This year, candidates running for office in local and regional races say they are concerned about many issues, including the current pandemic, the economy, education, and the state of the Clay County Courthouse, among many other things.
Voters will face several choices on the June 2 primary ballot. The primary, which is party specific, will help narrow the field for the November 2020 election while deciding certain races outright.
Here’s a look at the Democratic County Commission candidates you’ll find on the June primary ballot. Check next week’s edition for profiles of candidates running for District 17 House and for the Vermillion School Board.
This November, there will be three at-large positions open on the Clay County Commission. Republican county commission candidates are James Bohnsack and Travis Mockler, who automatically move on to the November election and will not be on the primary ballot. Independent Glenn Pulse also automatically moves on.
Democrats will choose three of the following four candidates to appear on the November ballot.
Occupation: Retired, formerly Clay County Zoning Administrator and Veterans Service Officer
Family: Husband, John, two daughters, two step-children, six grandchildren
I’m running for election because: There were several projects I was working on when I retired and I would like to see them completed. Also, I had several people ask me to run.
Qualities I bring to the commission: I have nine years of experience working for Clay County and with the Board of Commissioners. I can get up to speed pretty quickly on what’s happening with the county today. I understand the organizational structure and I have good relationships with the department heads/elected officials at the courthouse.
The state of Clay County: I think we have a very committed Board of Commissioners who are following the laws and regulations that are in place and trying to make decisions that benefit the citizens. When I look at neighboring counties, I think we are fortunate that we have a strong, ethical board.
The biggest challenges facing the county: The COVID-19 virus has changed everything. It is still evolving and will need people on the board who are willing to make hard choices for the safety of the citizens. Our roads and bridges were devasted by 2 years of flooding. This will be an ongoing issue as we never have enough money to make all the repairs we want to. Our courthouse is over 100 years old and is no longer able to handle the needs of the County. We will have to carefully consider the options available to provide a space that can handle modern day requirements. (Contrary to rumors, I have not made any decision on whether remodeling or replacing is the better option.)
I would like voters to know: I’m from Clay County and am currently living on the family farm. I grew up on a working farm with cattle, hogs, chickens, horses and other assorted animals at different times. I went to country schools, Greenfield and Marshalltown, and graduated from Vermillion High School in 1973. I was very active in 4-H for 10 years and went to Dalesburg Lutheran church. After a couple of years at USD, I joined the Army. I was stationed for most of my tour in Heidelberg, Germany and worked as a truck driver (deuce-and-a-half) and legal clerk. When I got out of the Army, I found work in Sioux Falls as a legal assistant. Before returning to work for Clay County, I was head of Human Resources for a multi-million dollar automotive warehouse that had over 300 employees in 8 states.
Vote for me because: I’m from here and have been living back in Clay County for the last 16 years. I worked for nine years for Clay County so people know me and know the skills and integrity that I will bring to the job. I am also the Adjutant for my legion post (Westlund-Peterson, also known as Alsen) and I am secretary of the Vermillion Area Arts Council. I have background experience that will be extremely useful. You could say I’ve been in both the barn and the boardroom. And I care about the entire County. Vermillion is our economic engine, but we can’t forget Wakonda, Irene, Burbank or Meckling.
Richard Hammond (incumbent)
Family: wife Sarah Chadima and four children: Gabe, Zach, Paul, and Anna.
I’m running for re-election because: Clay County has been my home for most of my life. I have lived in Wakonda, rural Meckling, rural Vermillion, and for the last 35 years in Vermillion. I worked on campus at USD for 22 years after earning my bachelor’s degree in geology and master’s degree in public administration. Clay County has been a wonderful place for Sarah and I to make a home, run a business, and raise a family. I hope to continue my service on this board to help make this an even better place to live and work in the future.
Qualities I bring to the commission: I have owned and operated a successful business. I have been an employee in both the private and public sectors. I have worked in government. My studies of public administration have helped me learn how these are different in some ways, yet have important similarities. I think that my work experience has made me a better commissioner.
I have studied the land and water of our home area for most of my career, a rare blessing of stability in my occupation, where extensive travel is the norm. Therefore, I have brought useful information to the commission table during discussions of road stability, stream erosion, flooding, stability of buildings, land use, and other environmental issues. I am lucky. Often, I have just brought home knowledge gained from earlier experiences solving problems in other counties.
I know both joys and burdens of owning homes in a few Vermillion neighborhoods, as well as living and working in rural areas. I know about raising a family here. I know Clay County well, and you its people.
I bring an understanding of what it is to be a part of “Coyote Nation”, being both a proud graduate (2 times), and working in Akeley Science Center, USD for over two decades.
The state of Clay County: Clay County is a great place to live, learn, and grow. We are a people of many talents and interests, a place of natural beauty and history, and a rich and productive landscape.
The biggest challenges facing the county: Clay County is under some strain right now with the necessary “social distancing” affecting our lives. Unfortunately, that is the world’s condition, we are not alone. We who work in county government have tried to provide all the vital services you expect from your County. However, some necessary functions have been less convenient in order to keep everyone safe. Every office has had struggles to serve our public. Ordinary activities like paying taxes, transferring ownership of property, and getting a car or boat license has been a chore for both you, the public, and those serving you. Even holding meetings (both public and in-department) have been a learning experience. We on the commission have had some very helpful staff from various departments set us up to “Zoom” teleconference from home. We continue to learn and grow better at using this new technology. I expect that some of these communication methods we may choose to retain beyond this emergency. Hopefully the worst of this disease will be over soon.
Another strain on the County was a result of last year’s flooding and unusual freeze-thaw event. It damaged many stretches of county highways. Some highways were closed for extended periods and many required temporary repairs. Fortunately, most of our highways were in good repair (especially compared to some neighboring counties) which reduced the damage to the massive frost heave. The highway department is employing some new methods and techniques which should reduce future damage, saving money over the long term.
A third major challenge is the condition of our court house, particularly the jail/public safety complex. A citizen committee, led by Robert Fuller, has been charged with finding one or more solutions to address several very serious deficiencies. Fact finding is ongoing with suggested solutions to be presented soon, but delayed by the present crisis.
I would like voters to know: I want to hear from you! Please call by phone (605-670-2321), email (click on my link at the County website) or visit commission meetings. There is a “Visitors to be heard” item near the start of every meeting. Hearing friendly suggestions or just plain complaints are part of being your commissioner.
Vote for me because: For the reasons listed above. Especially that last part: I want to hear from you.
Elizabeth "Betty" Smith
Occupation: Retired Political Science Professor and former Associate Director of the Farber Center for Civic Leadership at USD.
Family: Married to Larry Smith, founder of Mr. Smith's Baker Cafe, for 47 years with three grown children and one parakeet.
I’m running for election because: I care deeply about the future of Clay County and am willing and able to contribute my time and experience to work with the Commission on planning and securing a bright future for the County.
Qualities I bring to the Commission: Public service has been a constant throughout my adult life and these experiences have taught me much about what it takes to bring communities together to work on common issues. As a member and chair of the Clay County Historic Preservation Commission, I worked on creating a Clay County Preservation Plan and the first Downtown Vermillion Streetscape plan. As Associate Director of the Farber Center, I taught civic leadership and strategic planning at the Mount Rushmore Institute and in numerous towns in southeastern South Dakota. As a volunteer, I have led dozens of strategic planning processes for nonprofit and government entities. My government experience includes service on the Hamden Legislative Council, serving as Chief of Staff of the Hamden Mayor's Office, and on the congressional staff of former Congressman Bruce A. Morrison. I led a project that converted seven miles of abandoned railroad into a linear park. More recently, I have served on the boards of the Vermillion Cultural Association that owns and operates our local nonprofit movie theater and on the SD Shakespeare Festival board. Finally, I am familiar with local government policy and processes from a 25 year academic career that included teaching courses on Public Budgeting and Fiscal Management, State and Local Government, and Planning Principles and Techniques.
The state of Clay County: Clay County has a long farming tradition, a lively university, and many historic and recreational assets. Its plan of development has not kept up with more recent changes in the County. For example, its joint jurisdiction zoning does not align with that of the City of Vermillion's plan, causing disagreement and tension between the two entities.
Biggest challenges facing the county: The biggest challenge facing Clay County today is building a common vision for the county and incorporating this vision into a concrete plan to achieve it. To do this, the County will need to set out a process for envisioning our collective future--rural areas and towns together. The time invested in planning today will pay rich dividends in the future.
A key challenge that needs to be resolved in the short term is determining the future of the historic Clay County Courthouse, which currently houses the county's administrative offices, the Sheriff's Department and the jail. There is overwhelming agreement that the existing building is inadequate and that the Courthouse's historic structure should be preserved. The challenge is coming to agreement on whether the existing building should be updated and expanded, or whether the building should be abandoned as the seat of government. Additional alternatives also exist. For example, it would be possible to update, remodel, and substantially expand the current courthouse to a high standard and use publicly owned adjacent land for a Sheriff's Department and jail that would meet requirements. A citizen-led process is underway at this time and its recommendations should be published and public input invited and encouraged because the future of the Courthouse affects everyone in the County.
A third significant challenge is bringing local infrastructure such as roads and bridges to safe standards. In a recent drive around the County, I encountered many roads and bridges that are impassable. Finding funding to meet these challenges is a problem that Clay County shares with many other counties. The solution is to work together with other counties toward state legislative solutions that align the responsibilities of counties with their fiscal capacities. The state's municipalities have done this effectively and it is time for counties to do so too.
I would like voters to know: Clay County has truly awe inspiring natural and community assets. Clay County Park. the Missouri and Vermillion Rivers, Lake Marindahl, numerous hiking trails benefit residents. We also have a rich cultural heritage including family farms as well as historic towns. My commitment is to preserving the best of our assets and working with County residents to plan a bright future.
Vote for me because: I bring to the Commission a wealth of practical experience in public budgeting, knowledge of administrative law, and planning, as well as public service skills such as leadership, negotiation, and organizational management. Perhaps the most important quality however, is a lifelong love of public service and the desire to work with residents to make Clay County a special place for us and our grandchildren's children.
Occupation: Retired Professor of Computer Science currently serving the Vermillion School District as Title III Teacher
Family: Married to Bonnie Sorensen
I’m running for election because: There are several reasons. One is to help make county government more transparent. Another is to foster greater cooperation and collaboration between county and city government.
Qualities I bring to the Commission: A lifetime of experiences in corporate management and education.
The state of Clay County: My concern is what the state of the county and its citizens will be after the pandemic ends.
Biggest challenges currently facing the county: Today the biggest challenge is dealing with the corona-virus pandemic.
I would like voters to know: My goal is to represent all of the people of Clay County.
Vote for me because: I would hope citizens will vote for me because they know I care about them.