leadership and vision."

Cluck said Mr. Vandergriff's accomplishments "built on one another and made us more visible and more attractive to businesses and entertainment venues."

Several places are named in Mr. Vandergriff's honor, including Vandergriff Park, the Vandergriff Building known as the Historic V, Vandergriff Town Center, Vandergriff Plaza at Rangers Ballpark, and Vandergriff Way adjacent to the General Motors plant off Abram Street in east Arlington.

"Every good thing that has happened in Arlington is connected to Tom Vandergriff," said former Mayor Richard Greene. "If people are excited about the Super Bowl, they need to realize more than anybody that Tom is responsible for that."

Seeing the big pictureAfter stepping down as mayor, Mr. Vandergriff didn't return to public life until he was elected to the U.S. House in 1982 as a Democrat. But he served for only one term, losing to Dick Armey, who became a leader of the Republican Party.

Using mostly his own money, Mr. Vandergriff was one of the nation's biggest spenders in the 1982 congressional races, shelling out nearly $1 million to beat Jim Bradshaw by 344 votes.

During his short stint, Mr. Vandergriff was criticized by some for not playing the partisan games of Washington. He often spoke well of President Ronald Reagan, a Republican. Meanwhile, many of his Republican friends liked his voting record but couldn't get over the fact that he was a Democrat.

He didn't become a Republican until after his return to local politics in Arlington.

"History can turn on a dime. He would have been in Congress to this day if he had become a Republican earlier," said Allan Saxe, a University of Texas at Arlington associate professor and local philanthropist who knew him for 45 years. "But he wanted to be loyal to his party at the time."

After losing his seat in 1984, Mr. Vandergriff vowed to stay out of partisan politics.

"I think that I have found that I am a nonpartisan person. ... We had party loyalists on both sides that were uncomfortable with me," Mr. Vandergriff told the Star-Telegram at the time.

Mr. Vandergriff returned to private life. But by the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Vandergriff family fortune was weakening under a mountain of debt created by his two congressional campaigns, a sluggish economy, mounting medical bills for his father and real estate deals gone bad. In 1997, Vandergriff Chevrolet was sold to VT Inc.

Last political officeMr. Vandergriff returned to the political arena for the last time in 1990 to run as a Republican for Tarrant County judge. He served in that post until his retirement at the end of 2006 at age 80.

Under his leadership, the county built a family law center and sold its convention center to Fort Worth, said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who was a county commissioner at the time. Mr. Vandergriff was also a calming influence during a time of turmoil in the late 1990s, when then-Sheriff David Williams was criticized for several decisions, including department purchases, Whitley said.

"Even when we were going through the rigmarole with the sheriff, I remember one day he [Mr. Vandergriff] got very upset with David Williams," Whitley said. "I kept thinking, 'I wonder if David realizes he just got a lecture' -- because even when he [Mr. Vandergriff] was angry he handled his anger well."

Whitley also remembered his first meeting with Mr. Vandergriff decades earlier. Whitley was a self-described brash 20-year-old college student, and he held a position in a state organization requiring out-of-town travel. Whitley walked into the Vandergriff dealership and asked for free use of a car for a year.

Mr. Vandergriff declined to donate a car but smiled and made Whitley a counteroffer.

"He laughed and laughed, and he said he couldn't just give me a car, but he said if I could come see him once a month he'd see if he could line me up with a car for the weekend -- and he did, several times," Whitley remembered. "He was as nice to me then as he was 24 years later, when I came on the Commissioners Court and he swore me in."

Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius said that as county judge Mr. Vandergriff played crucial roles in keeping the General Motors plant open when the company was contracting. He also may have played a behind-the-scenes role in bringing the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington.

But Mr. Vandergriff never sought accolades.

"There are many politicians in the world, but there are very few statesmen," Maenius said. "Tom Vandergriff was a true statesman. He never tried to generate credit for himself. He was very gracious in extending credit to other court members and elected officials in the county."

He also cared deeply about constituents. Several times, when Tarrant County was unable to help someone who had come for help, Mr. Vandergriff offered his personal assistance, he said.

"I saw him open up his own checkbook," Maenius said. "He was a true gentlemen."

Mr. Vandergriff is survived by his sister Virginia Deering of Arlington; daughter Vanessa Watters of Los Angeles; son Victor Vandergriff of Arlington; daughter Valerie Kelton of Mansfield; daughter Vivica Vandergriff of Mansfield; and grandchildren Katharine Vandergriff, Kendall Kelton, Rachel Kelton, Parker Vandergriff and Caroline Vandergriff.

"He was an amazing public servant, but more importantly he was the most loving grandfather. All of us carry the most wonderful memories of him and will hold those close to our hearts. He was our best friend, our No. 1 cheerleader and our precious Granddaddy," granddaughter Kendall Kelton said.

Funeral arrangements are pending, and the family said a public memorial service will be held.

Staff writers Eva Marie Ayala, Alex Branch, John Henry contributed to this report, which also includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Monday, January 3, 2011

How About Those Frogs

Among family a common refrain heard is “You can’t bring back the good old days but Pabst brought back the beer.”

The 2011 Rose Bowl game on New Years Day returned me to those days of yesteryear to my childhood over a half century ago.

Two years ago I posted on “the most exciting football game I ever saw” (Texas v. Texas Tech). Saturday’s Rose Bowl game (T C U v Wisconsin) was a great if not Classic football game with pretty evenly matched teams but more than exciting it was a blast to the past. In my Happy Days are Here Again post, I said:

“Growing up in the fifties my home town TCU Horned Frogs won 3 Southwest Conference Championships and were consistently ranked nationally despite being a private Church school.”

Thus on this New Years Day my heart was a little lighter thinking of things past and the Horned Frogs return to greatness. To College football fans the story of the non BCS Frogs who are undefeated this season and truly the Cinderella team is well known. I won’t drill into it.

Just suffice to say that the Fort Worth University has a grand tradition and despite the on going National Playoff BCS controversy and the demise of the once great Texas Football League, aka the Southwest Conference (covered in other postings, here, here, and here) WE’RE BACK!

To paraphrase, You can take the boy out of his hometown but you can’t take the hometown out of the boy.