Tonight we begin our series of discussions with the six candidates running for Sioux Falls mayor. Up first: Jolene Loetscher, a former TV journalist turned small business owner and political activist. This last week she received an endorsement from former Sioux Falls mayor Rick Knobe. We began our conversation by talking about why Loetscher feels now is the time to seek the city's top job.
Jolene Loetscher: I think why do it is...I love this city and I am uniquely positioned with a resume to bring to City Hall where I have that entrepreneurial experience..legislative advocacy work that is good policy that had made life-saving, life changing differences. And for me and for my businesses it's a time I can step away but also, my daughter is little. She's 10 months old and some people go 'oh why do it now?' Because as parents we have to role model for them and we have to show them that serving your community....serving your city...looks like taking a challenge sometimes. Taking a risk... the time is right for Sioux Falls to have new, young transformational leadership coming into Sioux Falls.
Brian Allen: Is there a specific issue that's prompting you to action? Is there something in your estimation that the city needs to be doing or addressing that we're not?
Jolene Loetscher: Trust. Trust and transparency. First and foremost. I think when you have a conversation with just about anyone in Sioux Falls eventually..or initially....what always comes up is 'I don't know if I can trust the decisions being made are as transparent as they should be'. And that's why we've said day one...May 15th....right after I'm sworn in....walking down to City Hall and we are taking the door off the Mayor's office. Because it's not my office it's our office. And we're going to open it up and we're going to solidify that value through our policy work and through our actions. When we make major decisions in our administration there's going to be a one page summary provided so people know how and why those decisions were made. And those decisions are going to be made in the open. The public's money must be spent in public. Another issue that is really important to me is innovation. How are we spending smart? How are we using innovation to better spend and to position our city to go into the future in a smart way? How are we taking our transportation system and allowing it to look like it's 2018 not 1978. And modernizing that with microbuses. And finally growth. Embracing our diversity because that is where our unity comes from and then growing where we've already invested. Growing out around the Premier Center. Building that into retail and restaurants. Looking for ways to bring in mixed income housing as well so we can help with the affordable housing situation and also continue to grow our downtown.
Brian Allen: We have a string of years now, I think it's five in a row, where we have shattered construction permits for this city. If we hit year number six and we don't set another record...isn't that going to set off some kind of economic chain reaction of 'oh my gosh, maybe the economy here isn't as strong as we thought it was'?
Jolene Loetscher: We're at three-quarters of a billion dollars in building permits for last year. That is a tremendous number. And I hope that we continue to maintain that or grow that. If we don't, I think it is a position for us to stop and go 'ok, so what do we need to do to evaluate going forward?' And when we talk about economic growth I see Sioux Falls as having had seasons. We have had the season of meatpacking and the season of banking and the season of health care. What is the season that is going to lead us forward for the next 10-20-and-30 years? We are uniquely positioned to be able to hire and bring in people who want to work in cyber security jobs. Our neighbors to the west at Dakota State University..they are graduating the nation's top cyber security students and the vast majority are going out of state. They want to stay here. This is home for them. But we don't have the jobs. So how do we bring those industries in? Because we have the workers that want to stay here.
Brian Allen: One of the things I think people notice about the campaign that you're running right now and one thing that I noticed just from the social media campaign that you're engaged in is you're talking openly at length about social issues.
Jolene Loetscher: I think mayors today and mayors going forward are in a unique position. We have a lot of frustration and dysfunction at the federal level and even at the state level. But city governments have to continue to run. They have to do the important work of the people and part of that is talking about those social issues. We have to make sure people have those opportunities and possibilities. And when we look at this campaign we talk about collective impact. And solutions to problems. Not just pointing it out and going 'hey we have an economic challenge. We have trouble with transportation.' But if we don't look at it from both an economic and a social standpoint we don't solve our problems. We bandage them.
Brian Allen: A couple of weeks ago there was the women's march here in the city of Sioux Falls. You were active in that and you produced a video that you put out and you said something in that video that I wanted to make sure to ask you about.
Soundbite from Jolene Loetscher campaign video: And what we do not deserve is a City Hall or City Council meeting that looks like a country club mixer. We deserve a City Hall and a City Council that looks like us....that sounds like us.
Brian Allen: What are you saying there? What are you saying with that?
Jolene Loetscher: I think the reality is unfortunately of politics today...a lot of times money dominates whose voice is heard. And the voices that need to be heard...the ones I'm having conversations with...they don't have a lot of disposable income. They are trying to make it paycheck to paycheck. And what we're saying is 'we hear you. we want to represent you'. I want to be sure that my legacy as mayor is that we have opened up city government but we have also role modeled that more people need to be involved and have their voice heard. When people say 'I'm not being heard' a lot of times there are challenges to that and we want to open that up. And we also want to be sure that what our City Hall looks like and what our City Council meetings and even our other legislative bodies outside of Sioux Falls.....they are representative of the diversity of the city. Sioux Falls is 20% non-white. We need to be having that reflected in our leadership too. Because all of those voices bring a different perspective. We've committed to that in our administration. We will have a diverse viewpoint. Part of that is putting a role in my administration of a Chief Diversity Officer that will live between departments. That will go be an extra set of eyes and ears to all of our communities and all of our neighborhoods. So that we are hearing from the families that may be struggling to make ends meet ....from the families that aren't having some of those challenges. But how are we sure that in every conversation, every decision, we make as a city we are lifting up all the people of this city.
Brian Allen: But are you saying with that quote that the current set up we have in place right now...that if you are in Sioux Falls and you don't have money...if you're not a person of means...that you don't have a place at the table?
Jolene Loetscher: Often times there are a lot of people that their voice isn't heard because they don't have the money to open the door. And Brian I will be absolutely honest with you. When I decided I was going to run for mayor I had conversations with people in this city that they went like this; 'I'm going to run for mayor....well that's great. Are you going to cut yourself a $300,000 check?' and I said 'no'.....'well then you're pretty stupid to think you can run for mayor'. That if you don't have the money you will not be a viable candidate. Brian, I am not going to be the candidate that has the most money. But I will be the candidate that outworks and out listens everybody else. People need to know that just because your bank account may not be as big as someone else's...this city is going to listen to you and also we're going to find a place for your voice to be heard.