Monthly Archives: September 2015

Regents try a different way for meetings

For many years the state Board of Regents used a committee system at its meetings. Typically the full board convened on the opening night of a three-day meeting and went into executive session over dinner with a university president. The morning of the second day was frequently spent in executive session, at least in part, again with university presidents for breakfast and lunch. The full board would then start its public business meeting on the afternoon of day two. At approximately mid-afternoon, the board would break into two, with a committee for academic and student affairs and a committee for budget and finance. These committees would meet simultaneously in separate rooms. When those panels finished, the regents would get together and hold a campus community meeting open for public comments and questions, then repose to a reception hosted by the president of the university where they were meeting. On day three, they typically held a breakfast meeting with local legislators, perhaps held a brief executive session afterward and then got together in a public business session where they would ratify each committee’s actions from the previous afternoon, often without much depth of public discussion, aiming in most cases to be done before lunch and on their ways back home.

The agenda for next week’s meeting of the regents at Northern State University is very, very different. The committee system is gone. At least this time, there isn’t a first-night gathering. The meeting will be compressed to two days, Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday morning will be spent in executive session, starting at 8 a.m., followed by lunch. The public business meeting starts at 12:30 p.m. You can see the agenda here. There are 53 items on the agenda for the public portions of the meeting. The schedule calls for the regents to work until 5 p.m., when they will hold the campus community meeting, followed by a reception in the Lincoln Art Gallery at Graham Hall. On Thursday morning, they get together again for a breakfast with legislators at 7:30 a.m. and return to public business at 9:30 a.m. The schedule calls for them to finish at noon. You do the math on 50 items in 7.5 hours.

The regents have a new executive director, Mike Rush. The board gradually is gaining newer members. One Janklow appointee remains, Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen, who was placed on the board in 1997. Three Rounds appointees remain. They are Terry Baloun of Sioux Falls (2004), Kathryn Johnson of Hill City (2005) and Randy Schaefer of Madison (2009). Schaefer is the current president. The rest are appointees of Gov. Dennis Daugaard. They are Bob Sutton of Pierre (2013), who is the current vice president; Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls (2013); John Bastian of Belle Fourche (2014); Jim Morgan of Brookings (2015); and the student regent, Joseph Schartz of Humboldt (2013), who attends South Dakota State University.

Another change for next week’s meeting is it will be live-streamed over the Internet. The regents attempted this at least once in the past but the practice didn’t catch on, even though the university campuses that host the meetings should be some of the most wired facilities in South Dakota. The Daugaard administration has placed emphasis on streaming as many state board and commission meetings as possible. This likely results from that policy.

The night of the defeat

There has been no deeper split among South Dakota Republicans since I began covering the statehouse in 1985 than the Miller-Janklow gubernatorial primary of 1994. Former Gov. Bill Janklow had term-limited from the chief executive’s office when his second term ended at the close of 1986. His successor was former state Rep. George S. Mickelson, son of former Gov. George T. Micklelson (the S was for Speaker, a name bestowed on the son by the House of Representatives when his father, George T., was speaker). George S., a lawyer, seeking to strengthen his candidacy in western South Dakota and among agricultural producers and their families, chose House Republican leader Walter Dale Miller of New Underwood as his running mate. Mickelson said Miller would be South Dakota’s first full-time lieutenant governor. Mickelson and seven other men died in the 1993 state-plane crash, and Miller ascended to governor. He seemed to be ready to run for a term of his own. He made a key move immediately, retaining Frank Brost as chief of staff; Mickelson had just parted ways with Brost in favor of bringing in Dean Krogman, a legislator from Brookings, as his new chief of staff. The battle line became deeper when former U.S. Sen. Jim Abdnor supported Miller’s candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor. Janklow had challenged Abdnor in 1986 for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Abdnor prevailed against Janklow but lost to the Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Daschle. Meanwhile Janklow had been preparing to run for the gubernatorial nomination in 1994 as well. Republicans in Pierre, where many state government employees had worked for Janklow, Mickelson and Miller, split over the primary, as did Republicans statewide. Miller selected Steve Kirby of Sioux Falls as his lieutenant governor. Janklow announced before the primary that Carole Hillard of Rapid City would be his running mate. Janklow won the primary with 54 percent of the vote to Miller’s 46 percent. That night Miller, Abdnor and Brost wore the scowls of men who didn’t want to accept they had been beaten as they walked into the Miller campaign gathering at the Pierre convention center. Miller served the remaining six-plus months of the term while Janklow won the November general election, becoming the first former governor in South Dakota’s history to be returned to office.

Blue Ribbon task force meets Oct. 1…

…but somehow the gathering of the governor-created panel on teachers and students wasn’t noted in the weekly News Tips prepared by the governor’s office that was distributed Friday, and the meeting isn’t posted (as of this writing) on the state boards and commissions web site originated by the governor’s office. The meeting schedule and agenda link are here. This will be the second-to-last meeting of the task force, whose work to this point has focused on teacher supply and teacher salaries. South Dakota at just over $40,000 ranked last nationally in average teacher pay for the past year. Among the big topics for the Oct. 1 meeting are presentations by Tami Darnall, the state Department of Education’s finance director, on a school funding model based on teacher-student ratio. Darnall and Jim Terwilliger, the economist for the state Bureau of Finance and Management, will also present on current funding possibilities, followed by a presentation on revenue possibilities from state Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach and his department’s property-taxes director, Mike Houdyshell. The afternoon half of the agenda has an hour set for discussion of outcome and efficiency possibilities and teacher recruitment and retention. That will be followed by small-group discussions and finish with presentations from those small groups. The meeting will be at the View 34 restaurant’s conference room. View 34 is east of Pierre on S.D. 34. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. CT.

Vikings return enjoyment to Minneapolis (and how about that Greenway!)

Call me guilty of premature proclamation, but the Minnesota Vikings are playing good football again on this third Sunday of the season. Good coaches, good defense overall, good line play on both sides, good receivers, good running backs and a good quarterback combine to make a good team. It’s 24-7 right now near the end of the third quarter. The San Diego Chargers don’t seem to have the discipline necessary and they’re short of healthy offensive lineman. Teddy Bridgewater is proving up, Adrian Peterson is for real again and Charles Johnson has the wildest hair I’ve seen in the NFL this season. (He’s No. 12.) I am a Green Bay fan but I follow the Vikes because they’re our local team. The Packers might face real trouble when they visit the Vikings on Nov. 22. That game and the season-ender in Green Bay on Jan. 3 promise to be for the division title.

FOURTH QUARTER UPDATE: That was Chad Greenway of Mount Vernon, SD, taking the interception back 91 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 31-7 lead.

Friday loss might have sealed Twins’ fate

Heaven knows Glen Perkins gave his all once again this season for the Minnesota Twins. He clearly is hurt, much the way Joe Nathan battled through his pain in his final season with the Twins a few years ago. Hanging on by a thread, on a 3-2 pitch, with two outs, Perk gave up a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning last night in Detroit. The Tigers won 6-4 in a game the Twins had led 4-0. The defeat for Minnesota pushed the Twins farther behind in the race for the American League’s second wild-card spot for the playoffs. The Twins are now 78-76, with this weekend’s series in Detroit and next week remaining in the regular season. The three division leaders are Toronto 88-65, Kansas City 89-64 and Texas 84-69. Those teams look fairly secure. The New York Yankees at 84-69 lead the battle for the two AL wild-card slots in the playoffs. Then there’s the jumble for the second slot, with Houston at the top of the pile at 80-74 and the LA Angels right behind at 79-74. Next come the Twins at 78-75 and Cleveland at 76-76. Detroit hasn’t raised the white flag — the Tigers sent a player home for the rest of the season because he wasn’t giving the expected effort — and the Twins are in for a tough weekend against a veteran talented team. The Twins wrap up 2015 with a four-game series at Cleveland and host Kansas City for the final weekend starting Friday. If the Twins could win all three of the series, going a combined 7-3, they could still have a shot at a wild-card slot. But they will need help. Houston has the Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks left. LAA has the Mariners, Oakland Athletics and Rangers left. We focus on the season’s end, but when we look back, we realize every pitch really can matter over 162 games.

Venhuizen: Schopp didn’t fire SD GEAR UP staff (w/update)

Tony Venhuizen said moments ago that state Education Secretary Melody Schopp didn’t fire the employees at the South Dakota GEAR UP office in Rapid City, contrary to what was reported by KOTA TV. “She doesn’t have the authority to do that,” said Venhuizen, who is the governor’s chief of staff and who oversees Schopp’s department for his father-in-law. Venhuizen said it’s possible that some or all of the GEAR UP staff was let go, in the wake of Schopp’s decision last week Wednesday to pull the GEAR UP contract from Mid Central Education Cooperative at Platte. The federal GEAR UP funding flows to the state Education Department, then goes to Mid Central, and Mid Central sends much of it to various non-profits, businesses and consultants, either directly or through several of the non-profits. SD GEAR UP eventually receives some of the money. SD GEAR UP is run by Stacy Phelps, who is also CEO for one of those non-profits, and serves on the state Board of Education. Venhuizen’s point is that Schopp doesn’t have direct control of those non-profits or the GEAR UP office. The SD GEAR UP website no longer is available on the Internet. It was earlier this week.

UPDATE: The KOTA TV story was substantially correct but erred on Schopp’s role. A letter from Schopp about halting the GEAR UP grant to Mid Central was read by GEAR UP director Stacy Phelps to GEAR UP employees on Tuesday. Phelps reportedly told them they were terminated. As for Venhuizen’s statement about Schopp, he was technically correct. GEAR UP now will flow the state Board of Regents in the future.

Could the tragedy have been prevented?

We learn from KOTA TV that state Education Secretary Melody Schopp fired all involved with the GEAR UP program on Tuesday. (NOTE: Since the post was written this morning, there now is a claim from a top Daugaard administration official that the KOTA report wasn’t true. See above post.) That came just hours after we learned from state Attorney General Marty Jackley that circumstances indicate Scott Westerhuis killed his wife, Nicole, and their four children with a shotgun before lighting their house afire and killing himself with the shotgun last week Wednesday night or early Thursday. The Westerhuis deaths came less than one day — hours, actually — after Schopp had informed Mid Central Education Cooperative in Platte that the GEAR UP contract no longer would be administered by Mid Central. Scott Westerhuis was business manager at Mid Central; Nicole Westerhuis was the assistant business manager. We don’t know what suddenly triggered Schopp’s decision; she won’t talk to reporters this week. The governor’s chief of staff and son-in-law Tony Venhuizen is doing the talking and emphasizing it was her decision. Venhuizen’s portfolio includes Schopp’s department. All of this has its roots in the previous administration of Gov. Mike Rounds. He appointed Rick Melmer as state education secretary and they hired Keith Moore to be South Dakota’s first director of Indian education. Melmer later left to become dean of education for the University of South Dakota. Moore went to USD as well to be diversity director, then received an important appointment by the Obama administration to be director for the federal Bureau of Indian Education in Washington, D.C. He took Brian Drapeaux with him as chief of staff. Drapeaux worked at Personal Group in Pierre immediately prior to that move. Moore and Drapeaux ran afoul of federal contracting regulations when they tried to hire Personal Group for a federal review of the bureau. When that move was blocked, they did an end-around by finding another tribal contractor and arranged for Melmer and Personal Group to be subcontractors. The federal inspector general for the Department of Interior conducted an investigation into Moore, Drapeaux, Melmer and Personal Group. You can read that report here. Meanwhile Schopp, who had been with the state Department of Education since the late 1990s, was chosen by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2011 to replace Tom Oster as secretary heading the department. After Moore left, the Indian education director post in the state department became a revolving door. Schopp continued to allow the Indian education program to essentially be run out of Mid Central at Platte. That frustrated several people who served as Indian education director. The accountability was loose. Schopp appointed an oversight panel that included Moore and Melmer; essentially the director of Indian education needed their sign-off. Meanwhile the GEAR UP program, whose focus in South Dakota has been to get American Indian students to prepare for college, was run through several non-profits that received funding from Mid Central. The money flowed from the federal Department of Education to the state Department of Education to Mid Central to the non-profits to the SD GEAR UP program in Rapid City and to various other consultants and businesses along the way. The arrangement made it easy for a share of the money to be split off for administrative purposes at each level down the chain. Running SD GEAR UP in Rapid City was Stacy Phelps, an alumnus of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology who held the summer GEAR UP camp at the School of Mines campus. Phelps, who seemed to have a sincere belief in trying to get other Indian students to follow the path he took into the world of science and math and engineering, was appointed to the state Board of Education in 2008 by Rounds. The state Department of Legislative Audit in the past year cracked the lid an inch off whatever was happening outside the lines with GEAR UP money, starting with the finding that Melmer and Moore were paid for months in 2013-2014 without requiring they file time sheets., and a long list of other questionable practices. The audit looked only at 2014 regarding Mid Central as the sub-recipient from the state Department of Education on GEAR UP funding. The overall conclusion was the state department wasn’t fulfilling its oversight responsibilities. Schopp installed her department’s finance director, Tamara Darnall, as the person now responsible for watching Mid Central on the GEAR UP grant, which was $4.3 million in the past year. Last month, the audit findings came before the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. Darnall and Mid Central’s director, Dan Guericke, answered lawmakers’ questions. It became clear that several legislators, such as Sen. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, and Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, wanted to see proof of results from the millions of dollars that had been spent on GEAR UP for many years. What happened in the weeks after that meeting isn’t known yet, but Schopp’s notice to Mid Central last week became the flash point. What’s surfaced in the past few days is widespread talk among people in other education cooperatives in South Dakota that there had long been suspicions about the practices at Mid Central. We sense that Legislative Audit had found other problems in its followup work on the GEAR UP grant, but state Auditor General Marty Guindon said he can’t talk publicly about the findings at this time. Two years ago, South Dakota went through a similar wave of responses to corruption involving EB-5 and the shotgun death of Richard Benda, who had been Rounds’ secretary of tourism and development. In that instance, the Daugaard administration took steps behind the scenes to shut down the EB-5 program. We learned many months later from the attorney general that Benda died just weeks before a grand jury was to meet and the attorney general was prepared to arrest him. We’re seeing the broom again this time from the Daugaard administration regarding GEAR UP, right down to wiping the Internet clean of the GEAR UP web pages, just like the SDRC web site with EB-5. Now an entire family is dead rather than just one former state official. And there are other twists yet to be explained.


Emery, Sioux Falls projects needed bigger loans

The state Board of Water and Natural Resources stepped in Thursday and increased the loan amount for a Sioux Falls project and gave Emery a bigger loan that will be forgiven. Sioux Falls previously received a low-interest state loan of approximately $18,553,000 for a sewer replacement project. The board loan an additional $6.3 million on Thursday at the request of Mayor Mike Huether. Combined with some additional financing from the state board, the total amount loaned to Sioux Falls for the project climbed to nearly $26.1 million, at a 10-year rate of 1.25 percent interest. A sanitary sewer surcharge will be used to repay the loan.

Then there’s Emery. The community received a $2,890,000 loan from the state board earlier this year using the clean-water fund, with $1,677,000 of the loan amount to be forgiven. (Principal forgiveness is the board’s preferred method of avoiding additional EPA reporting requirements if the money was a pure grant.) Emery also received a second loan earlier this year of $1,585,000 from the drinking water fund. And the board also gave Emery a grant of $615,000 from a third program. Now Emery officials have learned from their engineering firm that won’t be enough money. Emery needs another $348,683. So the state board on Thursday loaned another $194,000 to Emery, with the amount to be forgiven. Emery in turn plans to apply for another $155,000 in the board’s March funding round. Mayor Joshua Kayser explained in a letter how utility rates have already increased from about $60 per month in 2005 to about $91 per month currently. “We are attempting to be proactive in replacing old lines prior to an emergency or crisis,” the mayor wrote.

Dimock meanwhile received a $50,000 grant and a $478,000 loan for improvement to its wastewater treatment system and Wakonda will see a grant of $7,773 to pay for a recycling collection trailer.

HAVA board OKs two grant requests w/updates 1 & 2

The Help America Vote Act grant board for South Dakota meets Thursday (Sept. 24) at the counties association building in Pierre. The board received two grant requests, each for $9,000. Sully County seeks help with voting machine maintenance. Dewey County wants to target its grant to help absentee voting in Oglala Lakota and Todd counties. The board is administered through the South Dakota Secretary of State Office.

UPDATE 1: The state board voted 6-0 to approve each of the funding requests this morning. Sully County will be reimbursed as receipts are presented. The Dewey County grant will be used for an absentee-voting site within the county; the application indicated the money would be used for Oglala Lakota and Todd counties. The application’s category for absentee-voting centers currently provides only for Oglala Lakota and Todd. Kea Warne, a deputy secretary of state for elections, suggested the HAVA board at its October meeting discuss adjusting that portion of the form for future funding rounds.

UPDATE 2: Brandon Johnson is stepping down as state HAVA coordinator and taking another position in the elections field with the technology company Everyone Counts. Today was his last as HAVA coordinator. Succeeding him will be Kristen Kellar, who has been elections coordinator in the Secretary of State office. Moving up to elections coordinator is Rachel Schmidt, who has been handling the busy front desk at the office. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said she is in the process of hiring a new person to succeed Schmidt.

A public-record vacuum w/update

The legacy of Republican Jason Gant’s single term as South Dakota secretary of state includes the withdrawal of public records that had been available on the SDSOS website. He changed the system so that business records older than a few years aren’t available. The records remain listed as part of search results, but a “U/A” appears where there once was a hyper-link. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs hasn’t been able to correct the situation, yet, and perhaps never will be able to afford such a project without the Legislature approving extra funding for the project. People who want to search the history of a business, starting with its initial filing, can’t reach back for those older records unless they directly contact Krebs’ staff and request them. Not only is that the opposite of efficiency in government, her staff members already have plenty to do. Gant’s change of the system came in the wake of the EB-5 scandal. A coincidence, perhaps, but easy Internet access to those business records was important. Now that easy access to the histories of those companies — and all companies beyond a few years — is gone. Evidently that is what was wanted.

UPDATE: Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said Thursday morning she has two people working part-time on restoring access to the records. She said the records were hacked in 2012 and Gant didn’t heed directives from the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications and from the office of state Attorney General Marty Jackley to repair the situation. She said the part-time work has been progressing from 2015 into previous years, with each document reviewed for possible personal information that should be redacted.