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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

May 6, 2019

Madison Daily Leader, May 2

States all over are watching FoxConn

States all over the country are watching the ever-changing economic development deal between Foxconn Technology Group and the state of Wisconsin.

Touted as one of the nation’s biggest economic impact deals, Foxconn committed to building a new $10 billion display screen manufacturing facility and hiring 13,000 people in southeast Wisconsin. State and local governments committed to about $4 billion in tax credits in incentives.

Almost immediately after the deal was announced, there was uncertainty about the project, with concerns about whether it would happen at all or change substantially.

Groundbreaking took place last summer, but construction was halted in the fall. Foxconn later said they stopped construction because of weather, but most observers feel uncertainty around the project was the primary factor.

All states, including South Dakota, have economic development staffs who work to recruit jobs and investment. Academic studies show that final results range from working out extremely well to outright disasters.

Companies love being recruited, of course, and states love the boost in jobs, property taxes, sales taxes and other economic benefits. Part of the challenge is that the companies want or need the financial incentives right away to build and hire, while the economic benefits usually come over a long stretch of time.

So if a company doesn’t do well, or the market for its products changes, or if there is unscrupulous management, the state could lose a lot of taxpayer money.

The bigger the project, like Foxconn, the bigger the risk. An appropriate adage might be “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

South Dakota, and Madison as well, has typically made more deals of modest size, and that strategy has paid off. There isn’t the huge splash like a big deal, but the diversification and risk control has worked very well.

If the Foxconn project succeeds, states may be willing to do more large-scale deals. If it fails, it may put a damper on similar undertakings all across the country.

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Argus Leader, May 3

Theresa Stehly’s city council antics harm process

The presence of contrarian voices - people willing to ask hard questions that challenge majority positions - is vital to the health of any decision-making body. Such voices prevent important matters from being decided too hastily, forcing a step back to consider issues from other angles.

But what’s also necessary among decision-makers is the discipline to work within established parameters, even in the process of trying to spark change. It is essential to keep discussions focused on values, interests and positions without attacking peers.

Recent incidents make clear that the Sioux Falls City Council is not meeting that bar. Instead, we’ve seen a flurry of backbiting and personal feuds played out in public through robocalls, radio shows and press releases.

The call went out to hundreds of registered voters with addresses in Sioux Falls. It was a response to the Audit Committee recommending Shana Nelson to fill the city’s internal audit manager position. Argus Leader staff, Sioux Falls Argus Leader

This current spasm of dysfunction stems from a city committee’s personnel recommendation for internal audit manager. The committee, among its number three city councilors, unanimously identified city finance business analyst Shana Nelson as the best person to fill the vacant position.

Unhappy that there would only be four days between Nelson’s nomination and the council vote to confirm her, council member Theresa Stehly bought a robocall urging registered voters in Sioux Falls to contact Greg Neitzert, who chaired the hiring committee, and other councilors to oppose Nelson’s appointment. Stehly pointed out the “conflict of interest” caused by Nelson being married to the city’s public parking facilities manager.

Two days after the call, councilors Neitzert, Christine Erickson, Marshall Selberg and Rick Kiley issued a press release condemning Stehly’s automated call and rebutting her claims that the months-long hiring process was being “ramrodded” through.

At that night’s council meeting, after an intense hour-long debate, Nelson was confirmed on a 5-3 vote. Councilor Pat Starr joined Stehly and Janet Brekke in voting no despite having been part of the hiring committee’s unanimous recommendation.

A few days later, Neitzert and Stehly sparred during a radio appearance. Neitzert called out Stehly for posting a meme on Facebook in regard to the hiring process. Stehly accused Neitzert of calling her a liar. Neitzert demanded to know why Stehly didn’t shake Nelson’s hand at the end of the council meeting.

This isn’t a well-functioning council. Things may be getting accomplished, but the interpersonal drama is eclipsing and interfering with the work its members are supposed to be doing.

Stehly’s scorched-earth approach to confronting council business works against her “voice of the people” bona fides. Her actions - and the ensuing defensive posture of other members against them - hinders the ability of the group to operate effectively.

Like her political mentor, former councilor Kermit Staggers, Stehly often seems to stand more in opposition than in proaction. Like Staggers, she doesn’t have a long list of legislative wins.

The difference between them resides in methods and philosophy. Staggers’ legacy is one of respectful, if tenacious, dissent. He was able to force further conversation on issues without resorting to such incendiary measures.

The Argus Leader endorsed Stehly in her 2016 run for the council’s at-large seat, citing her knowledge of city issues and local government gained through her activism around the Drake Springs pool, boulevard gardens and snow gates. We said that Stehly “represent(s) a voice for the average taxpayer. She’s not afraid to bring that perspective to the debate.”

But Stehly’s tactics in the ensuing years have leaned increasingly toward grandstanding. It has diminished her ability to be that voice of the people because, more and more, she is simply the voice of Theresa Stehly, guilty of the bullying behavior she has accused others of in the past.

With only a year remaining in her term, we hope that she will regain that people’s voice and work to rebuild various bridges that have been set ablaze.

The concerns raised in the audit manager hiring are worthy of discussion, with process evaluation and overhaul well within Stehly’s purview. At its heart, though, council politics is about building enough of a voting coalition to make an impact. Much of that process starts with trust.

It’s time for a reset on council relations so the painstaking work of rebuilding that trust can begin.

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Aberdeen American News, May 4

Overnight sacrifice shines light on less fortunate

Small numbers produced big results for a good cause in Aberdeen recently

To raise awareness of homelessness, 35 volunteers rode out the night of April 26 in vehicles parked in the police department lot.

Between 85 donors, more than $17,000 was raised.

Extremely impressive.

“Night in a Car” was a fundraiser for Journey Home, which offers temporary emergency shelter and long-term housing for those in need. That includes people experiencing homelessness, poverty or cycles of addiction, depression and mental illness.

The money raised was $2,000 more than the goal. In all, 40 entities sponsored the event, which was organized by the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Aberdeen class.

Thank you to the participants, donors and sponsors. You performed a great service for those in need.

For 20-year-old participant Keri Pappas, the event proved to be a welcome distraction from finals week at South Dakota State University. It gave the Groton native the chance to take a step back and reconsider what’s most important in life.

“I’ve noticed there’s a need for something like this in Brookings and this was close to home. It seemed like a good thing to do,” Pappas said. “It’s so easy to get caught up in school and grades that you forget about these things. This is such a humbling experience, to be a part of something like this.”

That normally is how it goes when you do a good deed. You get more than you give.

Again, our thanks to Pappas and the others who hunkered down in their vehicles overnight.

Your sacrifice paid off in awareness, money and empathy. And it was an act of selflessness from which we should all learn.

Sometimes, homelessness doesn’t seem like it is a problem in a place like Aberdeen.

Go to Las Vegas. Take a few steps outside one of the fancy hotels along the strip and you see the problem of homelessness everywhere.

Here in Aberdeen, homelessness can be hard to see and find. But it exists.

Just because a problem isn’t evident, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Thankfully, Journey Home exists as well. But that existence is grounded in responsibility and the generosity of others around them.

The Journey Home, founded by The Journey Church, gets most of its funds from the community. For example, some local churches have special offerings for the facility. Some businesses donate regularly as well.

Journey Home officials say they hold their clients accountable. Their clients have to put effort into improving their situations as well as adhering to the rules and procedures of the shelter.

Such accountability makes it easy to support the Journey Home.

Thus, “Night in a Car” was a perfect community project for the 2019 Leadership Aberdeen class to take on.

The group had heard of similar awareness events in other communities and decided on it while brainstorming a class project.

We are glad they did. And we are happy that it sounds as if the fundraiser is going to become an annual event.

There is nothing like sleeping in someone else’s circumstances to help develop understanding about their struggles.