#121: Aberdeen, SD 7/31/17

Do you recall the fable of “The Tortoise and The Hare?”

Well, Aberdeen’s city council meeting certainly started out as the hare: brash. Bold. Uninhibited.

“Ordinance 17-07-02, revising the city code relating to intersections. Anything new here?” queried Mayor Mike Levsen, pausing ever so briefly to listen for any intake of air or shuffling of seats.

Hearing nothing, a slam-dunk unanimous vote quickly dispatched the ordinance.

“Ordinance 17-07-04, relating to obstructions parked on city streets,” the mayor barreled ahead.

Briefly, the city attorney nudged the brakes.

“We did have one person who was all in favor of that change,” he informed the mayor with a hint of suspense. “A city employee in the public works department!”

Guffaws broke out as the ordinance again passed without dissent.

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It’s that dude’s lucky day.

Rounding the 11-minute mark, the mayor joked: “we’re done early; we can all go home!”

However, he received only a few wary nods–giving me the feeling that the tortoise phase of this meeting had dawned.

“The much-anticipated city manager’s report with the 2018 budget is next,” Mayor Levsen announced with a trace of resignation. He glanced over at city manager Lynn Lander. “We’ll see if we can appreciate the numbers you came up with.”

Lander took his place in front of a gigantic monitor and an even more gigantic set of notes. For the next 40 marathon minutes, he was in the driver’s seat on a sightseeing tour through the city’s bank account.

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I get it.

“The 2018 sales tax allocation is based upon the actual sales tax revenue collected in 2016, plus a growth factor,” he opened with a flourish.

“There is NO planned interceptor sewer work for 2018,” he emphasized heavily to grab council members’ attention.

“I am recommending adding three new positions to the city workforce: two patrol officers and a marketing concession manager for Wylie Park,” he dropped this major bombshell 20 minutes in.

The minutes slogged by in a dizzying array of pie charts and spreadsheet tables.

“I know I’m going very quickly,” he apologized, perhaps operating under a very different definition of the word “quickly.”

As he crossed the finish line, Lander concluded, “thank you for listening to me. I hope my rambling made sense.”

The mayor took a second to shake off the inertia and reach for his microphone. “Made sense to me!” he quipped cheerfully.

But suddenly, as folks gathered up their papers and rubbed their eyes, one person tossed a wrench into this finely-tuned budgetary machine.

“I have one thing. In the [promotion] fund allocations, we didn’t count the zeros,” Council Member Jennifer Slaight-Hansen thundered. “When you go in counting the zeros, it changes a half dozen of the allocations. I think we need to count the zeroes.”

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Make heroes out of the zeroes.

But Lander raised his hand and politely explained this complex piece of mathematics. “If there wasn’t at least five votes, the zeros really doesn’t matter.”

“It DOES make a difference in that median allocation,” she insisted.

“But,” interjected a confused Council Member Clint Rux, “if you have five people who voted for funding…then…there’s five people who voted for funding. Correct?”

This is why I hate calculus. Aberdeen’s “Zerogate” scandal was spiraling out of control. For the sake of ending the meeting on time, Council Member Slaight-Hansen retreated.

“Karl will send [the spreadsheet] to us and it’ll be more clear,” she sighed.

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to Karl, who was volunteered for spreadsheet duty apparently.

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