Mayor Allender: “Home Rule” for Rapid City?

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender is close to proposing a new method of governing that less than a dozen cities across South Dakota have adopted.

Mayor Steve Allender

Allender has campaigned on the idea of examining different forms of municipal government like hiring a city manager or administrator, or adopting a home rule charter. Allender says he’s been looking into the latter option with other South Dakota cities that have converted to home rule.

So what is home rule?

In Allender’s words, it’s a “Declaration of Independence for Rapid City.” Under the current form of government, cities may only do anything laid out by state law. Under home rule, the idea is reversed in that it allows cities to govern themselves as long as their legislation doesn’t contradict state laws.

For a city to adopt home rule, a charter must be drafted to define the powers of the city and of each position within the government. According to Allender, some cities have redefined how their councils operates, changed the number of council members, or opened positions for city manager.

“I’ve mentioned before we should investigate the concept of a city manager so in the future we could choose professionally training city managers who have experience, who have a record we can verify,” said Allender. “There’s just so many options here we haven’t had the chance to investigate yet.”

In South Dakota, ten cities have adopted home rule – Aberdeen, Beresford, Brookings, Elk Point, Faith, Fort Pierre, Pierre, Sioux Falls, Spring Field, and Watertown. Allender has met with city officials in Watertown and has plans to visit Aberdeen later this year. From his visit to Watertown, where a home rule charter was adopted in 2001, he learned that the overall response from Watertown officials has been positive.

Mayor Steve Allender wants Rapid City to consider “home rule,” which he says would give the city more flexibility in governing itself.

“From a citizen’s standpoint, we lose nothing but we gain more flexibility, more control,” said Allender. “We’re in a good position to investigate if it’s a good option for Rapid City.”

This discussion of home rule isn’t a first for Rapid City. The topic has come up numerous times through the 20th century, making it to the ballot in 1965 but failing to pass.

Allender says he wants to bring the topic back to the forefront because of a changing relationship between the government and its citizens.

“We’ve become very divisive as a nation and as a result, one of the consequences of that is there are fewer people interested in serving the government,” said Allender. He adds that with a smaller pool of interest, a sustainable and secure government suffers.

A growing challenge in city government is community engagement, as reflected by lower voter turnout in recent years and continued low turnout for municipal meetings. So how does the city involve the public in the process of investigating governing options?

“We’ll put together a citizens committee to get a wide variety of inputs,” said Allender. But the process isn’t concrete yet.

Allender says he’d like to have the committee put together in October and “next summer be ready to ask the people whatever recommendation is made by the citizens.” In order for a charter to pass, a majority of Rapid City voters would have to say “yes.”

“The intent is to find the best option for city governance that will best serve the people,” said Allender. “I don’t think anyone could argue with that. I want this government to serve the people in the most efficient and effective way.”

What is the most efficient, effective way? What is wrong with the current system that could be improved? What could be the financial impacts to the city?

All questions have yet to be answered but Allender says all ideas are welcome.

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