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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

October 12, 2018

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Oct. 11

Commissioner should attend or quit board

Trees were budding when George Ferebee lost his Pennington County Commission re-election bid and began periodically skipping board meetings.

The 210 days between the June 5 Republican Primary and Jan. 1, when a new representative will be seated, is a long time for residents from west Rapid City to the Wyoming border to lack effective representation.

After garnering just a third of the votes cast, Ferebee effectively took his ball and went home, or so it appears. At the Oct. 2 meeting, where Commission Chairman Lloyd LaCroix had planned to seek Ferebee’s resignation — over his absences and hinky voter registration changes — the District 1 representative again failed to show. At that meeting, the commission voted to approve a school liaison officer for Hill City, which lies in Ferebee’s district, illustrating the stakes.

In September, Ferebee briefly attended one board meeting and disappeared during the middle of another. County government and its $97 million annual budget is big business, and the prospect of 2-2 commission ties gumming the works rightly frustrates remaining representatives.

The hinky voter registration issue, according to Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, could mean Ferebee already vacated his office over the summer.

On Aug. 14, according to his voter registration card, Ferebee changed his residence from Hill City to Rapid City, apparently in hopes of running for a seat in the Legislature. That change kicked in a state law which says a commissioner automatically vacates an office by moving from the district where he was elected. On Aug. 17, Ferebee signed another voter registration card changing his address back. Ferebee either vacated the office or lied about his move on an official document.

The commission voted Oct. 2 to have Vargo pursue Ferebee’s removal over the matter and also to send him a letter requesting he resign.

The commission, however, knows it has no good options.

Outright removal of Ferebee is legally dicey and insults voters who initially elected him. Pursuing his removal over the change of address, meanwhile, has a questionable chance of success within the 80 days remaining until Jan. 1.

If Ferebee resigns or is forced out before Dec. 1, the remaining commissioners must select a placeholder, which hardly seems the best way to break 2-2 ties.

State law, meanwhile, allows a commissioner to miss four consecutive months of meetings before a seat is vacated. Few jobs allow anyone to miss 120 days of work and continue drawing pay without explanation. The Legislature might want to tighten that loophole.

The best option would be for Ferebee to responsibly complete his term. Barring that, he should immediately resign. Ferebee did bring a different perspective to the board. Before June 5, he enthusiastically appealed for re-election, saying he wanted to continue his role as a spending and regulatory watchdog. You can’t do that if you don’t show up.

County board meetings aren’t always interesting. They typically deal with zoning, weeds, road repair and gravel bids. Being a county commissioner requires reading through thick informational packets and sitting through many presentations. Most who run for county office can rightly claim they desire to serve rather than to wield power.

When you run for office, you make a pact with voters to finish your term. This is what Ferebee told the Journal before the June 5 election: “For three years and five months now, I have been giving my all to get the Pennington County government out of our pockets and out of our lives. If re-elected, I will continue my relentless efforts to get county spending under control and get the county government off of the backs of the rural residents of Pennington County.”

Ferebee owes it to the 3,597 voters who turned out for the latest District 1 race to finish the job or he should immediately quit.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Oct. 9

More than just a ‘swimming pool’

Deep down, Yankton’s current effort to replace its aging swimming pool has always been about a little more than just building a new pool.

It’s also been about reinventing the culture, changing the momentum and reimagining the road forward for this community.

To that end, the mission was conditionally realized Monday night when the Yankton City Commission voted 9-0 to approve a $14.8 million plan to construct a new aquatic center to replace the Memorial Park pool, a 71-year-old leaking sieve that has been a headache for years and is at the end of its useful life. The plan includes a 20-year property tax opt-out of $884,043.

The city decided this is the right idea at the right moment, and it gives Yankton a chance to build a top-flight recreational destination that could attract people from a wide area, as well as keep people here from venturing elsewhere for this kind of entertainment. And it also fixes a huge problem that cannot be patched up or dismissed.

However, this also reflects what’s happening in Yankton and hints at where this town can go.

For example, during Dive In Yankton’s (DIY) closing arguments Monday night, DIY member and former city commissioner Pauline Akland brought up an intriguing financial point. She noted that when a proposal to build a $6 million aquatic center was considered in 2005, the property tax opt-out sought at the time amounted to an extra $111.86 (or $143.24 in 2018 terms) annually for a home with a $100,000 valuation. By contrast, the current proposal, with a cost of nearly $15 million, amounts to an extra $101.61 per $100,000 valuation. The difference? Yankton’s growth has expanded the valuation base, which helps lighten the financial burden for everyone.

This points to the unmistakable importance of economic development to a tax base, whether it’s a municipality, a county or a state. The more growth that can be facilitated, the greater the financial benefits for taxpayers, not only in terms of replacing, say, a swimming pool but also in regards to repairing and maintaining infrastructure, for example.

So, the funding plan for the aquatic center reflects the growth that Yankton has experienced in recent years. The community has seen increased business and a burst in needed housing, and in both areas, there is room for more. These developments are producing dividends.

DIY has long characterized the aquatic center project as a “quality of life” issue. This means the project creates something that doesn’t just keep people here from going to other towns for other water parks and doesn’t simply draw swimmers from elsewhere to here. It also creates another selling point for a community that needs to attract more families in order to fill jobs, bolster the school system and further expand the local economy.

That’s called investment, and that’s what the aquatic center really is. As DIY president Josh Svatos pointed out again Monday night, this project is an investment in the future. And such investments can produce attractive benefits, as the lower assessment cost of this project suggests.

The City Commission’s decision could still be referred to a vote, although no one in the past year of meetings and outreach has really stepped forward to oppose the project. But one suspects the sentiment is lurking somewhere — in part because, sometimes, it feels like a reflexive characteristic of Yankton’s culture: a simmering resistance to public investment and new growth, no matter what benefits could be reaped or what needs could be met.

And that’s a culture that must change.

Monday’s decision may be a key to unlocking that door.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Oct. 5

Find common ground between city, county agendas

With overlapping territory and constituencies, there are bound to be policy-related disagreements between the city of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County. Some are more consequential than others.

We were intrigued by a recent flare-up at a joint jurisdiction meeting between the city council and county commission, where a Sioux Falls couple petitioned to rezone county agricultural land for an events center for weddings and other private gatherings.

Because the proposed site is within three miles of city limits, the project requires approval from both the city and county. That sparked differences of opinion even though the request carried endorsements from county planning staff and both government entities’ planning boards.

The biggest naysayer was chief city zoning official Jeff Schmidt, who wants the request denied because the proposed wedding barn would sit in a growth area that the city envisions as fruitful for residential development sometime after 2030.

No such plans currently exist, and county officials were quick to bristle at the property rights of rural residents being encroached upon by the prospect of sprawling Sioux Falls subdivisions.

Commission chairperson Cindy Heiberger pointed out that joint meetings are essentially a courtesy call to make sure no major conflicts arise, but the county is under no obligation to consult with the city on zoning matters.

Clearly, though, cooperation is vital between the two entities on matters such as land use, infrastructure and public safety. Finding common ground in those areas can lead to more efficient public service, particularly with limited resources.

Establishing when that coordination is most needed is a conversation worth having.

Mayor Paul TenHaken cited better cooperation with county governments — not just Minnehaha but Lincoln and Turner — as one of his leadership priorities when he ran for office. There will be ample opportunity for him to make progress in that direction.

Fighting over the establishment of a wedding barn on rural farmland is not a productive battleground, but talks should continue about the city’s future planning goals and how they can be reconciled with the realities of self-determination for rural Minnehaha property owners.

With no formal action planned until the next joint meeting, there is a chance for TenHaken and his staff to encourage greater communication and determine when Sioux Falls needs to flex its muscles — and when the county should be left to its own governance.

Having the full city council for the next meeting will also allow valuable input on how to proceed. Rapid regional growth and the “three miles within city limits” threshold ensures that these issues will come up more frequently, and not every rezone request should lead to fireworks at joint sessions.

Picking the right battles could be the key to moving forward, with the understanding larger issues are always looming down the road.

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