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Local Government

​​Rapid City was incorporated as a city in 1888 with an Act of Incorporation. From 1888 to 1910 and from 1957 to the present, the community has operated with an aldermanic form of government. Today Rapid City’s business is conducted by a mayor and a 10-person city council. Rapid City is divided into five wards, each of which elects two representatives to the city council to three-year terms. The mayor is elected at-large. Rapid City covers 55 square miles and is also known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” and the “City of the Presidents”. Rapid City is second most populated city in South Dakota, with 74,048 people in 2016.

Timeline of City Government

During its history, Rapid City has used three forms of government (returning to one later on). Descriptions of the forms of government are based on information from the National League of Cities. The four periods of government were:

  • Aldermanic, 1882-1910
    ​Rapid City was founded with an Aldermanic form of government, also known as a Mayor-Council government. The mayor and city council are all elected officials, with the council having legislative powers and the mayor having administrative and executive powers. Often, the mayor will be a full-time, paid position, while city council members may be part-time.
  • Commission, 1910-1922
    In 1910, Rapid City switched to a Commission form of government; this is the oldest form of city government in the United States, although very rare today. The commissioners are elected, with each in charge of an aspect of the government. One of the commissioners serves as mayor, presiding over meetings. The commissioners hold legislative and executive powers in the city.
  • City Manager, 1922-1957
    The switch was made to a City Manager form of government in 1922. In the United States, this is presently the most common form of municipal government. In the Council-Manager form, an elected council oversees the general administration of the city, including setting polices and creating a budget. The council hires a city manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city. The council usually appoints a member to serve as mayor. Rapid City used a variant, which kept commissioners, who were then responsible for appointing the city manager.
  • Aldermanic, 1957-present
    Rapid City returned to the Aldermanic form in 1957. Ten city council members, two from each ward, served alternating two-year terms (one member from each ward is elected each year). The mayor is a full-time position, elected for two-year terms. Under Rapid City's laws, the mayor is considered to have strong powers: the mayor is the chief executive officer, with veto power and the ability to appoint department heads (with council approval). This form has withstood challenges over the years. A 1974 Rapid City Journal article notes that a 1949 proposal to change to the Aldermanic failed, but another passed in 1956. Attempts to change again, this time to a mayor-council-manager form, failed in 1961 and 1963. In 2015, the city council voted to extend terms for both the mayor and council members. Council members elected in 2016 and beyond would serve for three years. Starting with the 2019 election, the mayor serves a four-year term.
  • The Future
    On April 21, 2014, the Rapid City Council approved the new comprehensive plan for the city. Under the principle of "Providing Leadership, Continuity, and Transparency", the recommendation was made to explore changes to the government which could enhance stability. Possible changes included lengthening term lengths and hiring a city manager. Chapter 9-10 of the Codified Laws of South Dakota contains the guidelines for a city manager. Changing to this form of government would require a petition by 15% of registered voters, followed by a vote on approving or denying the change. The plan also recommended exploring the advantages and disadvantages of creating a Home Rule charter.

Home Rule

Home Rule is the idea where local governments are able to do anything not prohibited by state law or the state constitution.

In South Dakota (and much of the USA), cities are run under Dillon's Rule. In brief, Dillon's Rule states that local governments only have the powers granted to them by the state. Conversely, a city run under Home Rule has all the powers that the state has not specifically restricted (for example, starting in 1997, Home Rule cities were prohibited from passing taxes that a non-Home Rule city could not). Chapter 6-12 of the Codified Laws of South Dakota covers the rules of establishing a Home Rule charter.

Home Rule was added to the South Dakota Constitution in 1962. In 1965, Rapid City voters rejected a Home Rule charter. Since then, ten cities have adopted charters. Mayor Keith Carlyle investigated the option of changing Rapid City to Home Rule in 1989, but it was never put to a vote.

In December 2019, the Mayor and City Council requested that a committee be formed to investigate the adoption of a Home Rule Charter. Mayor Allender appointed 18 members to the committee in May 2020. The members of the committee will meet bi-monthly for the next year, to consider the option of a Home Rule Charter, and will make a recommendation to the Mayor and City Council at the end of their findings, in 2021. A website with information regarding the Home Rule Committee was created in September 2020.​