A woman who has served as Central Ward alderman for the past eight years on the Vermillion City Council was appointed the new mayor of the City of Vermillion by her fellow council members during Monday night’s meeting, held via a video conference to allow social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kelsey Collier-Wise resigned her position as Central Ward alderman and was given the oath of office immediately after her appointment as mayor to fill the vacancy following the April 20 of death of Mayor Jack Powell, who lost a five-year battle with cancer.
Collier-Wise was elected to her first term as Central Ward alderman in 2012. She won re-election to that office in 2016.
Collier-Wise’s term as mayor runs from the time of her appointment Monday night until the first meeting in July following the next annual municipal election. While Vermillion doesn’t typically have an annual municipal election, city staff has verified with the South Dakota secretary of state that the election should be on the next possible annual municipal election date of June 1, 2021.
The person elected at that time would serve from the first meeting in July 2021 until the end of the original mayoral term in July 2022.
The city council agreed Monday to discuss options at its next meeting for filling the Central Ward alderman position formerly held by Collier-Wise.
In her role as executive director of the United Way of Vermillion, Collier-Wise was instrumental in the creation of the Community Connection Center (CCC) in downtown Vermillion, which opened in the fall of 2019.
The CCC today houses the Vermillion Food Pantry, the Welcome Table and its related backpack programs, the Salvation Army and its emergency fund and the United Way.
The CCC has also struck up a partnership with the Health Sciences program at the University of South Dakota. Students of the program help connect people in need to the proper services and in turn benefit and learn from those one-on-one encounters.
Persons interested in becoming mayor had to submit an expression of interest form to the city. Forms were received from Collier-Wise and Northeast Ward Alderman Tom Sorensen, who two years was unsuccessful in his attempt to be elected mayor.
Sorensen’s term on the city council ends this year and he is not seeking re-election.
Collier-Wise noted in her expression interest form that serving on the Vermillion City Council has been one of her most rewarding experiences.
“I care deeply about this community and its people and this position has allowed me to help craft policy that has helped our city and its citizens thrive. Getting to work with my astute and compassionate fellow alderman, as well as the incredibly knowledgeable and competent city staff,” she stated in the form, “has been a joy and an amazing education, which is why I had decided to run for a third term in my seat.”
She noted that she has long been interested in the pursuing the office of mayor.
“It would allow me to serve the city beyond just my neighborhood, offer a platform to be able to advocate for the progressive ideas and projects I believe in for our city, and continue the culture of government efficiency and civility that made the last mayoral administration so successful,” she stated. “I feel safe in saying that I am one of Vermillion's biggest cheerleaders, and this is a position that would allow me to do so at a higher profile.”
Collier-Wise noted the challenging times the community is currently facing as it and South Dakota deals with the COVID-19 pandemic
“We are in the middle of an extremely challenging situation that makes the dreams and plans we had several months ago seem suddenly out of reach,” she stated. “First and foremost, my goal would be to ensure that the city can deliver essential services going forward, even as our resources may shrink. Additionally, creating stability for our vital city workforce and keeping our community as safe as possible during this pandemic is going to everyone's priority.
“As we get to the other side of this and are able to have a better understanding of our financial situation, working with our partners to support every sector in our city as they get back on solid financial ground is going to be incredibly important,” Collier-Wise wrote in her expression of interest form. “Then, I hope we can again pursue the many exciting quality-of-life projects.”
Those projects, she stated, include the downtown streetscape, the bike master plan, upgrades to Vermillion’s parks, support of our public arts, a Boys & Girls Club, as well as necessary infrastructure projects such as renovation of the recycling center and community solar.
Collier-Wise is the 39th mayor of Vermillion and the second woman to hold the office. Vermillion’s first woman mayor, Betty J. Lynn, served from 1988 to 1992.
Collier-Wise is a graduate of Vermillion High School and attended the University of Minnesota, where she majored in history and English. After returning to Vermillion, she attended the University of South Dakota School of Law and obtained a juris doctorate degree.
She is married to Royce Miller and the two are parents to their daughter, Aurora.
Her past and present activities in the community include Salvation Army, Welcome Table core team, Vermillion Next Young Professionals Network (past chair), Vermillion Public Transit Advisory Board, Vermillion Public Library Board, Vermillion Rotary Board (president elect), SESDAC Human Rights Committee, USD Health Sciences Advisory Board, Sharing the Dream in Guatemala, Dakota Senior Meals, Junior Achievement, Vermillion Girl Scouts, South Dakota Special Olympics (volunteer coordinator), St. Paul's Episcopal Church Vestry (past senior warden), and Oktoberfest planning committee.