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Mayor Steve Allender announces he will not run for re-election

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Mayor Steve Allender headshot

Allender

On Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender's wall in his office, he keeps a list of 2015 issues he made in his first run in office.

Now, seven years later, Allender is in his last term as mayor and will not run for re-election in 2023, he said Monday night after the special Rapid City Council meeting.

"I haven't kept any secrets around City Hall or anywhere else," he said. "A lot of people want to know when my term ends and if I'm running again and so on and so forth, so I have been honest with everybody. I made a decision — I'm stepping away from this position at the end of next June and someone else can be up for election and try it for a while."

Allender said he originally promised his wife he wouldn't run for a third term in 2019, but he didn't feel like there was a suitable candidate for office at the time so he made no public announcement.

"I've had opportunities of course since then to rethink it and make sure I'm thinking straight and all of that kind of thing," he said.

Allender said he won't run again even if there isn't a candidate he thinks is suitable for the next election cycle. He said to run again would be too much to ask of him.

"My heart would not be in it," he said. "I would probably transition from what I consider to be a public servant to a politician because I'm about at the point in my mayoral career where in order to stay in office, I would have to start promising people things and telling them exactly what they want to hear and leveraging the relationships I have with the community. And to me, that's a time to get out."

Allender was first elected mayor in 2015 and transitioned from being the Rapid City police chief. He served two, two-year terms and was the first to serve a four-year term.

He said he campaigned on the idea of installing a city manager into City Hall, and not being able to do that is one of his regrets. However, Allender said he also promised to be more open, to remain a person and a citizen, and look out for the best interests of the community, not just the best interests of one person.

"I think I've done that," Allender said. "I didn't make any bizarre promises like no new taxes or fees or whatever else. People don't understand the inability of a mayor to do things like that. But today, I feel like a new mayor would be painted into a corner and have to make certain promises in order to gain an appropriate amount of support. I worry today that the next mayor will have to campaign within those party lines.

"I think that would be a huge disservice to the people of Rapid City," he said.

Allender said he did not allow partisanship to be part of his administration, promised to come to work and work hard, and do a good job for Rapid City. He said there's still work to be done and he will continue to do so through June 2023.

So far during his time in office, Allender said he's proud of the Youth Ride Free Program with Rapid Transit, the Ascent Innovation center, OneHeart, the work he's done with homelessness, cooperating with Pennington County and its finances, putting the old Presidential Plaza debacle to bed and starting the groundwork for the Block 5 Development, and improving the budget process.

He said he also initiated routine city/county official meetings, reduced bureaucracy by eliminating the code enforcement appeals board, eliminated an internal audit process that was being funded but didn't get off the ground, instituted the use of engineering technicians as an alternative to more consultant contracts, implemented a new city website and social media platforms, provided annual funding to early childhood education programs, launched an early childhood education initiative, and changed the Vision Fund process from five years to three.

Allender said he doesn't spend much time thinking about the good he's been able to accomplish but that time is used to putting out fires and handling chaos. He said the pandemic altered peoples' thoughts, their approach to things and their priorities.

"There's maybe some signs that it's lessening a little bit, but I'm afraid it's going to take a generational change to get back even close to where we used to be," he said. "This is a long-term deal. That's too bad because I spent 29 years as a police officer, a police chief here, seeing literally nothing but the worst of us, and then coming into this office and getting a chance to see all the great things was very uplifting, very motivating."

Now, though, he said it's different, and Allender believes it's moving in the opposite direction of forward.

Allender said the next mayor needs to not attempt to make everyone happy. He said the city needs a mayor who will surround themselves with trusted advisors from various walks of life, spend time with the "brain trust" of the department directors and employees, and spend less time worrying about what people like or dislike.

"This is a public service job, it's a public servant position, and the only way to make everyone upset is to try to please everyone," he said. "This person has to be grounded in principle. They have to understand the challenges. They have to know how to solve problems and how to use others to solve problems, and they have to be confident and make decisions and move forward even at the expense of political capital."

— Contact Siandhara Bonnet at siandhara.bonnet@rapidcityjournal.com

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