Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Kind of Town

Sioux Falls voters went to the polls on Tuesday and said they are for the most part happily living in the Queen City on the Prairie.

Sioux Falls is a good place to live was good news for incumbent candidates who were all re elected (Mayor Huether, Councilpersons Erpenbach and Rolfing, and School Board member Morrison.) Our new Councilors for the open seats are State Representative Christine Erickson and Rick Kiley.

The losers were the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) forces. Included in this category were the measures against the outdoor pool at Spellerberg Park, the construction of a Wal-Mart at 85th and Minnesota, and the Shape Places new zoning ordinance. Ms. Schwan who lost the Southeast District Council seat was also closely identified because of her activism and outspoken opposition to the 85th and Minnesota Wal-Mart zoning and construction.

I am not sure we have heard the last from Ms. Schwan or of her opposition to building that Wal-Mart (despite the vote).

Voters said that while the some opposition may be valid progress is important and the City need to move forward.  

It is instructive that the ballot percentages for the losing NIMBY elections (the three NIMBY issues and the Southeast Council seat) were essentially 2 to 1.

The Mayor’s election was the variant. Mike Huether won re election by 56% to 44%, approximately 10 percentage points less than the anti progress yet otherwise happy Sioux Falls Citizens.

In analyzing the election it is important to understand that incumbent Mayors win re election. The candidate with the most money also usually wins. Mayor Huether also aggressively used the power of incumbency during the preceding two weeks before the election if not the preceding three years. There was an announcement from the City almost every day.

Briefly summarizing the campaign, Mayor Huether’s campaign was one of personal accomplishment. The Mayor talked about what has happened in Sioux Falls in the last four years and either specifically or generally took personal credit for everything good. This includes resurfacing the streets, the events center, river greenway, and even non-governmental activities like building housing and creating jobs.  

Economic cycles play an important part in elections. That certainly is the case in Sioux Falls. When the Mayor took office in 2010 Sioux Falls had almost zero growth in sales tax collections. This was a result of the effects of the great recession and the aftermath of what had been explosive growth in the Ethanol industry that peaked and whose growth couldn’t be sustained.

After Mayor Huether took office sales tax collections began to rise again (politicians take the credit, but the City of Sioux Falls had little to do with the economic turn around.) Also Sioux Falls credit card industry took a hit with the passage of the Dodd – Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2011. After extensive employee layoffs in Sioux Falls and subsequent successful litigation by the credit card industry, many financial jobs in Sioux Falls were restored. I believe some of these new jobs were baked into the Mayor’s claim of creating 3000 new jobs.

Challenge candidate Councilman Greg Jamison, in contrast focused his campaign on People First. Jamison laid out a plan of what he would he like to accomplish and specifically raised the issues of traffic control, returning tax dollars to taxpayers rather than increasing historically high treasury reserves, and addressing the rising crime rate in Sioux Falls. Jamison also challenged the Mayor over his ethical behavior that the Mayor refused to address.

Interestingly in each case the Mayor deferred to engage on these choosing to basically relying on his self-proclamations of accomplishment, or trotting out his Police Chief or City Finance Officer to address the issues with them saying the City was already taken care of that issue. Specifically on the crime rate the Mayor when first asked denied there is a problem stating that so many people would not be moving here if there were.

While people like their City, that 10% difference between NIMBY and the Mayor’s race results represents increased dissatisfaction among some over the Mayor’s job approval.

Mayor Huether to my judgment, lives in the here and now. His governing philosophy is about time and money. He is focused on personal impact and accomplishment with little vision of the long term.

However things are not perfect. There are problems. Crime is on the rise and is correctable if addressed. Increasingly there are retail vacancies downtown that the private sector needs to address with City encouragement. Parking is a pressing issue as well, particularly on the East Bank. Maybe getting rid of that River Ramp so quickly wasn’t the best idea. Railroad relocation is still an issue as is public transit.

People are happy here in Sioux Falls and while NIMBY seems to have been addressed, government goes on and there are still issues both short and long term. Essentially this election has formed a new government with the same Leader.

I wish them well.

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