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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

An open letter to the council

Dear Mayor and Alderpersons:

Soon, you will have before you an opportunity to distinguish yourselves as either politicians or statesmen. There comes such a time in every politician's career to make such a decision – to do the right thing or to do the politically popular thing.

I've been watching city politics for many years now, and the 37-page Rapid City sign ordinance is perhaps the greatest example of an abomination born of political cowardice I have ever seen.

So now comes before you Scenic Rapid City and their latest bag of restrictions on private business, by restricting the number of messages on electronic billboards in Rapid City. Debra Jensen, the group's vice president declares that restricting "dwell time" to once every 24 hours is best for the community and advertisers while being revenue neutral. Who made her an expert on the billboard business? The change she suggests will remove 14,399 units per day from the sign company's inventory, or 5,255,635 advertising units per year. Jensen's remarks are among the most outrageous lies I've ever seen presented to a public body. They are born either of malice or ignorance.

I buy radio, television, newspaper and outdoor advertising and have for many, many years.

Have any of you on the council considered that this group, as recently as the last election, initiated measures which changed the existing Rapid City sign ordinance? The voters overwhelmingly approved their changes. Why, if dwell time restrictions were so important, were they not included in the initial initiated measures?

It is time for you, the council, to recognize what is at play here. This group, for whatever reason, does not wish to regulate the billboards in Rapid City. They want to eliminate them and put the billboard companies out of business.  What is worse is that the council has been obtuse to the fact that the group is fraught with conflicts of interest, which you as a body, have chosen to ignore.

Debra Jensen worked for many years in broadcasting in Rapid City, and still has close ties to media outlets that compete with outdoor advertising companies. Lisa Modrick's (president of Scenic Rapid City) husband, makes his living in broadcasting. One of broadcasting's greatest competitors for advertising dollars is outdoor advertising. You might consider why the Rapid City Journal continues to support more and more restrictions on their major competitors. You're smart people. Why would they do that?

Worst of all is Jim Petersen, Chairman of Scenic Rapid City. Each night he lays his head down on the pillow next to the vice president of the council. And yet she does not recuse herself from debate nor does she decline from voting on these matters. And none of you question this outrageous and blatant conflict.

So now that the public has spoken in support of Scenic Rapid City's initiated measures, the taste of blood is fresh and they are now going for the jugular.  They had their opportunity to make these changes in their earlier initiated measures. They did not.  And you, as alderpersons have a responsibility to do the right thing.

Imagine how preposterous it would be if someone came to the council and declared in a four-page preamble that the Journal should only be allowed one advertisement per day or that KOTA television and radio stations should be limited to one advertisement per day.

Legal and finance should have killed this. They didn't. You have the opportunity to stop this nonsense. A statesman would. A politician would bow to pressure and give them what they want, now matter how many jobs it costs and no matter whose business they put in jeopardy. It is your choice. Take the high road and sleep comfortably knowing you did the right thing. Bow to the pressure and die a cynic with a big funeral.


BF said...

Good post, Mike.

Paradoxically, the suggested ordinance might actually work better for the advertiser. It's kind of a crapshoot right now as to whether or not anybody will ever see your ad on an electronic billboard. It's an entirely different animal than other media in terms of audience access. But that's a media buying thing, not a political or statesman thing.

Bob Newland said...

Yeah! What Sanborn and BF said.

taco said...

Right on