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Monday, March 14, 2011

What about Marsha?

I've heard a lot about Marsha Elkins. I've even had my own personal experience with her years ago. As some may know, Ms. Elkins was fired by Alan Hanks last week. You can read the Journal story here.

1. Elkins was not a favorite among some Rapid City developers. Under the Munson administration, she was accused by some of making it difficult for developers to wade through the bureaucracy. Shaw unseated Munson with the mantra that "Rapid City is open for business." But, if Elkins was the problem, Shaw either changed his mind once in office, or thought the Munson problem wasn't Elkins' fault, because he kept her on.

2. Under the Hanks administration, Elkins and her department had come under fire for many of the same reasons as she did under Munson and Shaw. But he kept her on until last week, just a few months prior to what will be a hotly contested mayoral election. Hanks ordered a "study" of City Hall's second floor and in particular, Elkins' department.

3. Elkins has been involved with Pennington County Commissioner Ron Buskerud for some time. With Buskerud's election to the Commission, some folks I've spoken with have said the conflict of interest there is clear. Elkins, in her position in Growth Management, has significant influence over development in a three-mile zone around Rapid City's borders.

4. Elkins was highly paid. Nearly $130,000 annually. She's been with the city for more than 20 years.

I'm not surprised that Elkins was dismissed. But I am skeptical about the mayor's motives. I do not believe that a "study" indicated that Elkins should be fired. If her relationship with Buskerud was a problem, Hanks could have made that clear to her before Buskerud was elected, or fired her the day after he was elected.

I've seen no evidence that a "comprehensive overhaul" of the Growth Management Department had been taking place, as the mayor suggests.

I'm not suggesting that Elkins' tenure was problem free. Years ago, I asked to put a 4-foot fence, 30 feet from the street. That's not allowed by code. Elkins' solution was to ask for a variance, which would have taken months. She could have helped me by telling me to move the fence to 30 feet, six inches from the road, and no variance would have been needed.

On the whole, that's a small thing, and it was many years ago. I know several local developers and others in the development industry...engineers, architects, etc. And, while many said Elkins was a stickler for details, none of them said she was doing her job poorly. And my impression is that many of the developers who were upset with Elkins, were so because she did not bend the rules for them. I've seen no evidence she ever bent the rules for anyone.

In that case, I can't help but believe that Elkins' dismissal was political.

If it wasn't political, why wasn't it done sooner? Why now? I suspect an examination of Hanks' mayoral financial statement and contributor list will tell an interesting story.


20/20 said...

I would be willing to bet the Presidents plaza project, formerly dumped by Hani Shafai, contributed significantly to the timing...

Thad Wasson said...

My only visit to her kingdom was to change zoning on a piece of property. Her answer was negative. No way would she forward this up the chain of command. She made it clear it was her decision only that mattered.

While the city goes out of its way to please and stroke the developers of TIF projects, the little guy doesn't even get a chance to appear before the zoning board.

If requests are streamlined for all citizens with her removal, I say great fire.