City Councilor Walks Out Mid Meeting: “For The Voices Not Being Heard”

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – More than a dozen people approached the Sioux Falls City Council Tuesday night to offer their input on the proposed downtown parking ramp project.

About an hour in the Mayor decided to end the public comment period so councilors could discuss the project and vote.

That decision struck a chord with at least one city council member.

Pat Starr, the representative of the city’s northeast district, walked out of the meeting in protest.

“If nothing else, in a symbolic manner to represent the other citizens whose voices weren’t heard tonight,” said Starr.

It was a startling move during Tuesday’s City Council meeting

Council member Pat Starr leaves his chair after a vote is called regarding the parking ramp project.

Starr said he made the decision to leave after Mayor Mike Huether cut short public comment.

“The mayor and our council leadership decided that an hour of public input was enough and we didn’t want to hear from people who took time out of their day to come and address the council. I chose that if their voice couldn’t be heard mine should be heard either

His departure counted as abstaining from voting.
The city attorney called the action “improper” but says it will likely not result in any discipline.

“There are possible repercussions but I’m willing to do what it takes and someone who wants to bring an ethics violation or involve the ethics board, I’m willing to do that

KDLT News reached out to the seven other council members. Two declined to comment on Starr’s actions. Two did not respond.

Councilor Rick Kiley called Starr’s walk out a “dangerous precedent.” (Longer statement below)

Councilor Theresa Stehly says she “absolutely approves” of Starr’s actions, and “totally supports him.”

Councilor Marshall Selberg this statement: “As elected leaders of Sioux Falls I believe we owe the people a professional dialogue on issues, particularly in our public meetings. Last night was a disappointing performance in that regard in a variety of areas.”

“People complain all the time that they don’t feel like they’re heard by government, well we don’t even give them a chance to speak to us, that’s even worse.”

Councilor Starr also released this statement:

“On Tuesday night, December 5, 2017 the Sioux Falls City Council was asked by the Huether administration to cast a vote on a proposed mixed-use parking development deal in down town Sioux Falls. It was a complicated deal that proposed a City financing deal of $21.3 million for the parking ramp and a $30 million privately funded building.

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 last 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, the Mayor’s office released this statement:

“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.”

Councilor Kiley’s response to Councilor Starr’s Request for Apology

“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.”