Organizations benefit from planning. Governments too. Good strategic plans encourage people to work together toward common goals. Planning also promises to increase our chances of a better future. Unfortunately, our city council hasn’t created a long-range plan for our community.

One Sioux Falls

In 2018 Paul TenHaken became mayor and soon announced a concept he called “One Sioux Falls”. His intention was “to create a unified vision that people could get behind.” That goal of getting everyone on the same page was commendable. But I’m not sure the mayor’s plan lived up to its potential.

Our City Council Has Not Created a Plan

While the city pays for numerous expensive plans and studies, I am unaware of an overarching strategic vision for our city. Some current and former city council members tell me they never were involved in strategic planning for our community. And over the past couple decades, I don’t recall seeing any comprehensive and aspirational plans coming out of city hall.

Lacking an overall vision, the city inevitably sometimes stumbles. City leaders and workers don’t always work well together nor deliver the best service when everyone has their own view of where the city is headed. And that can open the door for other problems.

Without a Plan, Undesirable Growth Can Occur

Without an overarching plan, developers, businesses, schemers and volume-focused development officials drive growth in the city. I suspect that is how we end up adding more and more tough, low wage jobs to our community. For instance, in my view it was not in our community’s best interests for Amazon and a second slaughterhouse to arrive in town. Especially not when city leaders routinely fret about workforce availability and affordable housing.

Forward Sioux Falls, which promotes economic growth in our area, is currently putting together their version of a strategic plan for the community. Of course, I will be interested to see it. But their 2022 support for the slaughterhouse makes me wonder if the organization might be too growth focused, with inadequate attention given to quality of life. I think our community should discourage businesses and industries that tend to externalize their costs and offer low paying jobs.

Good plans not only tell you which opportunities to pursue, but also which to ignore.

Amazon ribbon cutting in Sioux Falls

The City Council Has the Power

Our city charter says that the city council is the “policy making and legislative body” in city government. But the city council has never been given the opportunity to plan. Or perhaps better said, they have not taken that opportunity. After all, the charter also states that “all powers of the city shall be vested in the city council”.

Instead, the mayor’s office runs the show. Admittedly that may be due to the lack of separation of the legislative and executive powers in city government (see my blog on that topic). Everybody seems too busy putting out fires and dealing with routine problems to plan.

And because the council has not created a plan to guide the city, they sometimes get pushed into last minute approvals of half-baked projects like the ill-fated Village on the River which years later is still a large downtown eye sore. More recently, the council was rushed to approve a single bid project with a cost nearly double the estimates, the 6th street bridge reconstruction. It was a vote some council members regretted the next day.

I wonder what sort of plan our city council might develop. What would the balance be between growth and quality of life? How would we like our city to be even better 5, 10 and 20 years from now? A council created plan might be innovative. Maybe inspirational. Certainly interesting. I’d like to think it would include the “One Sioux Falls” concept.

Sioux Falls as It Could Be

I have served as a facilitator in the creation of simple strategic plans for all sorts of organizations. I usually start my planning sessions talking about mission and vision. We then identify the most critical issues and draft a simple one sentence statement describing what we intend to do about each. The result is usually a one-page plan that can be surprisingly helpful in the year ahead and beyond.

“One Sioux Falls” is an aspirational vision. For me, it suggests that we could become one community, not a collection of neighborhoods, school districts and artificial government boundaries.

If I were in charge for a minute, I would establish the vision of one city government for the greater Sioux Falls area. In my view, our community is a single entity. I think we should all be in one county. And all our kids should be educated by the Sioux Falls school district. Think of the money we might save, and the turf battles we could avoid.

School districts in and around Sioux Falls

One side of town is as important as the next and should have equal access to government resources. No one should have a significant disadvantage in tax rates or government access based upon which part of town they live in.

Issues to Focus On

After establishing a vision for the community, I would next focus on some of the most critical issues we face. These would be opportunities we recognize or threats we face. Here are some of the statements of direction, in no particular order, I might suggest the city consider as a guide for our future.

  • Jobs – We want to attract more well-paying, desirable jobs and we want to increase the average income of our citizens.
  • Workforce – We want well trained workers available to support our best employers.
  • Consolidation – For the sake of efficiency and fairness, we want one city government, one county government and one school district for the Sioux Falls metro area.
  • Affordable Housing – We want adequate levels of affordable housing available in our community.
  • Education – We want all kids to have access to high quality pre-K-12th grade schooling.
  • Environment – We value clean air and water and will not support growth or industries that threaten either.
  • Downtown – We want our downtown to be the clean, safe, lively, fun showplace of our community.
  • Diversity – We want to welcome our newer residents and help them become an integral part of our community.
  • Legislature – We want our local legislators to work together on issues important to our community.

This is my list. A plan put together by the city council would likely be much better and more comprehensive. I hope they someday find a way to get more involved in establishing a long-range vision for our community.