Pat Starr asks Mayor, Council-Chair for apology after parking ramp vote

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - A heated discussion over the approval of a $50 million mixed-use parking ramp development led to one Sioux Falls City Council member walking out during the vote.

The 13-story building would include more than 500 public parking spaces, 120 hotel rooms and nearly 40,000 square feet of commercial space. The entire project would cost $50 million. Thirty million dollars would come from a private investment and the remaining $20.6 million would come from user fees, which are parking fees in Downtown Sioux Falls.

The Sioux Falls City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night on two separate items pertaining to the mixed-use project. The first was to approve the use of sales tax bonds and the other approved a partnership with Legacy Development to oversee the project.

Before votes were cast, the council heard input from the public. After nearly an hour, Huether opted to end the input which drew a lot of criticism. Councilor Pat Starr requested more time from the Mayor to allow for discussion. That was denied. During the first of two votes, Starr left the room.

Now, Councilor Starr is calling on Mayor Mike Huether and Council-Chair Rick Kiley to apologize to citizens.

In a statement to KSFY News, Wednesday afternoon, Starr writes:

"During the public’s one and only opportunity to offer input to the City Council on this project Mayor Mike Huether, with the consent of Council Chair Rick Kiley, abruptly halted public testimony and said that it was over. I did request that the Mayor reconsider his and Councilor Kiley’s decision but was told we had heard enough.

"I could not in good conscience sit in the room with the public silenced and stopped from being heard by their elected officials. We are elected to office to listen to our citizens and to use this information to act on their behalf to the best of our ability. Three weeks ago the Huether administration dropped a done deal on the Council and the citizens of
Sioux Falls claiming this scheme has been discussed for many years. In fact, this was the first time the Council had a chance to publicly review and question the program.

The people were shut off access to their elected officials. These officials are charged with spending their tax money.

Through mayoral control of and City Council leadership rules, this was the 1st chance for the public to be part of the decision-making process. They were insulted and told their input was not needed and certainly not valuable.

If the citizens can’t be heard by the Council, then why should my voice be heard or my sacred vote be cast, if the citizen’s voice is shutoff? How do we as elected officials truly represent the people?

At this time I offer my sincere apology to those residents who appeared at the Council meeting [Tuesday] night and were not allowed to speak. I value your opinions and wish that you could have been heard. With that being said, I am calling upon Mayor Huether and Council Chair Kiley to also apologize to those citizens wronged and to pledge it will not happen again."

In response, Mayor Huether said:

"I have followed similar protocols and approaches over the last eight years as we discuss important topics just like the one we covered last night. The City Council, City of Sioux Falls employees and I engaged the public in a very strong fashion before the meeting and also during last night’s meeting. A bevy of reasons for or against the proposed ordinance were relayed by the public and then reinforced by me prior to handing it over to the City Council for further discussion, debate and yes, vote.

The reality is that the citizens, the City of Sioux Falls employees, the City Council and the Mayor did their part, however, one City Councilor, elected to serve the public even when not everyone agrees, did not fulfill his role which certainly proved disappointing, disheartening and embarrassing to his peers, our citizens and I."

Council-Chair Kiley sent us the following statement in response:

"Councilor Starr requesting an apology is really just a concerted effort by him to deflect responsibility for this public spectacle, and failing to uphold a Councilor's basic responsibility to represent his/her constituents by voting yes or no on challenging issues."

"It is unfortunate that Councilor Starr elected to leave the Chambers last evening. Once he left Chambers he was no longer in a position to represent the citizens that elected him to represent them and to make the hard decisions required of a Council member."

"Councilor Starr could have appealed the Mayor's decision by making a motion to override the chair which he has successfully done in the past. Why he decided to avoid voting instead is beyond me."

"I want to emphasize that public input was taken on all six of the
remaining items associated with the mixed use parking ramp project. It is unfortunate that Councilor Starr was absent for this additional public input."

"It is a dangerous precedent to not make the hard vote. It is my hope Councilor Starr will elect to exercise a greater degree of professionalism in the future."