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EDITORIAL: Public forums make city government accessible

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Shortly after the Rapid City Council passed a budget last month that included a property tax increase, council leaders and the mayor held a town hall in North Rapid City.

City residents gathered at General Beadle Elementary School and questioned city leaders why they supported a tax increase. Mayor Sam Kooiker, Council President Dave Davis and Vice President Bonny Petersen answered their questions.

It’s a format we’d like to see more of in Rapid City.

Town halls are nothing new; they’ve been a part of the fabric of American democracy since its infancy.

During South Dakota’s legislative session, West River lawmakers schedule crackerbarrel sessions where constituents pepper their elected representatives with questions about proposed laws and budget items. The crackerbarrels are well-attended.

At the Sept. 23 public forum in North Rapid, city leaders defended the 2.1 percent property tax increase in the 2012 budget, promoted the Main Street Square, which opens this week, and answered questions about enforcing codes to control neighborhood nuisances.

The tax increase was needed to prepare the city and groups receiving city funds for even more dramatic cuts to come next year, residents were told.

The audience asked if the council would bail out Main Street Square if it failed, and the mayor and council leaders all said they didn’t foresee failure by the project. 

Meanwhile, Ward 2 Alderman Ritchie Nordstrom has been holding his own town hall meetings, even walking through his ward personally inviting constituents to attend.

City residents who may be used to politicians who disappear after election, may be pleased to see their elected representatives coming to their neighborhoods to meet with them face-to-face and answer questions. The city council and mayor plan to hold more public forums in other areas of the city.

Public comment is allowed at regular city council meetings, but not everyone has time to sit through a council meeting to ask a question, and the formal setting often intimidates many citizens.

The plan to hold more public forums by the city council and mayor is a welcome addition, in our view, and will make city government more accessible to citizens as well as helping city residents become better informed

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