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From watchdog to top dog

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Mayoral candidate Sam Kooiker celebrates with his supporters at the Howard Johnson on Tuesday, June 28, 2011. Kooiker defeated incumbent Alan Hanks in a runoff election. (Kristina Barker/Journal staff)

He campaigned on change.

We don't doubt that he will keep that promise.

Long-time alderman Sam Kooiker takes office Tuesday as Rapid City's new mayor, and is likely to usher in a new era of openness and accessibility in city government.

He has pledged to make the city more user-friendly, from streamlining processes to addressing citizen concerns promptly to creating more transparency.

He will no doubt continue to focus on eliminating waste and inefficiencies. These priorities have endeared him to taxpayers and helped him oust a two-term incumbent.

But he has pledged to be the mayor for the entire city, not just those who elected him. Hanks had plenty of support, including from the business community, and so Kooiker will need to reach out to those key investors in our city and listen to their concerns.

Will the city continue to move forward with many of the development projects already underway?

Most likely.

Kooiker supported many of the projects in progress, including the second Walmart and Main Street Square. But Kooiker is also more likely to thoroughly review a new project before it is approved, as he has been a budget hawk who has kept a careful eye on the city's use of tax increment financing (TIFs) for development.

We expect to see more open lines of communication between the mayor and the council. On the surface, the council doesn't appear to be as fractured as it has been over the past four years, and that may make it easier for the new mayor to feel comfortable keeping all members of the council informed on city business.

That communication will be important, because even though Kooiker has no experience as mayor, he will be the most experienced elected official at the dais.

He is joined by four new aldermen elected in 2010, and five new members elected in June. When Kooiker's Ward 2 seat is filled in a special election within the next 90 days, it most likely will mean that no alderman will have more than a year's experience in office.

Yes, that may require more training, information, and patience on the part of city department officials, but it also means a more receptive venue for fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, which works well with Kooiker's vision.

When it comes to this version of city council, there is no fear of the dreaded roadblock reply ‘that's the way we've always done things around here', because none of them have ‘been around here' very long.

And so we welcome the new mayor and council to office this week and wish them the best in helping lead a great city in the midst of a lot of positive, exciting changes.

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