Friday, May 15, 2015

Still Waaaaiiiitttiiingg . . . Who Are These Mystery Developers Having Trouble With Red Tape At City Hall?

Challenger Allender (L.) & Incumbent Kooiker
(photos from
was at the Rapid City candidates forum at the School of Mines last night. First off, congrats and thanks to the Chamber of Commerce and the Homebuilders Association.  Great job, ran smoothly, most appreciated.  I came away with a fairly good sense of the candidates--their personas, their priorities and their perceptions.
    Of course I was mainly focused on the mayoral candidates, incumbent Sam Kooiker and challenger Steve Allender.  They mainly sparred over processes at City Hall, specifically focused on the amount of red tape that developers have to cut through in order to get their business done. Kooiker claimed that he's been streamlining the process, to which Allender counter-claimed that it's still too slow and cumbersome.  Both claimed, tacitly by Kooiker who says more needs to be done, and overtly by Allender who calls for what sounds like a complete overhaul of the process, that a problem exists.
     But neither candidate came up with specifics necessary to document that there is indeed a problem with "red tape." This is actually getting kind of frustrating, if not altogether monotonous, mainly because the age-old complaint about too much red tape at city hall has been an ongoing issue in every mayoral election I remember here, going back to the 1980s, and everyplace else I've ever lived, including L.A. and Chicago.  For one thing, I believe "red tape" is endemic to the process of getting things developed and built in any city.  Do developers think they exist in a vacuum and should be able to move forward with projects that directly affect hundreds, maybe thousands, of taxpayers without going through an exhaustive permitting process? Of course there has to be some significant amount of time spent clearing numerous hurdles in the approval process. For another, I doubt that they can find friendlier permitting confines elsewhere. 
     Allender keeps telling us that his first priority is to identify the problems, which is fine and dandy, but I think it's his job as a challenger to have already identified those problems and explain just exactly what he intends to do about them.  He's the one attacking the status quo and he should be ready to present us with some specifics.  I'm leery about voting for someone who tells me there's a problem but he won't identify it until after he's elected.  
     Kooiker has the same issue with non-specificity.  I do appreciate that he's come up with a list of some things that have indeed changed during his administration, but his vague pronouncement that
more needs to be done isn't good enough for those who need to know what he has in mind when he uses that word "more."  
     Allender thinks we should identify cities that have a streamlined permitting process and copy them.  Okay, but all due respect Mr. Allender, why haven't you identified those cities already? Seems like if you're so sure they exist that you'd name them and explain exactly how their systems can be copied here in Rapid City.  
     Kooiker meanwhile claims to have identified the "thorns" in the streamlining process, but I have yet to see a listing of those "thorns" and just exactly what his plans to do away with them are.
     Most frustrating of all is that nobody seems to have identified the mystery developers who they claim are having trouble with all the red tape at city hall.  If somebody could name some names for us and explain what the specific problems are this whole dialogue would have a lot more credibility.  I've invited comment from those affected by permitting delays in doing business with the City of Rapid City, an invitation that remains open-ended, not stopping with the election.  So far there haven't been any takers.  Maybe the candidates could be more forthcoming?  
     Allender, Kooiker . . . you guys need to understand that you can't go around making political claims and charges without backing them up with facts and specifics.  So let's hear it.  Who's having trouble with red tape at city hall?  


  1. Greetings John, I have provided a list of some of the thorns in the previous post I sent you and also briefly touched on it last night -- with only 2 minutes in last night's debate, it's tough to get into the detail needed. Here are three of the items (aka thorns) we are working through that I did mention last night 1) The need for the ability for applicants to submit plans digitally rather than on paper 2) The need for administrative approval of preliminary plats (final plats are now all administratively approved) 3) Updating and streamlining the Historic Preservation Process to allow for administrative reviews of minor items (replacing like for like, etc). Not every building permit in the Historic District should trigger a Historic Preservation Commission hearing.

    And there is a 4th item that I didn't mention at the debates that I will mention here -- when an applicant takes an item to the Planning Commission and the item is approved, and then it's appealed, the item can't be heard at the very next council meeting because of the notification process. This is something that needs to be addressed.

    It's important to know that overall, 50% of the planning items are now being administratively approved (with appropriate checks and balances and appeals) compared to 4 years ago. This is a positive and seismic shift. And there is more to be done. My opponent says there is a problem, hasn't defined the problem, hasn't defined who has the problem, and he says there is a group of unknown people he will pull together to fix the unknown problem. The only specific he offered last night is that the Planning Commission missed a hearing recently. That was a rare occurrence, and it's hard to be angry though with a group of dedicated volunteers who do their best, and we can't prevent life, death, weddings and funerals from happening.

    And I recognize the process isn't perfect, and we have worked hard to change it for the better over the last 4 years, and will continue to do so. Thanks for asking the tough questions. Sam

  2. THIS CAME TO ME ANONYMOUSLY: "Any growth in Rapid City is seldom without causing red faces and high blood pressure for those doing business with some City Hall departments. It is not the obstacles but how things are communicated and how sometimes concessions are extracted from the businesses through duress and via extortionist means. While these statements do not apply to all City government employees and this type of anti-business approach is limited to few departments. Three departments that stand out as extremely helpful are the Building Inspection Department, City Attorney’s office, and the Fire Department. On the other hand I do not wish the trip to the rest of the second floor on anyone. Some at the engineering and planning departments are not there to review projects for how good they are but most at the engineering and planning departments are on mission to find ways to deny, delay, detract or make the process hell for the applicant. What is more frustrating there are different rules for different clients and different rules are applied in a different manner from one applicant to another.
    The growth data in and around our community is a great indication whether a community is pro -business or not. Consider the claimed growth in building permits in Rapid City and the surrounding area. Two weeks ago a consultant hired by the City of Rapid City shows the growth numbers at the Public Works Committee meeting.
    Another indicator is to compare growth within Rapid City to that of similar regional communities such as Bismarck North Dakota see the census bureau data website and charts attached. In 2004 Rapid City was nearly 300 homes constructed in a year more than Bismarck. On the other hand due to the friendly environment in Bismarck, it had more than 1000 homes built than Rapid City.

    It is very hard to conduct business and serve the tax payers if you have to wait nearly three months to have City of Rapid City respond to a simple email or evaluate a two page letter."

  3. Well, it's a start. There is really not enough detail provided but some claims made here merit some investigation. The charge that some applicants receive preferential treatment is a serious one - hard to believe that would not have caught the eye of the City Attorney's Office. And the comment about "duress and extortionist means" is even more inflammatory. It begs the question whether this applicant made an attempt to contact his/her City Council person (or the Mayor's Office).
    The last sentence is hard to interpret. Is it the applicant who is attempting to "conduct business and serve the taxpayers"? That sounds like the job of City staff. And once again, after waiting nearly three months for a response to a "simple email or ... two-page letter", did the applicant pursue it through any elected official?