steve Allender


Mayor Steve Allender has named six residents to a task force that will study the future of the Rapid City Human Relations Commission, including three prominent members of the Pennington County Republican Party.

The appointments come a little more than a month after the city announced it would form a task force to study the need for a commission. Members of the task force will meet formally for the first time Friday.

City administrators have said that the task force will look into the commission's viability and effectiveness. The commission — which has legal authority to investigate local complaints of workplace, labor, business, school and housing discrimination — hasn't met since October, when Allender suspended it after it failed to make quorum.

“We want to understand fully what the options are and what the role of the city ought to be," Allender said Friday.

A total of 18 people applied to be on the task force, according to city spokesperson Darrell Shoemaker. Members were appointed by Allender and did not require the confirmation of the city council.

County GOP chairman Jeff Holbrook said his interest in the task force is not political. As a member of the task force, he said he will bring to the table a perspective on diversity that he gleaned from military experience.

“I think that those things are important for this town. We’ve got a diverse group of people who live here, and I’ve felt for some time that some were feeling neglected," he said.

He will be joined by two members of the county Republicans' communications team, Tony Rhodes and Denise Maher.

Allender said he did not consider party affiliation when reviewing applications and instead looked for individuals who are neutral about the need for a local human relations commission.

"We also have folks on the other side of the aisle," he said.

Members of two organizations that focus on Native American issues will sit on the task force as well: Amy Sazue, development coordinator for Rural America Initiatives, and Karen Mortimer, director of the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors.

Mortimer said she sees the civic responsibility of task force membership as an extension of her work for the MOA. Sazue could not immediately be reached for comment.

The last seat on the task force will be held by nonprofit educator Terra Houska, who ran for the city council in the most recent election.

“I know there's a huge gap between Native and non-Natives in Rapid City. And myself being Native and non-Native, I thought that I would like to be on (the task force,)" she said last week. "I know what it's like to be on both sides.”

Allender said the task force has not determined how frequently it will meet. That and other goals will be discussed at the task force's inaugural meeting on Friday, he said.

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— Contact Matthew Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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