Is the Rapid City Library the new West River office of the South Dakota Democratic Party?
So, what is this tale of political intrigue and woe?
Until recently, There was a gentleman on the Rapid City Library Foundation board by the name of Mr. Mike Pelly. For part of this year, Mr. Pelly apparently had been questioning why this private foundation (acting in conjunction with the public library) had been fawning all over Democrats and shows no sign of letting up.
Why did Mr. Pelly think this was a bad thing? For starters, he's the person in charge of asking for money for the foundation. And he was quick to find that all this partisan activity was making it tough to convince people to donate. It had gotten so bad that on June 21st, Mr. Pelly submitted his resignation to the foundation board.
Although, his name remains on the website with the rest of the foundation board members, he's parted company with them over their decidedly Democratic slant. And whom, might you ask, could be on this board showing favoritism towards Democrats? From the Rapid City Foundation Board webpage as found at the public library's website:
Mike Wilson, PresidentJust a few familiar names there, wouldn't you say? Mike Wilson, Former Democratic Legislator and 2002 Democratic Candidate for Lt. Governor. Eric Abrahamson, 2006 Democratic Candidate for Lt. Governor. Judy Duhamel (Olson), Former Democratic Legislator and SDDP Chairman.
Patricia Lawlor, Vice President
Eric Abrahamson, Secretary
Delores Pickarts, Treasurer
Ruth Sisk, Executive Director
Greta Chapman, Director, Rapid City Public Library
And what activities are they conducting that make Mr. Pelly concerned about the library projecting a partisan image? In his June letter of resignation to Board President Mike Wilson, Pelly's own words describe it:
... No such action is recorded in the minutes of any meeting with regard to inviting former Senator George McGovern to be the principal guest of the 2006 Annual Foundation “Evening with an Author Dinner” held in April. That action was presented as a fait-accompli. Had such a motion been presented there is no doubt it would have passed, but not unanimously.So, George McGovern, Daschle Aide Johnathan Adelstein and using the library as the stage for a pro-choice rally. It's a small wonder why Rapid City residents might be starting to associate this location with the Democratic Party! And then there was the straw that broke the camel's back.
As a result of Senator McGovern’s anticipated presence a significant number of people in our community who have attended our functions in the past declined to do so this year. Further, the political nature of many of the Senator’s comments during his presentation resulted in a stridently negative editorial in the Rapid City Journal, which adversely affected the Foundation’s image in the minds of many. Moreover, the Foundation is now beginning to be perceived as having taken a partisan political stand. This is extremely unfortunate for reasons I will address below.
Now, some members of the Board are preparing for an event later this summer that will limelight Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein as its keynote speaker. As is well known in our community, Commissioner Adelstein was a key member of former Senator Tom Daschle’s staff. Planning for this activity is nowhere recorded as a result of formal Board action. Recall, Mike, that I specifically cautioned you against this. As word spreads about this forthcoming event the glare of publicity will no doubt confirm to the public that the Foundation is indeed a forum for the Democratic Party.
A Recent example is the library’s perceived support for the Planned Parenthood sponsored South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families in regard to House Bill 1215. The library provided a forum for the Healthy Families group news conference at 9:00 A.M. on May 30, 2006. The purpose of which was to announce a successful attempt to gather sufficient signatures to challenge HB 1215 on a referendum during the general election in November. Planned Parenthood is, as you know, a “Pro Choice” organization with regard to abortion. “Pro Choice” is clearly a stand strongly taken by the Democratic Party.
Certainly taken as a single instance, one of the personal appearances might have been fine. But to have one after another, and then to use the location as a rallying point for the pro-choice movement? Even a casual observer would start to question what was up.
Mr. Pelly is not a rabble rouser. He's a project coordinator for the Character Counts program in Pennington County, and President of the West Boulevard Association. And as mentioned, in his role with the Rapid City Library Foundation, he's the chief fundraiser.
If you asked me, I couldn't tell you if he's a Republican or a Democrat. Clearly, as you can read from his letter of resignation, what he cares about more than anything is the viability of the library and it's efforts to serve the community.
There is a time and a place for partisan politics. I think that neither the Rapid City Public Library nor the Rapid City Library Foundation are proper forums for such activities. Both are put at considerable risk and liability in terms of their capacity to receive and give the benefits which should be available to and from the community and these institutions. It is unacceptable to me that these institutions should be perceived in any manner other than apolitical. It is also important that the community-at-large be apprised of certain actions taken by Board members to ensure the Board understands how such actions affect the Foundation’s standing in the public mind.Yes, there was a Democratic gubernatorial announcement as part of it all too. That was the one that did it for Mike. The specifics of the occasion? When Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Jack Billion stood in Rapid City and announced his choice for Lt. Governor, Rapid City Library Foundation Secretary and Board of Trustees member Eric Abrahamson.
Of the several of my contacts with whom I have spoken informally on this general topic, each has the perception that the library and the Foundation have taken a very strong stand on the left. They have made it clear to me that it is not acceptable to them that these institutions should be seen as partisan political entities. As a result they have declined to support future library or Foundation activities. And they have cautioned me that my continued association with either of these institutions will put my own credibility into question.
As a matter of personal and professional integrity I must make clear to the members of this community that I continue to have the courage of my conviction to remain neutral with regard to public institutions. Without a clear demonstration of that conviction I cannot serve this community’s interests effectively, particularly in light of this morning’s gubernatorial race announcement at the library. (my emphasis - pp)
As part of his efforts to stop the impending partisan train wreck that the board members are steering it towards, Mr. Pelly had brought this to the attention of the Rapid City Journal, and sent them a copy of his letter of resignation. Apparently, Rapid City Journal Reporter Ryan Woodward contacted him, asked him several questions, and had followed up with him for additional questions.
But after Rapid City Journal Reporter Woodward went to the other board members, they all clammed up, and allegedly circled the wagons in silence. So, as far as the Journal was concerned, the story was dropped.
Since that time, Mike has presented this information to the Rapid City Common Council in an attempt to seek their assistance in preventing the Library foundation from marching this institution farther down a partisan path with regard to the activities of the Rapid City Library Foundation and the behavior of management at the Rapid City Public Library. He's also sent it to Mayor Shaw, and Mike reported "His comments to me were supportive on the public policy issues."
Why did he think he needed to take this step? Clearly, the foundation board doesn't think there's a problem, as they hold (what the public is viewing as) Democratic party event after event. And maybe that's fine. There's certainly no law against it. Maybe this is all much ado about nothing.
But don't tell Mr. Pelly that. Because he's the one who had to go out and try to raise money for the organization. And as he went around with his hand out, he found out what the perception is. And sometimes the perception is enough. Because his hand was coming back empty on that basis.
So, now that it's out there to the world, I have to ask: "What will come of all of this?"
Will the City Council act to remove partisanship from their municipal institution?
Will this matter of public concern remain in the discarded story pile at the Rapid City Journal, because none of the accused will respond?
Is the library going to continue the pereption of being maintained as the Democrat's announcement hall, or will it be returned to a non-partisan center of learning?
I guess we'll have to wait and see.