The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Journal editorial staff on right side of issue. For once.

In its editorial today, the Rapid City Journal came down about as hard as a newspaper ever does on the government of a city whose government officials also control quite a little of the business done with the newspaper. Read it all here.


[Public Works Director Robert] Ellis and [City Attorney Jason] Green produced over 1,000 pages of e-mails in an attempt to paint Kooiker as obsessive and micromanaging. But they opted to print out e-mails of lunch dates and shared photos, counted each reply to a reply to a reply as a separate document, and misrepresented the time frame of the e-mails.


If Kooiker wasn't already the most beloved member of the council, he is now, and Tuesday's debacle only made him a much stronger force in the city. He was censured for trying to get answers for why the city is misusing taxpayer dollars, trying to get answers on behalf of constituents - some of whom packed council chambers and stayed until the bitter early morning end.

As each of them took the podium, many noted they weren't in Sam's ward but they called him for help because he - unlike their own representatives - would call them back. It did not go unnoticed that the people of this city spoke on Kooiker's behalf; only current and former city officials spoke on Sagen's behalf.


[Kooiker] was forced to defend himself against presumed guilt - so predetermined that councilwoman Karen Gunderson Olson came to the meeting with her prewritten final comments. Her mind was made up to censure Kooiker before ever listening to the evidence, the explanations, or the public.

In addition to the editorial, which you can read here, you might want to read today's Journal story of the ongoing investigation of malfeasance at the landfill.


Anonymous said...

I love it....The Journal Did good. I think there are more than a few City Officials that need to way bye bye. Hanks, Ellis, Sagen, Wright to start with. Shall I continue? L'Esperance, Thom, Green, Hadcock, Gunderson-Olson, Kroeger, Chapman, etc...

Anonymous said...

Regardless of your political persuasion, what the mayor and council did to Sam was very, very wrong.

I hope those that read the editorial will take it as an invitation to run against Karen, Lloyd and Malcolm this summer.

frustrated observer said...

The editorial was very good, as far as it goes.

The RCJ's reporting has been maddeningly incomplete and, in some cases, wince-inducingly wrong on the facts.

The RCJ continually fails to point out that Mr. Sagen's complaint was based on a grand total of SIX e-mails, sent not even to him but to his supervisor, a department head, and to Mayor Hanks. (So those comments on the RCJ editorial about Kooiker circumventing the chain of command are also factually wrong.)

Mr. Kooiker has had no direct contact with Mr. Sagen for YEARS. It befuddles the mind to think how one can harass another without any direct contact between the two. This is such a key point, I am completely exasperated with the reporting that not only continually fails to state this fact but which also states that the city council censured Mr. Kooiker for his hostile treatment of Mr. Sagen. Ridiculous. Kooiker's treatment of Mr. Sagen is non-existant.

I don't think even the 6 council members who voted to censure Kooiker know exactly what they believe he did wrong.

Excessive e-mails? Six? Really? (And what, exactly, constitutes "excessive" anyway? I fail to understand the relevance of the supposed 1,000 e-mails, sent to Sagen's supervisor over a period of years, which the city released - then withdrew. Sagen's supervisor did not file a complaint.)

Stating the figure of $30,000 as the potential amount wasted on transit materials? We still don't know the correct figure, so no one can say for sure that $30,000 is wrong - another point the RCJ continually fails to state. (If the greater city council knows the correct figure, let's hear it in a public meeting.) And even if that figure were found to be incorrect, how is that censure-worthy?

Violating the city's code of conduct? Specifically, how? What exact action of Mr. Kooiker's violates what section of the code of conduct?

Ms. Hadcock stated that the council had no choice but to censure Mr. Kooiker because an employee had filed a complaint. If that is the burden, the entire city council had better watch out. Any city employee could prompt a censure at will - apparently even if there has been zero contact between said council member and said employee.

So, good editorial. Well written to be sure. But we still deserve more complete work from our local newspaper.

Bob Newland said...

Frustrated Observer, I know exactly what you're saying. There are a number of shoes yet to hit the floor in this episode.

Joe said...

Frustrated observer, fantastic post. You did an excellent job shedding light on the infrequent contact Sam had with Sagen. No judge in the United States would say Sam's actions constituted harassment. Not one.

At the hearing, it was painfully obvious that some of our council members are simply not very bright, especially Deb Hadcock. Lloyd, for his part, also appears to possess a very limited intellect. I've heard several people say they used to think Chaps was a good guy, but now they think he's a snake.

Agree said...

Yes, what exactly is the final word on the costs of the Transit brochures, signs, etc. that had to be thrown away?


Shouldn't the council and media be more concerned about getting that answer than in stringing up the man who asked the question?

Michael Sanborn said...

Buehler here...

There STILL is no true answer on the cost of the brochures. Why would Sam be concerned? Ellis told him it wasn't $30,000. And, Ellis told him there was nothing to be concerned about at the landfill.

Bill Fleming said...

I would think the actual cost of the brochures could have been part of the discussion at the Censure hearing. Surely the true cost including taxes (if any) and agency markup (if any) is known by now and the bills from the agency paid.

Those numbers could have helped establish whether the accusation that Sam was being untruthful was valid or bogus.

I have said before here that from the copies of the invoices Mike provided below, it seems clear that the cost of the brochures discarded was much lower than $30k. I don't think there is really any valid dispute remaining about that, is there?

Agree said...

So, we don't know the total cost of the discarded transit materials, but know it's less than $30k?

How do we know it's less than $30k if we don't know the exact number?

I'll bet that final number is closer to $30k than to $3k.

Bill Fleming said...

You would almost certainly lose your money, Agree.
I'm just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

What are Sam's options, now? can He appeal this decision? Can he file some sort of suit or take other legal action? I know for a FACT(swear on my dead parents graves) that Sagen said "30K" maybe he was untruthful or mistaken, but two employees heard him and took him at his word. At the hearing, I overheard Sagen's secretary say "Rich may have said 30K. If he did, He must have misspoke."

Things at RTS are very tense, these days.

Bob Newland said...

Anticipating that Sanborn or someone else who actually knows something will weigh in on this...

I'd say that Sam Kooiker has a civil action available that could endanger the finances of a number of folks. The action could encompass a settlement with the insurance company that covers the city.

If I were Sam, I'd be thinking about at least recovering what I spent on a lawyer. I might be thinking more than that.

Michael Sanborn said...

This isn't about Rich Sagen. I remain convinced that Mr. Sagen was provided with a complaint and either instructed or urged to sign it.

He is now the safest employee on city payroll.

I think Sam's choices are few. I think that if Hanks vetoes, his choices diminish.

But, I believe and have been told by relatively sharp legal minds that there is a First Amendment federal civil rights action, that would surely recover his legal fees.

I think he would be on politically shakey ground to enrich himself in any way other than to recover his legal fees.

It would be very difficult for a jury to quantify his damages. And, South Dakota juries are not well known for their generosity in terms of punitive damages.

And, imagine the fall-out for our money watch-dog if he accepted tens of thousands in punitive damages from the city.