When you think of South Dakota, you picture the lineup of four presidents gazing out from a mountainside. But after watching the Sioux Falls city council meeting, I’ll always picture the lineup of provocative public commenters!
“I’m a retired lawyer and full-time writer of nonfiction books,” announced a gray-haired man sporting a white Wilford Brimley moustache. “I want to talk about Senator R.F. Pettigrew. What would he think of his creation today?”
The commenter then traced a mesmerizing biographical journey through the life of Sioux Falls’s version of George Washington.
“He’s one of these people who could sit around a campfire and see a city in the making. He had a funny way of dealing with people standing in the way of progress: they were called ‘kickers’ and ‘croakers.'”
After listing several Sioux Falls mainstays that Pettigrew would’ve admired–schools, small businesses–the man reached an ironclad conclusion:
“One of the things that would make him especially proud is that his city, Sioux Falls, is far, far bigger than Yankton. He didn’t like Yankton.”
“It’s tremendous commentary,” gently interrupted Mayor Mike Huether at the five-minute mark, “but I need you to wrap it up.”
Secretly, however, the mayor no doubt wished for another history lesson. Because the next commenter sauntered to the microphone with an American flag t-shirt and a palpable chip on his shoulder.
“I want to apologize to the people that are watching this city council meeting,” he began, presumably not including me. (But just in case, apology accepted, fam.)
“When people come up to me in the grocery store and they talk to me about issues in this city, I apologize for bringing them up to the city council,” he continued with his arms braced squarely on the podium.
“I always ask ’em, why don’t you come and do it yourself? And they said, no, we watch how people are treated at city council meetings. You’re either chastised during the meeting or chastised at the end of the meeting. That’s true.” He frowned deeply and took his seat.
“Thank you, Tim. Appreciate it,” the mayor viciously chastised him.
Tim was replaced by an even more cocky complainant who aggressively launched into his grievances.
“After last week’s meeting, I sent you all a copy of the First Amendment. I thought maybe you could sharpen up on what it is,” he oozed with contempt.
“Tim said it best: why don’t a lot of people come up here to speak besides us five? Because they’re scared TO DEATH! They’re scared about repercussions. I hear it A LOT!”
He raised his voice an octave in closing. “We get yelled at. We get chewed out for doing what is our constitutional right!”
“Very good, thank you,” Mayor Huether chewed him out.
As councilors returned to the honorable business of legislating, something was clearly bothering Councilor Rex Rolfing.
“I have one observation,” he grimaced with arms folded. “It was sad to see the media leave directly after public input with seemingly no real interest in the real business of the city. It’s revealing to me, and I hope it is to the rest of the city.”
The mayor paused, then gestured to the back of the room. “Scouts, welcome,” he waved at the dozen Boy Scouts who were caught up in the middle of this awkward exchange.