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Don't rock the council

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Jean-Paul Sartre said "only the guy who isn't rowing has time to rock the boat." And though they're not prone to follow philosophers' words, powerbrokers in big business, the military and the government have adopted this credo. Of course, that mindset is based on an arrogance which assumes your boat is being rowed in the right direction. Never mind the storm clouds forming and that land mass receding below the horizon.

Such is the way of the world. The only place where rebels are admired is on the silver screen. Everyone loves a Brando, Dean or McQueen , but not in our board room, thank you. And don't even think about rocking the boat in council chambers.

Of course, I've never served as a council representative, but I've covered that legislative body - specifically, the Oglala Sioux tribal council.

This was during the waning months of 1999, preceding the Red Cloud Building takeover. I was regularly in contact with grass roots tribal members on the Pine Ridge Reservation - mostly elders. Complaints about the tribal council and its overspending were coming hard and fast, accompanied by reams of documentation. Not surprisingly, phone calls to various council representatives for their comments on the issues were never returned.

After several stories about tribal members' allegations, evidence of government overspending and "unavailable for comment" entries from the council's side, I was formally addressed on KILI Radio by a tribal council representative. While offering his views on the ethics of journalism, he noted that there was a writer from Rapid City - "Jim Kent, I think his name is, who used to come down to Pine Ridge and do some pretty responsible reporting." Apparently, my reporting was no longer responsible since I'd begun questioning what the tribal council was doing with the Oglala people's money. I'd become a "boat rocker."

It seems the same definition of "responsible" holds true within Rapid City's council chambers, where Sam Kooiker has been threatened with censure for "rocking the city boat."

I don't know Sam. I met him once while producing a story on the late Holocaust survivor, Jack van Der Geest. Our visit was pleasant and I learned we share a common interest in history.

As shown by the controversy surrounding the alderman in recent weeks, it seems we also share an interest in getting answers to questions. In Kooiker's case, the issue involves concerns brought to him by Rapid Transit employees over thousands of dollars spent on bus route flyers that were printed, then thrown away. That led to Kooiker questioning the Rapid Transit division manager about exactly how many flyers were disposed of and what their cost was?

It took multiple emails along with bringing the matter before the council to receive answers to those questions. The division manager countered with harassment charges against Kooiker (similar to tribal council reps crying "foul" when their spending was made public). Same school of fish, different ocean.

I've found that people with control issues tend to ignore those they feel have no right to "dare" ask them questions, then whine when the public calls them on their actions.

Seems to me that the tribal, excuse me, city council has simply wasted $17,000 in taxpayer dollars to investigate the validity of censuring someone who does his job.

Oh, right - that's the problem. Better put this "boat rocker" in his place or people will expect all council members to work for the voters.

Jim Kent lives in Hot Springs. Write to kentvfte@gwtc.net.

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