Posts Tagged ‘Madison’

Madison Central Charges Admission to Vote?

Posted: Friday, December 24, 2010 at 8:30 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Madison Central School District held the first of its scheduled early-voting sessions this week. One local basketball fan reports that, contrary to the spirit of the 24th Amendment, to vote at Tuesday night’s boys’ basketball game, one had to buy a five-dollar ticket for admission to the game.

According to my correspondent, the polling station was located in the concession area in the middle school lunchroom. During games, the only way to access that area is through the northwest entrance to the middle school, where the ticket table for the game was located. There was no sign at the ticket table announcing that voting was being conducted on the premises, and my correspondent received no advice at the ticket table that one could enter to vote without buying a ticket. The only public notice of the active polling came at halftime, when the PA announcer, Mike Materese, told the crowd that they could go vote for the MHS renovation project in the lunchroom.

The polling station was managed by Monica Campbell, executive director of the Madison Central Education Foundation, which stands to gain new office space in the renovated high school if the bond issue passes.

Now I’m having trouble pinning this down in statute, since our district seems to be winging it on election law on this early-voting scheme. But if election day rules apply to early-voting sessions, publishing a schedule of early-voting sites online and in the newspaper isn’t enough. Let us turn to SDCL 12-14-14:

On election day a sign, with a minimum size of eleven inches by seventeen inches, shall be conspicuously displayed outside of the entrance to any building in which a polling place is located to clearly identify the building as a polling place.

If election law allows early voting, election law should hold early voting places to the same standards to protect voter rights as regular election day voting. Individuals should not have to purchase tickets to access a polling place. The polling place should be conspicuously announced by a sign at the entrance of the building.

By the way, as we consider spending millions of dollars to build a 2500-seat gym, my correspondent reports there were plenty of open seats in the current 1200-seat gym.

Madison Central Violating Election Law?

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 7:01 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The more I think about Madison Central School District’s proposed early voting scheme, the more uneasy I get. Beyond creating the awkwardness of voting on a new gym while surrounded by maroon-clad Bulldog basketball fans, the school district may be arranging early-voting that violated state election law.

The school district is offering four means of early voting in the upcoming bond election (I quote verbatim from their PDF):

  • By mail
  • At the business manager’s office in the high school at 800 NE 9th St.
  • At many events and community locations prior to the election.
  • Anyone who wishes to have early voting conducted at their business for their employees can contact the business office at 256-7710 for more information.

Vote by mail? No problem.

Vote at the school business office? Probably not a problem.

Voting at a school event? Problem.

Voting arranged by bosses for employees at workplaces? Big problem.

First, the school offers no reliable list of early-voting polling places. When and where exactly are the school events where voting will be possible? Will Cindy Callies have ballots on hand at every public event at the school? Or will the school district only break out the ballots at sporting events when they see lots of backers of the 2007 new gym project? Will the school avoid setting up a voting booth at, say, the public one-act performance in January, where they might encounter a number of arts supporters who feel the current $16.98 million plan still puts too much emphasis on athletics over academics?

Same with community events: when and where? Given South Dakota’s overwhelming concern with protecting the secret ballot, perhaps a concerned citizen would want to observe the balloting to ensure voters’ rights are protected. How can a poll watcher keep track of the voting if the school is doing it in undisclosed locations?

Arranging voting sessions at employers’ requests at workplaces smells bad, if not worse. State law entitles employees to two hours off work to vote. Letting bosses arrange in-house voting skirts that requirement (mark your circles, then back to work, slaves!). Worse, it opens the door for all sorts of workplace intimidation: Imagine the boss walking in, saying, “O.K., who wants a ballot to vote on the school bond issue?” and then conspicuously noting with a scowl those who don’t take a ballot, presuming to exercise their right to vote in private.

And imagine, just imagine, that employer were Madison Central School District. Principal calls a staff meeting, says, “Hey everyone! Cindy’s here so you can all vote!” and hands out ballots.

I don’t think principals Knowlton, Koch, or Walsh would do such a foolish thing. I hope every boss in town is that prudent. If employees want to vote, employees can request their absentee ballots individually or come to the polls on their own, on official leave as permitted by state law. Their bosses should have no involvement in their voting.

I support early voting and absentee voting. I support government efforts to get more people to vote.

But I also support following the spirit and letter of election law to protect voter rights and ensure complete fairness. The Madison Central School District needs to clarify and likely scale back its early voting plan to ensure its compliance with election law.

And remember, fellow voters: no Bulldog jackets at the polls.

Statute relevant to early voting in the school bond election:

  • SDCL 12-18-1 requires that “All voting at the polling place shall be in private voting booths or compartments and, except as provided in § 12-18-25, shall be screened from observation.”
  • SDCL 12-18-3 says that, at a polling place, no one may “display campaign posters, signs, or other campaign materials or by any like means solicit any votes for or against any person or political party or position on a question submitted or which may be submitted.”
  • SDCL 12-18-9.2 authorizes and requires election officials and the cops to remove any materials violating SDCL 12-18-3 and arrest anyone committing such violations.
  • SDCL 12-18-9 dictates that “Any person, except a candidate who is on the ballot being voted on at that polling place, may be present at any polling place for the purpose of observing the voting process.” Rather difficult to do unless the school publishes a complete list of places, dates, and times where the voting process is taking place.
  • SDCL 12-19-2.1 has a couple of goodies on absentee ballots:
    • To get an absentee ballot, you “may apply in person to the person in charge of the election.” That means one person, Cindy Callies, can legally hand you an absentee ballot. KJAM is reporting Monica Campbell will have ballots; I’m still looking for the statute that authorizes an “election assistant” to distribute absentee ballots.
    • A third party can deliver an absentee ballot is if the voter (a) is confined “because of sickness or disability,” (b) applies in writing, and (c) designates an authorized messenger to carry the ballot.
  • SDCL 12-19-7.2 makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for any authorized messenger to, “in the presence of the voter at or before the time of voting, display campaign posters, signs, or other campaign materials or by any like means solicit any votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question submitted.”
  • SDCL 12-1-2 says that all of these Title 12 provisions “apply to township, municipal, school, and other subdivision elections unless otherwise provided by the statutes specifically governing their elections or this title.” I haven’t found any exceptions for school bond elections in Title 13.
  • SDCL 13-7-14 says “Absentee voting shall be permitted in school district elections, including school district bond elections. The school board, with the approval of the county auditor and board of county commissioners, may permit absentee ballots to be voted at the county auditor’s office in the county of jurisdiction.”

Madison New Gym: Bigger Than 2007 Proposal, Half the Cost?

Posted: Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 5:54 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Remember that new gym proposal Madison voters turned down back in 2007? Recall the plans for that building:

2007 New Gym Site Plan (click to enlarge)

2007 New Gym Floor Plan (click to enlarge)

The new gym proposed in 2007 was a 42,400-square foot facility. It included a 25,572-square-foot main gym with 2170 spectator seats. It also offered over 4000 square feet of lobby, a concession stand, restrooms, locker rooms, storage, and a nice press box upstairs. Total cost: $5.83 million. Add interest, estimated at the time at 4.5%, and supporters said the project would cost $391,000 in debt service each year for 25 years, a total of $9.78 million.

Now, let’s look at the current new gym plan:

2011 New Gym/HS Renovation Site Plan (click to enlarge)
2011 New Gym Floor Plan (click to enlarge)

These new diagrams don’t show square footage. The school district says the total project will add 62,000 square feet. Eyeballing the above images, I see the footprint of the 2011 new gym corresponds roughly with the 2007 plan. That suggests that the new athletic facility accounts for over two thirds of the new space.

During last week’s tour, MHS principal Sharon Knowlton said the new gym would seat 2500 people. The plan shows four locker rooms, nice curvy lobby, concession stand, public restrooms, clothing store, storage, and fitness center.

The 2011 new gym looks at least as fancy as the 2007 new gym. Yet the school district tells us the gym will cost us $2.9 million, half the cost of the facility proposed in 2007.

I see two logical conclusions:

  1. Prices for building gyms have gone down significantly since the 2007 proposal.
  2. The new sports facility is taking up a lot more of the proposed $16.9 million than the $2.9 million our school leaders are telling us it will cost.

Architects, care to comment?

Uncle Sam to Spend Millions on Madison Airport

Posted: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:30 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Last year our man Hunter criticized the spending of $4.1 million in federal stimulus dollars to build an airport on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. That airport was built to provide emergency air travel and economic opportunity for 20,000 underserved South Dakotans.

I eagerly await Mr. Hunter’s criticism of even greater federal expenditures for the expansion of an airport serving even fewer South Dakotans. Mr. Hunter’s own newspaper reports that the municipal airport right here in Madison, population 6,500, stands to receive about $4.5 million in federal handouts for various projects over the next three years.

Now I cannot speak to the quality or value of our fine local airport. I’ve never flown out of Madison. Neither has anyone else I can think of. So I would like to know:

  1. How many local residents use the Madison airport to travel out of the county?
  2. How many businesspeople, hunters, tourists, and other sources of business activity fly into the Madison airport each year?
  3. How much economic activity is generated by the Madison airport?

The answers to these questions may provide a perfectly reasonable justification for the federal government to pick up 95% of the cost of our local airport improvements. All the Republicans in Madison had better hope those answers are good enough to convince Representative-Elect Kristi Noem to keep her Tea Party budget axe away from our airport.

Madison Hiking Utility Rates: Local Power, Anyone?

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010 at 7:42 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Tuesday’s MDL reports the Madison City Commission plans to raise my neighbors’ rates for electricity, water, and garbage. on electricity, the city says, Don’t blame us!

Ericsson described the municipal electric utility as only a “distributor of power” and not a producer. He said that the city had to increase its rates partly due to the increased cost of electricity that Madison was billed from its suppliers — the Western Area Power Administration and Heartland Consumers Power District.

According to Ericsson, the city electric utility wasn’t itself generating many new expenses and thereby creating bills that needed payment.

“We’re buying some capital things, but not a lot of things,” Ericsson said [Chuck Clement, “City Moves on Utility Rate Hikes,” Madison Daily Leader, 2010.11.09].

Come now, Commissioner Ericsson. How can you blame Russell Olson and all the nice people at Heartland? Instead of shifting blame, the city could Power Forward™ with some local energy production, if it would just listen to its creative neighbors and local entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, just how much will electricity bills rise in Madison?

In 2010, city electricity customers would pay about $105 per month for 1,200 kilowatt-hours of electrical power. With the rate increase, customers will pay about $114 for the same 1,200 kwh, an increase of $9 per month [Clement, 2010.11.09].

Quick comparison: Here at Madville Times World Headquarters, safely removed from the city limits of Madison on the western shore of freedom-loving Lake Herman, my family used an average of 1431 kilowatt-hours per month over the past year (minimum: 566 kWh from mid-September to mid-October of this year; maximum 3765 kWh during the December 2009–January 2010 billing cycle, including that cold Christmas blizzard). That’s includes our heat, which is all electric. Average monthly bill with Sioux Valley Energy: $93.

More electricity, less cost. Ah, country living….

Water is cheaper in town, since the city has its own wells, while we Lake Herman denizens have our water piped in from Chester (or De Smet?) and support a network of 2200 miles of pipe. Hmm… have your own source, pay less… is that another argument for Madison to develop its own local power sources, or maybe even get gung ho like the Army and set a goal of energy self-sufficiency?

Poll: Criminal Records in District 8 Senate Race

Posted: Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 8:15 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The last Madville Times poll before the general election asks two questions:

  1. Will Clark Schmidtke’s criminal record affect your vote for District 8 State Senate?
  2. Will Russell Olson’s criminal record affect your vote for District 8 State Senate?

I’ll take votes in the right-hand sidebar of the Madville Times until noon on Monday. Tell your friends, and click here to vote now! And then 24 hours later, we can all head to the polls and finally cast the votes that matter.

Worth noting: you can read another, less well-written version of Mr. Schmidtke’s troubles with the Minnesota court system in Friday’s Madison Daily Leader. You cannot yet read any version of Senator Olson’s encounters with the South Dakota court system in the Madison Daily Leader (at least not the online version), which has made thousands of dollars in advertising from Olson over the last four years.

Madison Candidates Forum: What They Said

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010 at 7:21 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Not a bad crowd, considering there was a ball game on TV.
(And no, Bob was not checking scores on his Blackberry while emcee-ing!)

Hey, late night readers! I just got back from recording tonight’s candidates forum, sponsored by the Madison Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live by KJAM. Tonight was the last big public event for all of the local candidates Lake County voters will see on their ballot on Election Day, November 2, just five short days away.

Below are my notes of what the candidates said on the issues. With fifteen candidates for five different offices, there was a lot to take in. Read, digest, and stay tuned for my commentary tomorrow.

The notes are rough paraphrasings [with just a few moments of editorializing in brackets]. Occasionally I’ll slip into first person, writing things as the candidates said them. If you want exact wording, see the videos. Yes, there will be video! I got everyone on video this time (including you, Bobbi! :-) ), and I’ll be uploading those Chamber Forum videos overnight to the Madville Times channel on YouTube. Enjoy!

* * *

Round 1: Bob Sahr masters the ceremonies, and we start with the District 8 Senate candidates. Pictured above: Sahr at the mic, Senator Olson to his left, then Schmidtke at end of table. Introductions first, then questions.

Senator Russell Olson gets to introduce himself first.

  • Lists committees, including Tribal Relations
  • Says politics is risk vs reward for candidates; you risk time away from family, hard to travel to Pierre with new baby only 2 months old, missed half of the little one’s life during last session
  • risk not keeping everyone happy, differing with supporters.
  • reward is being able to represent voters and keep promises: I’ve fulfilled every promise I made as State Senator
  • we’ve balanced the budget without raising taxes or using reserves

Clark Schmidtke introduction:

  • Married for 23 years, director of Trent Assisted Living Center, Army vet
  • Pierre is broken and needs to be fixed.
  • I’ve always been a fighter for what I believe in and will fight for District 8.
  • We need to cut the budget, and I have specific cuts in mind. I’m against raising taxes but also against cuts in education and Medicaid.
  • We are in a recession, but a lot of our problems did not come from the recession.

Question #1 (from Chamber Governmental Affairs Committee): South Dakota faces budget shortfall, no stimulus: what do we do?

Schmidtke: First thing is to push for capping spending at 3% or rate of inflation, cut full-time state employees; we had 12,800 pre-Rounds, now 14,500. Consolidate departments, use computers to save staff. Restore competition, eliminate no-bid contracts.

Olson: We also have to keep dangerous people incarcerated; ed, med, and jails leaves only 5% of budget; we could cut everything else and still be $30M in the hole! We made difficult cuts last year, we will continue to find even more efficiencies next session.

Q2 (Chamber): What would you do to spur economic development in District 8?

Olson: I sit on board of directors of economic development; we are totally reviewing policies to get more capital in hands of small business owners. Just have to get the right funds in the right hands of the right people.

Schmidtke: Try to raise money without raising taxes; focus on low/no-interest loans for businesses we already have in South Dakota instead of wining and dining big biz from elsewhere.

Q3: (from me!) Farmers have expressed dissatisfaction with the ag productivity tax. Would the candidates support replacing the ag productivity tax with income tax; if not, how do we fix this troublesome tax system?

Schmidtke: Not really up on the property tax situation; I’ll look at it, see what the options are. People are telling me they don’t like income tax structure, but in time I think we’ll need something like that. We need to help the farmers, but I don’t know what to do with it right now. I’ll listen, study, find out.

Olson: If you want to get rid of me in Pierre, get a majority to do income tax. [Well, now I finally know how to get rid of Russ!] I will never be part of a body that supports income tax. I never supported ag productivity model; I support fair and true market system; we could exclude top third and bottom third of sales, get good value from middle third.

* * *

Round 2: District 8 State House Candidates!

District 8 State House candidates (seated at front, L to R):
Jason Bjorklund, Rep. Gerald Lange, Rep. Mitch Fargen, and Patricia Stricherz.

Patricia Stricherz:

  • Says she built Operation Homefront non-profit chapter in South Dakota from scratch, did it while recession hit and national office began focing national organization to cut and merge chapters.
  • Has fought to keep the program open, even though national office took away her equipment and funding. Stricherz has continued helping families using own resources to convince national office to return support; plans to charter independent chapter next year.
  • Folks are worried about keeping jobs, keeping food in table; I’ve had tough times, can identify with your struggles and concerns. [Appeal to emotion… pretty well-composed.]

Rep. Mitch Fargen:

  • Chose Education and Commerce committees, important to District 8.
  • Worked on bills protecting landowner rights on wind easements and promoting blender pumps. [stumbled just a little in this part, had trouble remembering second half: I think Mitch has been having some long days at work and on the campaign trail]

Rep. Gerald Lange:

  • Again, celebrating democracy! [same theme as in his opening remarks at AAUW forum last week]
  • Democracy is not easy, but politics, now a nasty word.
  • Came to Madison in 1964, saw history major at DSU eliminated by computer revolution.
  • Won election to Senate in 1990 after two unsuccessful campaigns.
  • I sought office because “there was a bigger classroom.” We need to understand South Dakota has a rotten tax system. [Gerry! You just defined leadership! Leading a the conversation, treating the community as a classroom where we must all help each other learn through conversation! Big hearts on the flow!]
  • The bishops came to us a few years ago and asked us to get rid of the sales tax on food.
  • Losing election in 2006 got my dander up, showed me we still had to make an effort for tax reform.
  • We have an income tax on banks and insurance companies, why not Wal-Mart? There’s the answer to the $100M deficit right there.

Jason Bjorklund:

  • Born and raised in Madison
  • Currently truck driver for MN company [hey, Jason, why haven’t they moved here?].
  • Recession caused by too much “legislation, regulation, and taxation.”
  • Worked in law enforcement in Air Force, also as sniper-spotter.

Question #1 (Chamber): What are your thoughts on education funding?

Fargen: last year, I proposed a 1.2% increase, that got killed last session. We had the money for it, but gave away cash to TransCanada. We only needed $4M for education increase! We could also have put money toward roads and bridges, toward raises for state employees.

Lange: In 1993 or so I introduced a bill to tax the 1099 stocks bonds CDs and other intangibles. Two Republicans (Keith Paisley and Larry Gabriel) had introduced that idea in 1989; state chose video lottery instead. We’d rather get the money from losers than from winners; that’s a sad commentary on our ethics.

Bjorklund: We’re in a recession, we need to hold the line on education spending. We do not need to spend more on education; look at Washington DC and Detroit with highest spending per student and highest dropout rates and highest failure rates.

Stricherz: I ran in 2008: it’s sad that we’re still arguing about this issue. Gov. Rounds initiated a pilot laptop program that cost the state $2.9M a year to sustain; we should cut failed programs like that, put it back in general education.

Q2 (Chamber): Top priorities if elected?

Lange: Get rid of sales tax on food. Then eliminate sales tax on other items. Folks in lower income bracket pay 10% of income in taxes; that’s basically an income tax! Those folks would spend that money on other things and stimulate the economy. The folks controlling the state pay about 2% of income in taxes. That’s not democracy.

Bjorklund: Defend rights to life, liberty, and property. Second, work on repeal of national health care bill: people should have right to choose own doctors, access best medical care they can afford. Finally: expand gun rights. I want to see us be able to conceal-carry in more states.

Stricherz: Most important: dive into budget, get closer into balancing it. Can’t do anything else effectively if we dont’ do budget right. Then cut excess spending, take care of education, roads, bridges.

Fargen: Balance the budget! We haven’t done it seven of last eight years!

Question 3: (No one else in audience raises hand, so I take another swing): Given the state budget crunch, can we save money by consolidating schools? What is the minimum size of school district the state can afford to support?

Bjorklund: I’d like to see all of our schools stay open. Have tax dollars stay with student, let parents decide where kids go to school. Market would make that decision for us. Chester has had good bump just with open enrollment; need to expand choice.

Stricherz: School funding formula is per child, $4654 per child. Funding is there; we need to fund our schools, not worry about size.

Fargen: Should not force any consolidation! I want to get rid of the 100-school minimum. Conde was mostly funding its own school with local money, state still forced schools to close. Closing schools doesn’t save state money when state money follows child to next school. Both gub. candidates support getting rid of forced consolidation as well.

Lange: School funding lawsuit challenging state to live up to Constitutional mandate for adequate and equal education to all students. They are 17% of the population but 100% of the future. We must help our kids!

* * *

Round 3: Lake County Auditor!

Shelli Gust:

  • Lifelong SD resident, raised just outside Alcester, has lived in Madison last four years.
  • SDSU grad 2003! [Go Jacks!].
  • Look to perform duties efficiently and effectively, provide fresh perspective.
  • I will ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability, openness and accessibility to county records; will post more public records online.
  • Emphasize “serve” in “public service”

Roberta Janke:

  • Lifelong Lake County resident.
  • Experience and qualifications: 23 years of hands-on work experience in Lake County auditor’s office. Hired in 1987 by current auditor Kay Schmidt.
  • I handle payroll, benefits, deposit reports, voter registration, operation of election scanner, health/vision/life insurance.
  • Served on recount board in 2008.

Question 1 (Chamber): How do you foster lines of communication with other departments and a smooth working relationship?

Janke: I’ve been working with these departments for the past 23 years. Register of Deeds, Treasurer, Equalization… every office’s business comes through auditor’s office.

Gust: Me too! State’s Attorney’s [where Gust works] office involves similar cooperation. Need to make sure every office knows what’s coming down from the commission.

Question 2 (I think this was an audience question): What’s the biggest problem you anticipate if elected?

Gust: I wouldn’t characterize them as problems, but greatest challenge I see is making more informatino avaialble to the public. Great open meetings laws took effect July 1; we can work for more transparency, but it will take time to scan documents, make people aware those documents are available.

Janke: Having worked in the auditor’s office for 23 years, I say things are working well! Get more information online.

Q3 (me again): Are electronic voting machines secure, reliable, and feasible for Lake County?

Janke: You need a paper trail on an election. [Really, that’s all she said! She pretty clearly does not want electronic voting machines.]

Gust: We work with Sec. State’s office. The current automark system has lots of checks, the machines they have now are tested to make sure they are accurate. If we’re talking about completely electronic voting, that would take lots of cooperation with Pierre, would require a great deal of testing before implementing at local level.

* * *

Round 4: Lake County Sheriff!

Sheriff Roger Hartman:

  • Worked as deputy for 12 years for Sheriff Herb Lurz, sheriff 12 years after that.
  • Over 1000 hours of in-service training.
  • I’ve kept sending down, won over $100K in grants for security equipment.
  • We’ve added a fourth deputy to increase patrols.[sounds like Roger was listening last time!]

Jason Lurz:

  • From Madison, married 16 years [good grief, Jason! you’ve got a lead on me!], moved back here 2004.
  • USAF veteran, served in SDHP before Lake County sheriff’s office and current Madison city policeman: only candidate with law enforcement experience at city, county, and state level.

Dan Wyatt:

  • Served in USAF, worked drug patrols in Panama for Army;
  • worked for Lake and Moody County drug task force (thanks to federal money), then went to Madison Police Department.
  • I can be a leader thanks to military and local leadership classes; 1000 hours of civilian training, 2000 horus of military training.
  • Primary goal: keep us all safe. This is my home, I worry about what’s going on here.

Question 1 (Chamber): How will you react in a crisis?

Lurz: We respond to a variety of situations. City police respond to medical calls on regular basis, very hard when there are family members present. I’ve been recognized by Red Cross with a life-saving award. First priority must be to take care of the patient; sometimes when you’re the only person there, you have to find things the family members can do to help, keep busy.

Wyatt: Few years back, we had an individual in Wentworth douse himself and yard and house wall with gasoline; he held a lighter, threatened to light up; I had to talk this guy down. I’m also able to talk people down in domestic dispute situations. We’ve all three notified loved ones of deaths.

Hartman: You see many things in law enforcement. One vehicle accident, 15 or so years ago south of town, Sunday morning, family coming back from church, three kids in car dead, parent strapped in car still alive. You do what you have to do, go home, give your kids a hug, then go shed some tears in private [dang: that’s a pretty sensitive and compelling narrative, the best-told story of the three].

Question 2 (audience, I think): need for changes at sheriff’s office?

Wyatt: First changes behind the doors. First contact other counties, see if we can arrange to hold their prisoners, make some money to make improvements. We’ll go slow and easy, make sure things get done in orderly fashion. Second, I will be a working sheriff out in the community. I’ll be out and about, asking for your input.

Hartman: Lots of changes in last 12 years; I want to continue this work. 12 years ago there was only one computer in the whole office, on secretary’s desk; now every staffer has one, plus computers in cars. DNA testing is a new development. You do have to keep room in jail for our local inmates.

Lurz: In my study of the budget, I see a lot of ways to save money. First priority should be to save, not spend. Over $500K for sheriff and jail now. We have lots of overtime, some reimbursed by federal government, need to reduce! We can hire part-timers to alleviate that problem. We also need service from sheriff, must be involved with community.

Question 3 (from Neal McIntyre): better response to remote areas of county? Maybe cooperate with other counties? [remember, Neal lives closer to Salem than Madison]

Hartman: We’re in the middle of the county, and we do the best we can. There’s a deputy out every night, sometimes two. Other counties: we have an unwritten agreement to provide mutual assistance. 20 years ago we were all dispatched to help with the Hobo Day riot.

Lurz: Be a leader, schedule appropriately. Some nights those deputies go home by 9 p.m. Some days we have two deputies working a day shift; no need for that when we have a sheriff who can do more during the day. Cross-deputization is overdue: we should extend liability coverage and allow city police to respond in country. Part-timers can also fill some gaps. Wait for response should be no more than drive time.

Wyatt: Where Neal lives is a problem way out on edge of county. We take care of business in our own counties, but we help each other when necessary. More deputies? We can hire part-timers and cross-deputize. Also, call the sheriff; the sheriff should respond.

* * *

Fifth and Final Round: Lake County Commission!

The Lake County Commission candidates (seated at front, L to R):
Craig Johannsen, Doug Erickson, Kelli Wollmann, and Commissioner Scott Pedersen

Kelli Wollmann:

  • Lifetime resident of county, husband Darwin with Madison Police Department for last 23 years.
  • Mostly stay-at-home mom, but worked in management
  • active in providing music at various events and fundraisers
  • involved in Lake County Historical Society and Prairie Village boards.

Commissioner Scott Pedersen:

  • End of this year makes 16 years of public service [career politician? any Tea Party protests? ;-) ].
  • Unlike the state legislators, we’ve balanced our budget every year.
  • We have wheel tax (all spent on 220 miles of banked highway, 74 miles of gravel roads) and property tax (about 23 cents of every dollar stays here); we must continue to work hard to grow the county and the taxbase.
  • Two big projects; public access area at Lake Madison (working out well, willing to expand) and Water Quality Committee (wonderful thing, in infancy, has lots of potential).
  • Do me a favor: when you’re in the courthouse, thank Kay Schmidt for many years of good service [amazingly, the audience does not burst into spontaneous applause… but hey, we’re Lutherans. ;-) ]

Craig Johannsen:

  • Commissioner for 10 years until 2008: worked on drainage ordinances, laid groundwork for public access on Lake Madison.
  • Serve on all sorts of area governing boards.
  • I pledge to be accessible to anyone who has concerns or problems.
  • I have the “time, experience, and commitment” to be a good commissioner.

Doug Erickson:

  • Born and raised around Junius, farmed until 1993.
  • Lifelong resident.
  • [pause…] “As you can tell, I’m a little bit nervous.”
  • Currently have a small construction business, work all around the county, well aware of many of the problems here.
  • Willing to work with everybody to solve problems.

Question #1 (Chamber): Renovations to courthouse, infrastructure needs, new employee: how do we meet those new budget demands?

Pedersen: Renovation: we’re in process of working with Sioux Falls firm and Pierre bonding company: we’d issue 17-year bond with about 1.5-2% interest rate, but different from traditional loan; we’d put principal payment in separate account, could pay off in 13-14 years. New employee: Lake Madison Assoc. and East Dakota Water District kicking in to help.

Johannsen: Bonding better way to go with renovation; there are reserves, but we don’t want to take them too low. New employee: grant money from EDWDD and Lake Madison for new employee.

Erickson: At peril of repeating those fellas… there are some avenues where we can save money. I’m not for any more taxes; as a small businessperson, I’m taxed out!

Wollmann: With Internet, it’s very important to work together with other counties and agencies to come up with solutions. We can’t be the only ones with new building needs; there are many grants available that, working with other communities, we may be able to get a lot done for less burden on the taxpayers.

Question 2: Charlie Scholl takes aim at Commissioner Pedersen: Pedersen has pushed for new zoning rules including unelected, unqualified folks to sit in at meetings and vote [what? really?] Why?

Johannsen: What exact position are you asking about? If you mean chairman of the zoning board, that person is as informed as any commissioner, if they vote, they are expressing their sense of feelings from the board. Scholl says appeal of planning board is to commission; how can we appeal if the same board official is hearing the appeal? Johannsen is unsure.

Erickson: That 150-page ordinance is a pretty big deal to be laying on the county right now. There’s a lot of things that most taxpayers don’t even know about in that new ordinance. having someone fill in for you voting, I’m not for that. I would strongly suggest being at the Nov. 9 commission meeting to get a better understanding of the whole zoning revision.

Wollmann: I’m not all that familiar with the problem, but it doesn’t sound right. If you’re elected by the people, you work for the people.

Pedersen: I’m the liaison between the commission and the zoning committee. We talked about the need for the zoning board president or vice-president to come to a commission meeting and present board’s view if I’m not available, but we did not talk about letting that person vote. Come to Nov. 9 meeting, find out about it.

Question 3 (Audience is fired up on county commission issues!): Wheel tax: first presented as temporary: started at $2 a tire, now $4 a tire; how much longer will that tax go? Some counties have gotten rid of it.

Erickson: The wheel tax has been on for as long as I remember. I don’t like it, but we’ve got to get the money somewhere. I’m willing to work to find a solution. We’re already taxed to death; small business guy can’t go much more. I welcome taxpayers’ input on finding solution.

Wollmann: Commissioners can’t please everyone. There are reasons we have taxes to benefit the county. Get involved with your community, voice your opinion to get things changed.

Pedersen: Probably started in early 1990s, originally $2 a wheel, went to $4 a wheel around 1996 or 1997, stayed that level since. In 2009 we took in $268K. Max we can charge per vehicle is for four wheels, $16 per vehicle. Last year we had bids to overlay highway at $100K a mile. Forgive the wheel tax, and we can all drive on gravel. I don’t want more taxes, but we have to pay for what we want somehow.

Johannsen: Wheel tax in place before I was on commission; we did increase it to tax four wheels. I have to agree with Scott: we have two sources of income, and that’s it. Not my favorite thing, but we have to keep the roads up.

Question 4: (Neal McIntyre) Opportunity for public to vote on new zoning ordinance? Impact on average citizen?

Wollmann: Public vote would be good on this. Sometimes over-regulation is not always good, makes it more difficult for everybody.

Pedersen: No public vote opportunity on schedule. There is an opportunity for public input on November 9. Water Quality Committee has been reviewing this ordinance line by line [yup; I’ve been at those meetings!]. It is a big ordinance; putting 150 pages in front of public for vote would be confusing, but certainly we are open to changing things to make it work.

Johannsen: We work with First District Todd Kays; basically the changes coming are mostly updates for legal matters. A lot of it is just bookkeeping and updating so lawyers can’t pick it apart as easily. Everyone is welcome to review it.

Erickson: I’m not for sure it’s just an update. If it’s going to affect everyone in the county, if it affects livestock, having old cars, etc. then it should be brought to vote of the people. If it’s just a rewording, then I’m for it. It should not be just in five people’s hands to decide.

Question 5: (Paul Nordaune) What was spent on the foolishness in Winfred cleaning up the Evans and J&J Farms? $40-45K or $100K? Why all the unnecessary cleanup, and why the sale of the land for just $2500?

Pedersen: I wasn’t on the commission when the money was spent for the cleanup. We sold the property according to legal process. We advertised, put it up for sale. I think we spent $75K-80K, but I didn’t authorize that expenditure. [Note: Charlie Scholl afterward questioned the timeframe, said Commissioner Pedersen was more involved in this process.]

Johannsen: I don’t know how much was spent. We can dig and find the number. We sell the proerty for whatever we can get to get it back on the tax rolls.

Erickson: I don’t know what was spent to clean it up, but if a person is running a business and following the rules on pollution and nuisances, I don’t see why we had to spend tax dollars to clean up somebody else’s land.

Wollmann: I also don’t know expense. Quality of life to one person might be different for next person. Laws and ordinances are put in place to prevent nuisance problems within a community. We’re all in it together, that’s just the way it is.

Fix Madison HS, Save Millions

Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 8:08 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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To the members of the Madison Central School District Board and Administration:

The Madison Central School District is proposing a $16 million plan to build a new gym and renovate the high school. As a graduate and former employee of Madison High School, I have seen first hand deficiencies in the high school that have warranted repair and upgrade since the 1980s. The $7.4 million proposed for high school renovation will clearly improve the educational environment of our high school.

The new gym portion of this plan, a significant portion of the $8.64 million proposed for new construction, is being portrayed by the district as an educational upgrade to provide space for physical education classes. The district also contends that the new gym will provide necessary auxiliary educational space during the construction period while other classroom space is under renovation.

I am concerned that the district is about to spend millions of dollars on a new gym that is not needed for educational purposes and that might not even be needed as backup classroom space during the high school renovation. If we can save the taxpayers of this district those millions of dollars, we should.

Here’s how:

  1. Assume the bond issue will pass next year and that construction can begin in 2012.
  2. Schedule all physical education classes for high school and middle school for the first semester of academic year 2011–2012. Schedule the classroom health component of that requirement for the second semester, Spring 2012.
  3. Schedule all AY 2012–2013 health classes for first semester, Fall 2012. Schedule all AY 2012–2013 P.E. classes for second semester, Spring 2013.
  4. Begin renovation in January, 2012. Move classes from the under-renovation portions of the high school to available classrooms and the middle school gym, which will have no P.E. classes going on, since all the kids will be in health class.
  5. Enlist students in “school spirit” activities, moving desks, books, and other classroom materials to and from temporary classroom areas. (We did something like this at Montrose when we moved into our new high school building in 2002. Lots of fun… and you’re not paying movers or builders to move stuff.)
  6. Eliminate the state basketball tournament “spring break” holidays, extend the school day, start AY 2011–2012 early, and/or conduct school on Saturdays in Spring 2012 to allow the district to release students for summer break early (May 15? May 10?).
  7. With the school cleared of students early, turn construction crews loose on the entire facility.
  8. Set this firm deadline with the contractor: 80% of high school classroom space must be student-ready by September 15, 2012. Impose big penalties for not meeting this deadline.
  9. Start the school year late, in September 2012 to allow construction crews more time to work without interruption. Missed academic time can be made up by eliminating basketball holidays, extending school days, extending school days, ending this school year late (June 1?), and/or holding school on Saturdays.
  10. Contractors finish renovation and follow-up work by December 31, 2012.
  11. Post-construction, maintain a P.E./health rotation across grades to alleviate need for extra gym space during the school day. (Send me your current schedule, time and facility requirements, and student numbers by grade, and I can spreadsheet a schedule for you by suppertime.) Continue to partner with DSU and community and use other available spaces (gymnastics practice center) to use alternative practice spaces for extracurriculars.

Renovating the building while students are in class may sound radical, but we’ve done it before. Convicts from Governor Janklow’s penitentiary crew wired my Madison High School classroom for Internet* during school hours, while I was teaching grammar, composition, and speech. (If you can teach speech with inmates operating power tools in your vicinity, you can teach anything.)

Changing the school schedule during the construction year may cause some grief. I’m not particularly fond of sending kids to school on Saturday, but with my debate history, I probably wouldn’t notice. Good debate coaches are working most Saturdays from November to March anyway, so I wouldn’t notice much difference. Besides, it’s just for a few months.

This plan can surely use some tweaking from the architect and the building committee. But the general idea is sound: we can renovate the high school and maintain educational opportunities without building a new gym. It will require some inconvenience and sacrifice… but no more than the unnecessary sacrifice of millions of taxpayer dollars and future borrowing/spending capacity your current plan demands.

The high school needs renovation now. The new gym can wait.

As always, I welcome your public comments and consideration of this plan.

Cory Allen Heidelberger
Madison HS 1989
Current Taxpayer
Potential MHS Bulldog Parent

*By the way, Governor Janklow was able to Web-wire South Dakota’s K-12 system for 85% less than the original cost projection.

Dist.8: Olson-Bjorklund TransCanada Ticket

Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 at 6:56 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Fargen, Lange, Schmidtke, Stricherz Recognize Oil Tax Breaks Wrong

KJAM asked our District 8 House and Senate candidates what they think of the millions of dollars South Dakota gave away to TransCanada this year as an incentive for building the Keystone pipeline (second question on each interview, minute or two in). The answers are instructive about who’s looking out for South Dakota and who’s making excuses for Big Oil.

Republican Senator Russell Olson offers no surprises with his passionate advocacy for Big Oil, saying the tax refund was “absolutely” good. He hews closely to the company line (TransCanada’s and his boss’s at Heartland Consumer Power District), telling us the Keystone I pipeline was an $800-million stimulus for South Dakota.* TransCanada is now the biggest property tax payer in the state, says Olson, pumping more money into school and county budgets than any other industry could. Every barrel of oil from TransCanada, says Olson, is one less barrel from petrodictators like Hugo Chavez. And TransCanada got $30 million less in refunds from Pierre than they originally projected. Olson says TransCanada has brought our state a “phenomenal amount of money,” and the “economic benefit certainly outweighs the one-time $10 million rift that everybody is so worked up about.”

That’s a strong answer. Too bad it misses the point. Olson’s Independent Democratic challenger Clark Schmidtke points out that we didn’t need to hand out that $10 million in the first place. Both Schmidtke and incumbent Democratic House candidate Rep. Mitch Fargen note that neither North Dakota nor Nebraska offered such cushy tax breaks to TransCanada. If Russ’s analysis of local benefits from the pipelines is correct (and I question even that), North Dakota and Nebraska got similar benefits for free. We could have gotten the same benefits and still kept that $10 million for education or health care or other local priorities, just as North Dakota and Nebraska did. Oops.

Schmidtke does answer the broader question about state incentives in general for economic development by saying he can support applying and even expanding these tax refunds to ethanol companies, since ethanol does more direct good for South Dakota farmers and workers. Fargen adds that the refund program TransCanada exploited was developed to support South Dakota’s ethanol, soy diesel, and wind energy companies. He and Schmidtke agree that TransCanada’s refund was a giveaway that produced few jobs for South Dakotans.

Posed the same question, incumbent Democratic candidate for House Rep. Gerry Lange doesn’t hesitate to brand the TransCanada giveaway a bad idea. Lange recognizes the value of this tax incentive for the local energy projects for which it was originally intended, like the soy diesel plant. But that contractors’ excise tax that we refunded to TransCanada is the same tax that hits school districts and counties when they build public improvements. Why, asks Lange, hit South Dakota taxpayers with that expense for building schools and roads and bridges, then turn around and give back millions to a foreign company for building a pipeline (which I will note gets no public use)?

Republican House candidate Patricia Stricherz (who, yes, is currently a paying advertiser here on the Madville Times) is just as forceful and unhesitant as Lange in saying the TransCanada tax refunds were “Absolutely not” a good idea. She notes that TransCanada has already had leaks in South Dakota and says companies that want to come here should have to prove themselves worthy.

So where does that leave Independent/9-12 candidate for House Jason Bjorklund? Let’s read the transcript of his response to the question:

Admittedly I’m not entirely up on TransCanada. I haven’t been in the Legislature obvioulsy, so I’m not privy to all the information they’ve had, but as far I understand this is a done deal and at this point there’s nothing we can do about it. Do I think this is best way to bring buinsesses and jobs to South Dakota? No, not necessarily. We need to look at ways to encourage businesses to come here without spending the… limited resources that we have. Now this TransCanada thing it appears to be a done deal, they’ve got the money, there’s nothing we can do at this point but sit back and look at the numbers how many jobs did it create in the state, was this a good move for us to do, and keep that in mind as we make future decisions [Jason Bjorklund, interview with Lauri Struve, KJAM Radio, 2010.10.13].

Here Bjorklund has a golden opporunity to put his 9-12 Project principles into action. He could rail against wasteful government spending and crony capitalism. He could show that he can translate the slogans he gets from national talk radio into real solutions that put South Dakotans first. Instead, he hems and haws and provides more cover for the Republican regime in Pierre than the declared Republican on the House ballot offers. Not necessarily… it’s over and done… there’s nothing we can do about it….

Bull-roar. A legislator not beholden to the GOP or Big Oil could do lots about it. He could declare it bad policy and a waste of money, as Schmidtke and Fargen do. He could point to other priorities where the money would be better spent, as Lange does. He could highlight the dangers posed by the pipeline, as Stricherz does. He could look ahead and vow to repeal the refund for the Keystone XL pipeline and recoup the money with a pennies-per-barrel pipeline tax (a good idea that Senator Russ Olson killed this year).

Schmidtke, Fargen, Lange, and even Stricherz are making clear that, on this issue, they recognize that we should put South Dakotans ahead of foreign oil corporations. Olson is proving once again that he’s in the pocket of Big Oil. Bjorklund is hinting that he’s more interested in covering for the mistakes and corporate giveaways of the Republican machine in Pierre than in challenging the powers that be and sticking up for average South Dakotans.

Olson-Bjorklund: The TransCanada Ticket

*So if Kristi Noem can look at South Dakota’s current economic situation and say the federal stimulus failed, can we say Olson’s imputed “TransCanada stimulus” also failed?

Madison OKs New Gym, HS Fix… and Solar Panels?

Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 6:42 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The Madison Central School Board green-lighted (green-lit?) the new gym and high school renovations project at its regular meeting last night. The Madison Daily Leader also continued its campaign of spin and obfuscation, referring solely to “renovations” and “new space” and not once mentioning the biggest single item in the $16M package, the new gym.

The school board is clearly alarmed by the bad press here in the blogosphere. In an effort to stanch opposition and bring Madison’s busiest blog on board with the project, architect Jeff Nelson is throwing an obvious bone to the green commentariat:

Jeff Nelson, Baldridge and Nelson president, told the board members that his firm could start working on a “full-blown package.” He said that the package would include a complete floor plan and an energy study that would consider utility cost savings and possible renewable energy use, such as solar and wind generation [Chuck Clement, “Madison School Board Says Yes to Renovations,” Madison Daily Leader, 2010.10.11].

Oh! Solar panels! Wind turbines! Well, I’m totally on board now. Forget I said anything bad about building a luxury gym or trying to hide this unnecessary project behind educational necessities. Slap a solar panel on top, and I’m all for it, right?

Actually, I wold be quite pleased to see our high school follow the City of Colton’s lead and move toward energy self-sufficiency. But watch: someone will discover that the low thrum of the wind turbines would distract our Bulldog free-throw shooters, and then the turbines are out.