Campaign finance measure stalls in Mitchell City CouncilThree cities in South Dakota require candidates for municipal office to file campaign finance reports. Mitchell will not become the fourth, at least not yet.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Three cities in South Dakota require candidates for municipal office to file campaign finance reports.
Mitchell will not become the fourth, at least not yet.
Tuesday night at City Hall, the Mitchell City Council discussed requiring candidates, and possibly people involved in city ballot questions, to file finance reports. The issue was brought to the fore by Councilman Mel Olson in July and Olson led the discussion this time as well.
But in the end, the council took no action, although it could resurface down the road.
“I think disclosure’s here to stay,” Olson said.
He said by not reporting campaign donations, people will have questions about what local leaders are trying to hide.
Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Brookings are the only large cities in the state that require campaign finance reporting from local candidates, Olson said. Only Sioux Falls requires committees and individuals promoting or opposing ballot questions to file reports.
He brought examples of those city’s forms to the council meeting, which was held on Tuesday night rather than Monday because of the Labor Day holiday.
While those cities require names be listed for donations of $100 or more, and Olson said he favors that, he was willing to raise the figure to $250 to meet concerns raised by other councilmen in July.
Councilman Dan Allen, who spoke out against the idea in July, continued to oppose the proposal.
“I don’t see what’s broke here,” Allen said. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”
Councilman Phil Carlson, who is a lawyer, said it’s telling that the Legislature doesn’t require city candidates to file, nor is there an outcry for campaign finance reporting locally.
Carlson, who was unopposed in the June city election, said he spent about $15.
Ken Tracy said changing the level from $100, as was originally discussed, to $250 would “water down” the effort.
Tracy said while he had no concerns of corruption in Mitchell city government — “Nobody’s getting bought off” — he still favors requiring the reports.
“I think as public employees, I think the public has a right to know,” Tracy said. “I think that is what they would like to see.”
Legislative candidates report how much they spend on their own campaign and how much is raised in total. Contributions exceeding $100 are reported and the donor named, while donations of $100 or less are reported in a lump sum, with no names revealed.
Olson has proposed adding a penalty for not reporting. A candidate who won could not be seated until the report is filed. A defeated candidate could not run in the future until a report is filed.
Dave Olson, a CPA in Mitchell for 35 years, said he had “grown tired of rules and regulations that really do not apply to the question at hand.”
Olson, who said he serves as a campaign treasurer for two legislators, said he spends numerous hours filling out government reports. He said adding this layer of bureaucracy in Mitchell is not needed, since most campaign donations are around $25 or $50 and come from family and friends.
“It’s not to say the report is wrong,” Dave Olson said. “It’s just not relevant.”
He said once reports are required, they multiply.
“I think we the people, at one point, need to start pushing back” at requirements that are unnecessary, he said.
Candidates for the Mitchell school board, county offices and the Legislature have to file reports and there have been no rash of problems. Dave Olson said that might indicate they don’t need to file reports, either.
The Focus 2020 Government Structures Committee endorsed the idea of campaign finance reporting last year and recommended adding it to city law. Council President Jeff Smith said he had a great deal of confidence in the committee and is glad the concept was brought to the fore.
At the same time, he said very few people have told him they want to see campaign finance reports required.
But he said he doesn’t think mandating the forms will drive people away from public service, a concern raised in July and again Tuesday night by Mayor Lou Sebert.
“In the end, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference either way to people running or not running,” Smith said. “Honestly, if I’m supporting this moving forward, I think the $100 is outdated. I would support the $250.”
Councilman Travis Carpenter said he didn’t have a strong feeling either way, but feels any effort to “clean up city politics” casts a negative light on local politics. He said some people will always have suspicions about local politics and adding this level of reporting won’t eliminate it.
Councilman Greg McCurry said none of his constituents have contacted him to support adding the reporting process but five have said they see no reason for it. McCurry said if anyone has some input, he welcomes it.
Consolidated equalization board
The council was briefed by City Attorney Randy Stiles on the proposed formation of a consolidated board of equalization.
Currently, the council, with a school board representative, sits as the city board of equalization to hear appeals of property valuations. It reports to the Davison County Commission, which also sits as a board of equalization.
During hearings this summer, some members of the council said they were unsure if they were qualified to hear appeals and wondered if the current process was the best way to consider the true value of property.
That sentiment was echoed loud and clear Tuesday night.
“I have sat on this board for five years now and I think our step is completely useless,” Carpenter said, who said the council’s work was “pointless.”
Allen called the current process “a farce.”
Tracy said forming one board will shorten the process and make it run smoother. He said having people attend a pair of meetings did little good for anyone.
Mel Olson differed and said the council serves a useful purpose in the process.
McCurry said he saw a need for improved education for local property owners, which would serve everyone involved better, “however we do that.”
The Sidewalk Committee, which met before the council meeting, took a tour to review current and proposed sidewalk projects and held its meeting aboard a Palace Transit bus.
The committee examined completed sidewalk projects, including one at Munroe Park and another now under way in the Pebble Beach Road area, as well as other projects throughout Mitchell. City officials spoke repeatedly at the number of people using sidewalks.
Some do so too soon. A 195-foot stretch of sidewalk in the Pebble Beach area that was recently poured was damaged when a 53-year-old woman rode her bike on it before it was cured, leaving an indented bike tire-sized stripe in the concrete. The stretch of sidewalk will have to be replaced at a cost of up to $3,500.
It’s between the contractor and the woman to determine if she will have to pay for the damage.
The committee, with other city officials along for the ride, also toured proposed sites for 2012 and approved sidewalk construction on Eighth Street, Foster Avenue, Langdon Street and Gamble Street.
Janine Carlson, an Iowa resident who owns a house in Mitchell, came to the council with a complaint about a $135 bill for having a city contractor mow her lawn. The council turned her away.
The man she had relied on to mow her lawn had not done the work, and a doorknob reminder was left on her door. A neighbor called her and she came to Mitchell, but the lawn was mowed before she arrived and she felt she deserved more time to respond.
The council said code enforcement officer Jeff Lanning was trying to improve the process and contact people before having the city contract for mowing. But when someone lives out of town, it can be difficult to contact them.
“I don’t think we can expect Jeff to know what people are out of town or what people are not there,” Olson said.
Corn Palace Festival
Olson and Smith hailed Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling and his team for the Corn Palace Festival, which went extremely well, they said.
Smith said he was especially proud of the last-minute change from Loretta Lynn, who canceled her show due to health reasons, to Tanya Tucker.
“It just shows the work ethic of not only Mark but the other city employees we have,” he said. “They went the extra mile and I’m kinda used to seeing that.”
In other business, the council:
• Sat as the Board of Adjustment and approved the application of Wolfgang Dallmann for a variance to construct a carport at 1035 E. Fifth Ave. with conditions, including installing a rain gutter.
• Set a Sept. 19 date for a hearing on the application to transfer a retail (on-sale) liquor license to include Sunday sales from Bathke Enterprises LLC, which operates as One-Eyed Jack’s Casino Suite 108A, to Bathke Enterprises LLC, doing business as One-Eyed Jack’s Casino of Mitchell, located at1401 N. Main St., Suite 108A and B.
• Set an Oct. 3 date for a bid opening for a Graceland Cemetery pre-assembled columbarium, city project 2011-42.
• Awarded a bid for waste tire collection and disposal to Liberty Tire Services of Ohio, which has a location in Savage, Minn. Liberty Tire bid $45,000, as did a second firm, but it will recycle the tires, while the other firm was not planning to do so.
• Adopted Resolution 2939, an application for an approximately $160,000 grant under Section 5616 and 5317 of the South Dakota Department of Transportation, for Palace Transit.
• Approved Resolution 2940, filing an amendment for a grant under Section 5316 Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) and the Federal Transit Administration Section 5317 New Freedom Funds for Palace Transit.
• Approved Resolution 2941, which will raise sewer rates by 15 cents per unit effective Nov. 1. It will raise rates by about $1 per month for many customers. The council originally agreed to the rate increase at its Aug. 16 budget hearing.
• Approved Resolution 2942, the plat of Lot 12 and Lot 12A, Block 1 of Westwood First Addition. The city Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval.
• Approved Resolution 2943, the plat of Lots 1 and 2, Block 1 of CJM Second Addition. The planners also recommended approval on this item.
• Approved Resolution 2944, regarding tax improvement district fees. The TIF fee is set at $5,000 to cover the costs of the city’s efforts to review documents and ensure compliance over a number of years. Most of the projects are in excess of $1 million.
The fee had been $2,100, which wasn’t sufficient for the city’s efforts, according to Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson. She said she isn’t sure $5,000 will be, either.
• Held the first reading of Ordinance 2372, rezoning real property described as the west 45 feet of the east 90 feet of Lots 7 and 8, Block 14, Railroad Addition from Public Lands District (PL) to Highway Oriented Business (HB) and amending the official zoning map.
Chris and Julie Grillo, acting as Excel Construction, plan to build a 30-foot by 40-foot garage for storage. The Grillos bought the land from the state Department of Transportation. A hearing on the project is set for Monday before the Planning and Commission. Zoning • Held the first reading of Ordinance 2373, the 2012 appropriation ordinance (aka the budget) with an approximate total of $30 million, although Wilson is still fine-tuning the numbers.
• Held the first reading of Ordinance 2374, amending Mitchell City Ordinance 8-9-6-B(1) to clarify how sewer rates are computed based on the number of water meters. Public Works Director Tim McGannon said this was an effort to “clean up some of the fog” in city documents.
A local woman who owns a triplex with multiple units and has two meters came to the council earlier this year and said she felt she should only pay one fee. McGannon said this amendment will remove that argument.
• Held the first reading of Ordinance 2375, supplemental appropriations of $35,500 for the Parks and Recreation Department, $5,500 for the golf course, $3,000 for the cemetery and $5,000 for the community center.
• Held the second reading of and adopted Ordinance 2371, a supplemental appropriation of $16,500 for the Sanborn concrete joint repair effort.
• Approved an automatic supplement to the Special Revenue Fund, Parks and Recreation, in the amount of $2,798 for Cadwell Park improvements from a donation of funds.
• Reviewed a request of the Mitchell Fire Division to submit an application for a Department of Homeland Security grant for a ladder truck.
The city is seeking a $750,000 grant, according to Deputy Fire Chief Paul Morris, but by kicking in $350,000 already budgeted for the replacement of the aging truck, it stands a much better chance of getting a $400,000 grant, he told the council.
• Approved an application for a $6,000 highway safety grant to pay for 188 hours of overtime for police officers for speed enforcement. There will be no required city match in cash, since having other officers on duty will serve as a match.
• Declared dozens of items surplus for the city’s annual auction.
• Approved, during the Public Health and Safety Committee meeting, a request for fireworks at the Mitchell High School homecoming game on Sept. 16 in a meeting that lasted one minute.