Whether you agree with Mayor Steve Allender's policies or not, he deserves credit for a willingness to make a case for what he believes in and then working to that end, which makes him more transparent than most politicians.
Allender, now in his second term as Rapid City's mayor, has made numerous power-point presentations recently throughout the community about the status of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s Barnett Arena. For those who took the time to attend one of them, the mayor spelled out the options — rebuild or repair — and why he believes a new arena is in the city's best long-term interest.
In the case of the arena and with proposed policy changes or new initiatives, the mayor uses Facebook, Twitter and his blog to articulate his positions on these matters. If anyone chooses to pay attention, it’s not hard to learn what Allender is thinking on the major issues of the day. Those who follow him also have likely noticed that he can get frustrated with a public that often is only peripherally aware of the mechanics of government yet has plenty to say about it.
Recent postings on his blog (theother98cents.com — inspired by the Journal’s Your Two Cents feature that often has reader complaints about politicians or government) lamented low voter turnout for local elections while challenging excuses to not vote, the importance of consultants to government agencies, and an explanation on funding for a new Barnett Arena. While not in President Trump's league, he tweets frequently about city issues.
The object of his latest concern is the city budget. The mayor, an advocate of priority-based budgeting, believes too many residents and council members responded with their hearts rather than their heads when his proposed funding cuts to the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, the Allied Arts Fund and Journey Museum were rejected after supporters mounted campaigns to preserve them. Now, the city council's approval of a plan to increase water rates by 43 percent over the next five years faces the prospect of a challenge from a citizen's group in a special election.
In a likely response to the push back from those outside the circles of city government, Allender has unveiled a survey that he hopes will shine light on the budgeting process from his perspective. He also hopes the exercise will help residents understand "emotion makes terrible public policy."
While a survey might be more useful and certainly scientific if the city had hired a consultant to do it, it still gives the public a chance to weigh in on priorities in a broad sense and let the mayor know what residents care about before the next budget is proposed in 2018.
The survey is on the homepage of the city's website (rcgov.org) and 3,000 additional surveys will be mailed to randomly selected residents. It consists of 14 questions and allows for additional comments throughout. It can easily be completed in less than 20 minutes. Allender also has promised to share the results with the city council. The deadline to respond is Dec. 22.
While it is everyone's right to criticize government, those critiques carry more weight from an informed citizenry. One of the biggest threats to democracy and America is apathy — fewer people are voting and participating in civic affairs and more seem angry about the state of affairs.
While filling out a survey won't change that dynamic overnight, it nonetheless presents an opportunity to get more engaged in government while demanding more from our elected and non-elected officials. Tell the mayor what you believe is important. He promises to listen.