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A good time for change on city council

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Four city council races will be decided when Rapid City residents go to the polls June 8. Ward 1 voters are in a win-win situation with two very capable candidates vying for the seat. Gary Brown, a property manager who now serves on the city planning commission, hopes to unseat incumbent Patti Martinson, an insurance processor who has done a good job in her first term. Constituent service is Martinson's greatest strength, along with an interest in environmental issues. Hearing-impaired since birth, Martinson said she spends much of her time helping people, including hearing-impaired children. She hopes to use Vision 2012 funds for an adult day care center to offer dementia care. Brown serves on the city planning commission, a post he would have to vacate if elected to the council. He served a year in the Legislature, after being appointed to complete another lawmaker's term. Brown opted not to pursue another term. And he has long tenures on board of numerous nonprofit agencies. His top priority as a council member would be to streamline growth and expansion processes at city hall, bringing more, and better-paying, jobs to Rapid City.

The Journal editorial board endorses Brown because he is a bit more decisive about major issues facing the city. Either way, Ward 1 will have good representation.

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Three candidates are seeking the Ward 3 seat being vacated by Karen Gunderson Olson, who is not seeking another term. Dave Davis, an insurance agent who runs his own business, currently chairs the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center board. He also has served on the boards of the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau and Highmark Federal Credit Union. Lori Litzen, a civil engineer who served on the municipal infrastructure Vision 2012 committee, could offer skilled insight into the city's infrastructure projects but can't match Davis' broader experience. Clark Jones, a bus monitor for Rapid City Area Schools, spends too much time addressing federal issues when he should be focusing on problems facing the city. The Journal endorses Davis, who has an unusual combination of skills both as a leader and negotiator who could help build consensus on controversial issues facing the city.

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Ward 4 has been in the throes of what might be the nastiest council campaign, with newcomer Jordan Mason trading barbs with incumbent Lloyd LaCroix. John Roberts, a building specialist at the county jail, has managed to duck the fray for the most part. That's to his credit, but we oppose his desire to require city referendums on any high-cost expenditure. That would bog down the city in polarizing campaigns when leaders need to make complex financial decisions. LaCroix, seeking his third term, is the only candidate who openly supports downtown business owners' plans to create a district to help maintain the proposed Main Street Plaza project. We credit him for that commitment to enhancing the quality of life for Rapid City residents. However, LaCroix disappointed many when he became part of the very misguided push to censure fellow council member Sam Kooiker earlier this year. He did his ward a disservice by becoming involved in vindictive political theater - a waste of time and taxpayer money. Mason, a Navy veteran and a student at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, comes with the advantages and disadvantages of youth. The 25-year-old shows a lot of promise if he could rein in an attitude that sometimes comes across as arrogant. He also has the potential to offer fresh ideas, but his inexperience is likely to be a handicap. Were there a stronger candidate, we would urge Mason to spend more time serving the community in other ways as preparation for a future run at political office. But he is, if only by default, the best choice in Ward 4. We urge him to do his homework on city issues if elected.

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Ward 5 has six candidates vying to fill Malcolm Chapman's seat, a situation likely to result in a run-off election. Most of the candidates seem capable of serving on the council, but Ron Sasso emerges from the pack as the one who may have the most to offer. Sasso identifies himself as the only candidate to voice concerns at Kooiker's censure hearings before the groundswell of public opinion against the council's action. We commend him for his conviction. Sasso, director of a brain-injury rehabilitation program, is one of several candidates who support spending 2012 tax proceeds on infrastructure improvements, one of the city's most pressing needs. But Sasso isn't the only good candidate in this crowded field. Attorney Jody Harold Speck and nurse Bonny Petersen also are solid candidates; we applaud Petersen's support of the Main Street Plaza project. Michael Stanley also is well-informed and supports the downtown Business Improvement District, but the landscape architect has worked on several city projects; there could be potential for conflicts of interest. Frank Robbins, a loss prevention manager for a chain of convenience stores, lacks the depth and experience of the other candidates. Joseph Budd, a self-described unconventional candidate, lost a 2007 bid for a council seat in Ward 4. The races with several candidates vying for a council seat will require a run-off election at a later date if no candidate can draw more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, because the council is a non-partisan governing body, the June 8 election will determine who will serve on the council.

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