Why is it important for local residents and the media to attend meetings of elected officials? A prime example was on display at the Tuesday, Dec. 19, Pennington County Commission meeting.

An engaged group of citizens was in attendance to hear more about Rapid City Collective Impact's plan to create a multi-million dollar transformation campus for the homeless near downtown Rapid City.

Commissioner Ron Buskerud had invited a representative from the nonprofit to the meeting, but no one showed up to discuss a project that could be developed next to property the county uses for a variety of purposes, including for a $14 million restoration center scheduled to open in 2018.

At that point, the commissioners began to debate whether to allow discussion on the project since Collective Impact was a no-show. Two of them — Lloyd LaCroix and Mark DiSanto, both in their first term in office — sought to scuttle discussion even though local residents were there to listen and testify about the project.

Commission Chairwoman Deb Hadcock overruled the pair. As a result, new information came to light that taxpayers should know before the Rapid City council considers allocating $7 million for a four-acre transition campus where nonprofits and Collective Impact would work together to give hope to the hopeless and help them become productive again.

Those who attended the meeting or read the Journal’s story learned:

  • The county has the right of first refusal on several lots that Collective Impact would like to acquire for the transition campus.
  • A local businessman and chair of the Black Hills Regional Angel Fund, which makes loans to local entrepreneurs, said his firm has put on hold plans to invest $4 to $5 million downtown due to the lack of information about the project.
  • A South Dakota School of Mines & Technology official said the location is raising safety concerns there and could hamper the city’s efforts to create a pedestrian-friendly corridor linking the school to downtown.
  • Collective Impact apparently has shared little information with county commissioners, which is probably why Buskerud invited the nonprofit to the meeting.

The Journal reached out to Collective Impact about the concerns raised at the meeting. Late that same day, the organization sent a press release that said a public presentation on the project would be held at an undetermined date in late January. It provided no other details.

If it wasn't for a public meeting, concerned residents, and a decision to hear questions and allow testimony, the public wouldn't have learned of the county's concerns and its right of first refusal and elected officials wouldn't have learned of the public's concerns.

Collective Impact is pursuing an ambitious project that could literally change the landscape of Rapid City. It's also going to involve taxpayer dollars and have an impact on the county. Thanks to the Dec. 19 meeting and those who attended, the public knows more about issues that need to be considered and addressed.