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Silencing Kooiker with censure

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Alderman Sam Kooiker: A conscientious public servant or an email bully?

The Rapid City Council thinks the answer to that question is so essential that it apparently has spent at least $17,000 of taxpayer money in the past several years to try to ascertain it.

 We don't think the answer is worth $17,000, and we don't think the taxpayers of Rapid City do, either.

Kooiker, a longtime Ward 2 alderman, faces the possibility of official censure by the city council on Feb. 16 for his alleged harassment of a city department head, Rapid Transit Director Rich Sagen. The proposed resolution, which is the result of an outside investigation done at public expense, contains a long list of complaints against Kooiker that, as near as we can tell, charge Kooiker with being Kooiker. That is: an outspoken, opinionated - even grandstanding - politician who isn't afraid to ask questions of his fellow council members or of city employees. 

Call us defenders of the First Amendment, watchdogs of the public interest or just plain nosy reporters, but we think that's a good thing. We expect our elected officials to question department policies and to challenge authority at every turn, because we think city residents benefit when they do.  Tough questions about budgets, expenses and employee morale, whether in public  meetings or in private emails,  are just part of the job for city department heads.  It should go without saying that a thick skin is a job requirement, too. Perhaps Mr. Sagen and other department managers offended by Alderman Kooiker's approach should develop one.

Of course, we also know that politicians sometimes embellish to make their point. The verdict is still out on exactly what got spent and what got wasted at Rapid Transit. But if exaggerations were a reason to censure an elected official, government bodies would be busy voting on little else. While Kooiker inflated figures on bus route brochure costs, we also know that he was initially told that those costs were around $3,000 and then later told the real costs were closer to $10,000.

That could explain some of Kooiker's persistence.

Whether or not Alderman Kooiker's actions, in regards to the daily operations of Rapid Transit, constitute good government or grounds for censure can be decided easily and inexpensively in one place: the voting booth. That's what city elections are for. 

If city managers, employees and other council members feel Kooiker has crossed an ethical line, they should make that case to the voters in the next election, not in a closed-door executive session.

We urge city council members to vote against the censure of Kooiker and we implore them to not waste any more public funds on investigations such as this that discourage elected officials from asking questions about the people's business.

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