The March 1, 2021 City Council meeting was absolutely explosive! For the first time since the Rapid City Home Rule committee convened, the Rapid City Common Council openly discussed the activities of the secretive, backroom Home Rule committee.
People’s Rule has been trying for months to get information about this committee by filing official public records requests, appealing denials and even filing an official open meetings complaint against the City – all to tell us what exactly they’ve spent almost $40,000 of our hard-earned taxpayer money on!
While the Council never planned on discussing Home Rule or this committee originally, after one citizen asked that it be put on the agenda – they did!
But it wasn’t easy for these citizens. Unlike other City Council meetings, Mayor Allender moved the public comment period back by almost an hour, forcing citizens to sit tight for that long hour before they could even have their voices heard.
Once the public comment period started, questions about Home Rule began rolling in!
Lorraine Besmer, an elderly lady who was deeply concerned about Home Rule, said “And these are just examples of why we do not want Home Rule! One person will be making the majority of the decisions with little or no discussion with the smaller number of councilmen, much less with the taxpaying citizens. … Home Rule is not for the good of the citizens!”
Then Carla Schanzenbach came forward, who came prepared with a number of poignant questions about the Home Rule committee. “The purpose of the committee was to review, research and educate the public and seek input,” Schanzenbach said, and then asked, “How was public education conducted and input solicited?”
Following that question, Schanzenbach then said, “The process identified a step on the purpose section of the presentation to make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council as to whether Home Rule should be pursued before moving forward with the charter development process,” and then unloaded a slurry of questions. Schanzenbach ended her comments and questions, saying “I am all in favor of information over speculation, … [and that’s why] I’d like to request these items be put on the agenda today to discuss.”
Mayor Allender quickly tried to shut down her request to question the committee, replying “Thank you the Council has adopted the agenda and there won’t be any additions to it tonight.”
But Councilman Roberts jumped at the opportunity, making a motion to amend the agenda to add this item, with Councilman Salamun seconding the motion. That’s when Mayor Allender’s tune changed, and took a roll-call vote, which was unanimously approved to publicly discuss it!
Following Schanzenbach, our very own People’s Rule spokesperson Jordan Mason was there to comment as well, and provided some historical context to the history of Home Rule with Rapid City. Mason referred to the November 21, 1989 City Council meeting, where Councilman McLaughlin moved to pay $500 for “secretarial assistance for the  Home Rule Study Committee,” noting that they kept meeting minutes during their study. Mason, referring to South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) § 6-12-1, then explained that, “This is a statutory authority that is given by the state to the municipality, that is a sovereign power given to you to expend our public funds for the purpose of creating a charter. This is a public body!” Mason ended his comments, “Your job and I hope we all remember it, is to serve the people, it’s not the other way around where the people serve you,” and then stated, “bring the public’s business out before the public.”
Later in the meeting, Item 29a was introduced to the City Council meeting, with Councilman Roberts starting off the questions. “So I think there’s a miscommunication out in the public then, because a lot of people believe that this task force was just going to bring forward a recommendation to either go forward or not go forward with Home Rule,” Roberts said, implying whether to draft a charter or not, and then stated, “So to me it sounds like they’re going forward.” Mayor Allender responded saying, “No, what they’re doing is planning a presentation for City Council … and then they’ll inform you as to what their recommendation is.”
With such an unclear answer, Roberts followed up asking, “Do the people have input on what the Home Rule Charter will be?” That’s when Schanzenbach was called on, and dropped a bomb on the Mayor, saying, “I just wanted to say that on the message that I got back from the people on the website for Home Rule, they said they were going to be doing a presentation in March to the Council but they also said they had a Charter they were going to present.” Mayor Allender, obviously caught in his effort to hide the true activity of the committee, finally fessed-up that they had in fact drafted a Home Rule charter using this committee, saying, “Yeah, they have a draft charter that’s part of what led their work as a committee.”
Councilman Jason Salamun then followed-up to express his confusion over the timeline to present. Mayor Allender said that he had inquired about this as well with the City Attorney and others, and likely referring to either SDCL §§ 6-12-1 or 6-12-7, Mayor Allender said:
“There’s two ways a Home Rule question gets before the citizens. One, is coming through the City Council, and having the City Council put that on a ballot. The second way is for the citizens to initiate an election on Home Rule.”
But the problem is, that isn’t the whole story on what the law says. Under the law, the Council can create a committee using public monies to create a Home Rule charter, and have that Home Rule charter brought back to the Council to be voted on whether to place it on a ballot or not.
Specifically, SDCL § 6-12-1 states:
“Whether initiated by the voters or provided by the governing boards, counties, and first and second class municipalities are authorized to expend from their general funds expenses in connection with the preparation and sponsorship of a charter proposal and shall pay the cost of election conducted on the question of adoption or amendment of a charter.”
Mayor Allender further obfuscates the issue stating, “When the citizens initiate it, that’s the word, ‘initiate’ is used in this statute, it means that the government can’t sit on their hands, they have to produce an election within twelve months. But there’s been no citizen initiation.”
But that’s not what the law says at all! In fact, the law under SDCL § 6-12-7 is clear that when “a commission has been … appointed to draft a proposed charter,” they have twelve months to hold an election on it.
Specifically, SDCL § 6-12-7 states:
“When a commission has been selected or appointed to draft a proposed charter or an amendment to a charter, an election on the question must be held within one year after initiation of the proposed action.”
Regardless of what the law seems to say, our very own Home Ruler, Mayor Allender, later said that, “This committee has no timeline … I’m of the opinion that they could take another year or two, if they chose, to develop it how they see fit.”
Following that, Councilman Pat Jones spoke defensive of the committee, stating that he “was on that committee in the beginning,” and apparently took great exception to the “accusations that [the committee is] trying to be kept secret and covert,” after stating that the committee “can’t come forward to present until [the Home Rule Comittee is] ready.”
In addition to Jones’ explanation of the secretive nature of the committee, he also explained the purpose of the committee was to “investigate what home rule is, investigate what home rule isn’t and then parallel to that was their interest in having a City Manager for the City of Rapid City.” Jones then said the committee ultimately would “come forward and present to the City Council their findings.” Notably, Jones never stated the committee was tasked with drafting a Home Rule charter, as was done, assumedly after Jones left the committee, and was clear throughout his explanation that this committee, from his recollection, was solely their to “investigate” Home Rule.
Councilman Bill Evans in response to this stated that he doesn’t like the process and disagreed with Councilman Jones, stating “that there’s no reason why periodic updates as to progress, why we couldn’t be getting some information from time to time so we know what the process is.” Overall, Councilman Evans expressed his frustration with the process, the lack of transparency and what he felt was “a ton of misinformation” that had been propagated.
Finally, Councilman Ron Weifenbach was clear that he felt “this has basically been in the dark a lot,” and pointed out that this process ran counter to the City’s mission statement, which he read, stating:
“The mission of the Rapid City Council is to provide a cost-effective public administration, that insure public trust, provides an open forum, fosters a climate of free enterprise for all people and enhances quality of life.”
Weifenbach elaborated his concerns that “what was proposed by this Council was to come with a recommendation,” pointing out that the Home Rule Charter Committee “never started out with a Charter, it started out with ‘is this a good thing for the citizens of Rapid City?’,” and then clarified that “it wasn’t initiated by the people.” Councilman ended his remarks saying that, “we haven’t fostered this in an open public forum, that to me, therein lies an issue we need to resolve,” pointing out that this behavior of keeping the public in the dark is a trend, as the Council “just had this discussion with the Journal about open meetings,” referring to a recent article in the Rapid City Journal.
To date, the Rapid City Home Rule Charter has not presented or been scheduled to present to the City Council their findings or their draft Home Rule charter they are proposing.
People’s Rule has filed an open meetings complaint with the Pennington County State’s Attorney and two different appeals to the Office of Hearing Examiners for alleged Open Records violations under state law.
People’s Rule maintains that the committee, as advertised and pursuant to state law, has until May 4, 2021 to bring forward the issue.