Good morning and it is great to have this opportunity to visit about the term length issue before the Rapid City Council.
Before we get started, anyone who may have questions for Jerry Wright can begin submitting them now.
Welcome to our Live Chat with Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Wright.
You spoke in favor of longer terms for city aldermen and the mayor at the public forum sponsored by the Journal and the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce. Could you explain to our readers why you support longer terms?
The office of mayor or councilperson, carries a lot of responsibiltiy and deserves a lot of attention of any of the elected. In being responsible to the office, one needs to learn the job, get read into the issues, etc. and that takes time. If one is supporting a major public works program, there is the planning, funding, etc. and it takes a period of time to get things done and done right. One distinct advantage I had over most council electee's is that I worked for the City, knew the ordinances, budget process, organization, etc. where most council electees would have to learn that. In addition, I believe a term for the council, of 3 years, does give stability to the elected body, a little less turn over, a chance to build institutional knowledge, etc.
Is it that time-consuming to learn the job of councilman? You worked with the city before becoming alderman. Have you noticed that other council members without that experience are struggling to catch on?
I would not want to speak for others, I just consider myself having an easier time adjusting and working with the council process with my experience. As with many things, language, structure, etc. are things we learn in any new job. One thing that takes a lot of time is learning all the sides or issues of a certain item. An example would be the issue being discussed about the Civic Center, Central States Fair, and the Sutton Rodeo Company. I am studying that issue, and it is taking time, effort, etc. as it has a very long history and is complicated. Getting involved in "regional" issues such as the pine beetle infestation, or agri-business development, etc. take time to learn about, get involved, etc. So it is a learning process necessary to be productive in decision making.
Jerry, here's a question from last week's Live Chat guest, Pete Wernicke.
Keep in mind that the U. S. Senate is for 6 years for continuity in the federal legislative process. The terms of the other offices referred to at the state and national level are not the issue being discussed. I am discussing the terms of our local city government, and I believe, after studying and considering the issue, that a 3 year term for the office of council is appropriate and would help our City. See comments below. As for the mayor's term of office, I believe an extension to 3 years, maybe 4 would help those who run for that office as it is full time, they have to set aside their other career, or shut down their business, and in order to make that kind of committment, longer terms help. In addition, I do not agree that turnover will improve government, on the contrary, what will improve government is performance by the elected and the oversight of the electors. In my opinon, the lengthening of the council term will build a smoother running and more stable local government.
You said at the recent forum that you believed that opponents to the longer terms were questioning the integrity of elected officials. Are opponents being too cynical in their attitudes toward elected officials by distrusting them to serve longer terms?
Certainly some elected officials deserve scruting. Staying with the local issue, I have been in Rapid City the past 37 plus years, have known many if not all of the elected officials, and have found them honest, sincere, and of good moral character. It does bother me when citizens consider all elected officials as immoral, corrupt, etc. as that under-mines our very form of government. We need to show respect tothose elected and to communicate with them our concerns, issues, etc. When an official does step out of line and is of less than good character, we re-call, impeach, or vote them out. But, the vast majority of people serving, especially on the local level are only trying to do what is best for their community.
Jerry, Patrick Fink has a question for you.
I support the changing of the term lengths by ordinance, by the Council, and the citizens have every right to have that decision referred to a vote if they want to. After all, we as the elected council, are chosen by the vote of the people to represent them and that is the form of government we have. I see action on the ordinances as a responsibility of the City Council. Certainly, as proposed and discussed to date, no one currently serving would automatically get an extended term. Members and citizens who would campaign for one of the offices, would be elected to the longer terms. I see absolutely no personal gain in this matter for any of us on the Council. If passed by ordinance, and then possibly referred, the issue would have been debated and written, I believe, in a constructive manner.
Is the ordinance route still being considered? I thought it was on hold for the time being.
I support and supported the council ordinance approach. The current council plan is to take the issue to the wards, have "townhall" type meetings, draft a ordinance and submit to a vote to the people. The course could change based upon input from the town hall meetings and adoption by the council by ordinance could evolve. I certainly have no problem going to the community and listening to them.
When will your Ward 3 constituents be able to attend a townhall on the issue?
The townhall meeting schedule etc. is in the hands of the Mayor and the Council leadership. I am not sure how soon all will occur, but I would suspect sometime in the next few months.
One of the reasons cited by proponents of longer terms is the cost of running for city offices. Is spreading out the election cycle with longer terms in office an answer to the expense of seeking public office?
I do not believe it would lower costs per election, but would reduce, in theory, the overall cost of running for longer periods of time. For instance the cost for a City Council campaign is in the $7,000 range for two years. If the terms were three years, you would have one more year, before investing in another campaign. The initial and re-curring costs probably would be the same, it would simply be the frequency of expenditures.
If you don't mind a change in topics, on another recent issue before the city council, how did you vote on the policy to guarantee a job interview to applicants with disabilities? What is your view of the issue?
I voted for it primarily because of the endorsement of Paul Stabile, past manager of the Black Hills Workshop, and Ann Van Loan. They are both good friends, and I took their endorsement seriously. I might add
, in my 23 years of working for the City, I always saw the City as a very dedicated equal opportunity employer. I am not sure this particular action was even necessary, but we will give it a year and see how it works.
Patrick Fink has another question on term lengths.
I would suggest that they put their thoughts together and talk to their council representatives, and therefore will have a say in the content. Format and legal descriptions, etc. need to be well thought out and written. When I said a few months, I am saying the meetings are in the near future, not immediate, but should be well before any election next year. If a group drafts and initated measure, we as a community, want it well written and constructive, if that makes sense. It is their right to do so, but I do hope all will work with the Council.
You mentioned before that you were studying the Civic Center and Black Hills Stock Show tiff. Do you anticipate that the city council will intervene?
I do not know what is going to happen there. Time will tell.
I do not have any more questions, Jerry.
Do you have any last thoughts?
Thank you, Jerry, for participating in our Live Chat.