Try 1 month for 99¢

At its worst, it was undignified and vindictive.

At its best ... well, there was no best. Nothing positive came from the six-hour censure hearing held by the Rapid City Council Tuesday night.

Council members publicly flogged Alderman Sam Kooiker Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, under the pretext of a fair hearing.

It had all the makings of a trial, and yet Kooiker wasn't able to face his accuser. Rapid Transit manager Rich Sagen - who filed the initial grievance against Kooiker for intimidation and harassment - was permitted to skip the meeting, and had a statement read on his behalf.

In fact, Kooiker and his lawyer weren't allowed to question anyone, not Sagen, not Public Works Director Robert Ellis, not City Attorney Jason Green, not the mayor.

Instead, he was forced to defend himself against presumed guilt - so predetermined that councilwoman Karen Gunderson Olson came to the meeting with her prewritten final comments. Her mind was made up to censure Kooiker before ever listening to the evidence, the explanations, or the public.

At times, it was difficult to watch.

There was the mayor serving as pseudo-circuit court judge, scolding the audience, and repeating the same instructions to the participants so often that it made a 10th grade mock trial look professional. Here he was, the man who edged out Kooiker in a bitter mayoral race just two years earlier, now helping hold his adversary up to public embarrassment.

The mayor would not let members of the public name specific members of council during the public comment period, ensuring that the only council member to be criticized by name Tuesday night would be Kooiker. He cut off Kooiker and his lawyer repeatedly, not allowing them to expand on an answer, and yet some councilors were given more latitude. The mayor's double standard hit a low point when he gave in to bullying councilor Deb Hadcock who was insistent on grandstanding in order to take her pound of flesh from her fellow Ward 2 representative.

This seemed to be payback for a few of them, a way of sending a message to Kooiker that his style was not acceptable. Does Kooiker play politics almost as well as the mayor? Probably. Does Kooiker always follow proper procedure when looking for answers on behalf of his constituents? No. Does he make some of his quests public when they could be handled privately? Yes.

Sagen called it harassment.

We would call it persistence.

But in an effort to get answers on behalf of his constituents, he upset a few city department heads who are uncomfortable with being held accountable.

And so they paid him back this week.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Ellis and Green produced over 1,000 pages of e-mails in an attempt to paint Kooiker as obsessive and micromanaging. But they opted to print out e-mails of lunch dates and shared photos, counted each reply to a reply to a reply as a separate document, and misrepresented the time frame of the e-mails. In the end, Alderman Bill Waugh convinced others on the council to remove references to the amount of e-mails, knowing that the city had embellished its findings to further its case.

They charged him with sending too many e-mails, and yet there is no maximum in the Code of Conduct. They intimated that Kooiker had purposely set out to embarrass Sagen in a Public Works meeting, but they never found the proof. Hadcock chastised Kooiker for only speaking with five Transit employees about morale issues in the department, and yet the city's hired legal counsel admitted only speaking with two during his investigation.

If Kooiker wasn't already the most beloved member of the council, he is now, and Tuesday's debacle only made him a much stronger force in the city. He was censured for trying to get answers for why the city is misusing taxpayer dollars, trying to get answers on behalf of constituents - some of whom packed council chambers and stayed until the bitter early morning end.

As each of them took the podium, many noted they weren't in Sam's ward but they called him for help because he - unlike their own representatives - would call them back. It did not go unnoticed that the people of this city spoke on Kooiker's behalf; only current and former city officials spoke on Sagen's behalf.

Alderman Malcom Chapman pointed out that the council should work as a team, not as individuals. We would agree. Chapman and others should join Kooiker in getting answers for their constituents, ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and being the checks and balances for a city which is adrift without a city manager.

They spent six hours crucifying Sam Kooiker Tuesday.

But they wound up creating a martyr.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.