Numerous local candidates will face off on the ballot during the primary next week. Six candidates are running for two seats on the Clay County Board of Commissioners. Five candidates are vying for two spots on the Vermillion School Board. Meanwhile, within the City of Vermillion, voters will choose a mayor from among two candidates, as well as three council members from six candidates.

This week, the Vermillion Plain Talk publishes the last of candidate profiles for the upcoming election. This week, learn more about those running for the City of Vermillion Alderman positions. Please note that profiles are published in the same order that they will appear on the ballot. Check out the Plain Talk from the last two weeks for profiles of Vermillion’s mayoral candidates, those running for Vermillion School Board, and the candidates for Clay County Commission. And don’t forget to let your voice be heard by voting on Tuesday (or any time before that, through early voting)!

City of Vermillion Alderman Central Ward – vote for one

Katherine Price

Age: 38

Occupation: Assistant Dean of Administration, College of Arts & Sciences, USD

Family: Paul Lombardi (Associate Professor of Music, USD) and Ethan Lombardi (age 16)

I am running because: I originally ran for my first term in 2014 because my neighbors asked me to. They saw I had a knack for putting people at ease, listening to them, and fostering connections—there was a need for that on City Council. When I ran the first time, people were asking me “What’s your agenda? What’s your platform?” and my answer now hasn’t changed much since then. I’m not running on a particular issue or trying to get a specific thing “done.” I’m here to provide rational, consistent, reliable representation for my ward and constituents and help us all move steadily forward together.

Qualities I bring to the position: In my first two terms, I’ve made a point to be patient and persistent, to fully understand issues so I can clearly communicate them to the public, as well as articulate my constituents’ concerns and priorities. With nine people on the council, it can be easy to spend a lot of time debating an issue or arguing over minutia. Some of my colleagues have noted that one of my skills on council is my ability to get to the heart of a matter, by asking specific and relevant questions, and by effectively summarizing each point of view or potential course of action. Like a good facilitator knows, it’s important that all parties feel heard and understood, and that decisions are made with clarity, transparency, and goodwill, even when it involves compromise.

The status of the City of Vermillion: Vermillion is in a good position to really improve. We’ve seen population growth in the 2020 Census, and with the Sioux Falls metropolitan area growing quickly, we are likely to see more. We’ve made investments in infrastructure to accommodate growth, both visibly—in the case of Prentis Plunge and the downtown streetscape—and less visibly, for example with an additional sewer lift station, more efficient water drainage systems along Highway 50, and a refurbished recycling center. There are still a lot of items left in the capital improvement plan that are needed to support projected growth, including expanded landfill needs, and of course the need for better public safety facilities. There are a lot of innovative opportunities going forward in Vermillion, and I am excited to be part of making that happen.

Biggest challenges currently facing the city: Many of the biggest challenges we are facing are similar to what’s being seen elsewhere right now: staffing shortages and wage compression, the need for affordable housing for first-time homebuyers, project delays and cost increases due to supply-chain issues, and a higher-than-it-should-be poverty rate. Many of these issues come from larger economic forces outside of our control, but we can harness both the brainpower of our friends at the University and the expertise of our knowledgeable city staff to make sure that we are operating in a proactive way instead of a reactive one. One thing I’ve really enjoyed in my eight years on the city council is the city’s ability to address problems creatively by working collaboratively with different groups and stakeholders.

I would like voters to know: It’s been an honor to serve my ward for the past two terms because I really do think my neighborhood is awesome! I moved here in 2012 when my husband was hired at USD, and I’ve loved putting down roots. For instance, serving on the Dakota Hospital Foundation and all the good work they do to promote health and wellness, and supporting Heartland Humane Society by donations and fostering animals. I’m a musician by training, and I’ve enjoyed taking part in the Vermillion Community Theatre; there is so much wonderful art and music happening in town! In my role as Alderman for the Central Ward, I want to promote Vermillion as an arts and culture capitol in the tri-state area, but also help us grow in a sustainable way that’s fiscally responsible and adaptive to the changing world around us. Please check out my website www.PriceForVermillion.com to find out more or contact me directly. Most importantly please VOTE on June 7, 2022!

Carson Merkwan

Age: 40

Occupation: Business Co-owner (with my wife Courtney) of the Main Street Inn, which is a renovation of the historic Sigma Nu and Beta Theta Pi fraternity house (www.mainstreetinnsd.com), Business Development Manager of Direct Companies (www.directcompanies.com), Consultant for several startup businesses, Project Management Professional, Chemical Engineer from SDSMT, MBA from USD. Feel free to look at my profile on the social network LinkedIn.

Family: My spouse is Vermillion local Dr. Courtney Merkwan (Nelsen); Son Gary (14); Daughter Blair (11); and Son Grant (8)

I am running because: I offer to help Vermillion successfully manage the many projects our community is undertaking, but why am I running? Believe it or not, being on the City Council is not a glamorous job, nor does it pay well. This is a community service. Win or lose, I find democracy via a fair and informed election always improves a town's leadership and everyone in the world needs that right now.

Qualities I bring to the position: I'm an outsider to city politics and like in many towns, I see an insider political leadership group in town. Many of the current city council and various city affiliated groups are just a little too chummy. Lots of unanimous decisions get made with very little debate. So, my election would be a small step to help remedy this. I have great project management skills and I execute successful business decisions on a regular basis, so our projects would likely suffer overspending and execution faults less often. I love Vermillion and I enjoy the community. I met my wife here and she lived here from birth until she graduated from med school. We are happy to be back to raise our family. So, you can count on me to have Vermillion's best interests in mind.

The status of the City of Vermillion: Good because of its citizenship. People here have good hearts and are very intelligent. We have people who enjoy keeping the city beautiful and have a love of unique lifestyles. We all benefit from that openness with the great ideas it generates and we have plenty of energy to start those ideas. But we currently lack diverse opinions and a fear of conflict results in over-serving a few at the expense of the unheard. A squeaky wheel gets the grease type of group mentality. Making slow, over budget, and uncalculated decisions on major issues has been a common thread I've heard from citizens of Vermillion's Central Ward, and I am in a good position to help Vermillion get past that.

Biggest challenges currently facing the city: Vermillion spends a lot more and we tax a lot more than most communities our size. That means our city council is responsible for putting your hard-earned money to work more so than citizens in neighboring towns. Right now it is common for a project to be over budget, have various outcomes that are undesired, poor communication, and delayed. We need someone on the council that can push for your money to go further, be on budget, and have projects come out with less issues. Furthermore, we need a city council that can respect our citizens' personal decisions and spend more time discussing conflicts that citizens want to discuss than making banal proclamations.

But the biggest challenge will be the easiest to fix, a simple stakeholder analysis before actions are taken on projects and decisions, to actually seek out options and conflict that might arise instead of avoiding it, would solve half of the complaints I saw brought forth to the city council meetings this last year. I don't know if the city council realizes that most of the town doesn't know who they are and even fewer watch a meeting. So, when they go about their business approving projects and rezoning people, nobody is watching or reading the third page of the Plain Talk to find out. So, the citizens complain when the project/act is already done. And all the input comes in to the council after it's too late, and the citizens are treated as if they did something wrong by not paying attention. It's much cheaper and more valuable to seek out people that might complain at the start than wait until after the fact.

I would like voters to know: I'll be knocking on doors to get to know people better, if you want me to stop by your house to visit with you, let me know. Visit www.CarsonforSD.us.

City of Vermillion Alderman Northeast Ward – vote for one

Ryan S. Church

Age: 32

Occupation: I work for Clay County

Family: wife Emily, son Jibrel, son Aaron

I am running because: To help the community grow. Help raise the quality of life in the community.

Qualities I bring to the position: I have experience dealing with different cultures from around the world. I have and feel empathy. I make plans and decisions based on facts not emotions. I have Integrity.

The status of the city: Vermillion is a city that is attempting to grow, but this growth is occasionally being hindered.

Biggest challenges facing the city: Meth and alcohol abuse along with all the issues that stem from them are huge issues in Vermillion.

I would like voters to know: Voting is important. Voting matters. If anybody wants to reach out and talk to me, I am available. I may not respond immediately, but I will respond.

Julia Hellwege

Age: 35

Occupation: professor at USD

Family: My husband and I have been married since 2008. We have two children, Linnea (4) and Andreas (2). My younger brother also lives with me while attending USD.

I am running because: I’m running because I love public service, engagement, and policy making. I care about ensuring all perspectives are taken into account and using evidence-based research to make policy decision.

Qualities I bring to the position: I am an involved community member and a good listener. I am capable of taking in a lot of information and evaluating it to make rational decisions. I hold a PhD in Political Science and understand both how government makes decisions and how to interpret and evaluate public opinion. I am passionate about making good policy that allows for sustainable growth for our community.

The status of the City of Vermillion: We are on a great upward trajectory. We have seen an increase in both sales taxes and housing developments all while recently going through a pandemic, while also protecting the public’s health. We have made great strides to make continued improvements that have taken a balanced and sustainable approach. That said, much of our work in the last few years in particular, have been about responding to challenges and I’m looking forward to finding more opportunities both economic and cultural.

Biggest challenges facing the city: Vermillion represents the vast majority of Clay County residents, and with that comes many challenges and responsibilities, including the law enforcement center. We know this is something we as a city and as county residents will need to tackle. Further, we need to work toward solutions for parking issues, continuing our efforts for a sustainable housing market, and continue our efforts for diverse economic development, including finding professional job opportunities that encourage some of the USD students to stay after graduation, or come back, and bring new residents to town.

I would like voters to know: I've been interested in politics and community building most of my life, but I never thought I would be *in* politics. I have been a student and then an educator of politics, I've supported political campaigns, and I have even co-founded a training program for women who wanted to run for public office...and still, I thought I'd never be *in* politics...until I was asked. Serving the people of Vermillion on everything from the mundane to the important has been my pleasure and honor. In these last four years, we have made substantial progress in sustainability, community-building, and development. We have supported both economic and social development programs, we have made great strides in zoning and housing, we have transformed our downtown, and we have done much of it while keeping our community safe through a pandemic. I'm proud of the work my colleagues and I have done and ask for your vote to keep doing the work! Read more at juliaforvermillion.com

City of Vermillion Alderman Northwest Ward – vote for one

Leslie Gerrish

Age: 41

Occupation: Owner of The Bean Community Coffeehouse, Cow & Spoon and Corporate/Nonprofit Event & Meeting Planner

Family: Husband: Ed, Children: Clare & Ceci

I am running because: I am running for the Northwest Ward City Council seat because I want to continue to give back to the community that has given me so much. I am passionate about economic development, solving housing issues and continuing to build this wonderful community. I am hoping I can bring my experience as a small business owner and project manager to the table and be a positive, collaborative addition to the city council.

Qualities I bring to the position: I am a small business owner in this community. This position means I work with multiple state entities, manage employees and work with many other business owners in the community. I also have been a meeting and event planner for close to 20 years. A meeting planner is essentially a project manager: we manage timelines, budgets, expectations and facilitate all logistics. I sit on both the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company Board of Directors and the United Way of Vermillion Board of Directors. In addition, I have organized multiple events for the community in my time here, including the CCC 5K, which celebrated the opening of the Community Connection Center, and the Downtown Vermillion Halloween Trick-or-Treating event. In 2021, I worked with a talented group for teachers, administrators, business owners and parents to educate the public on the importance of building a new elementary school - a bond issue that passed in November of 2021.

The status of the City of Vermillion: The City of Vermillion is full of promise. We are poised for continued potential success and opportunities. With those opportunities come great responsibility to our residents, our partners and our history. Vermillion is a unique, diverse and vibrant place. Any growth, whether that be economic, population or otherwise, must be met with thoughtful consideration and strategic direction. I hope I can be part of a proactive council, representing my ward and all people of Vermillion.

Biggest challenges currently facing the city: One of the biggest challenges the city faces is that of housing: affordable, ample and available. This problem is not unique to Vermillion, but we are in fact faced with these same challenges. There are solutions out there; many programs and initiatives we can model. I would love to look into housing with the talented city staff and other agencies that work on these issues in the community and see what resources could be allocated to solve housing issues in the community.

I would like voters to know: Thank you all for this opportunity. For more information or to contact me, please visit www.leslieforvermillion.com.

Mike Murra

Age: 48

Occupation: Auto body Tech at Blaine’s Body Shop

Family: Wife-Dawn; Daughter – Kaylee; and Son – Andrew.

I am running because: I’m running for election because I feel it’s time for my generation to step up. I also want to help Vermillion continue to grow and I feel I can help do that.

Qualities I bring to the position: I have four years of experience on city council in Centerville. We started a lot of good projects -- some have been completed and they are expanding on others. And I want to do the same here.

The status of the City of Vermillion: As far as the status of the city, it’s doing good. But there’s always room for improvement. I know that takes time but with the right people in the right place at the right time anything is possible.

Biggest challenges currently facing the city: I feel there is a big communication gap between the citizens of Vermillion and the council. We need to close that gap as quickly as possible. The issue with the re-zoning below the hill is a good example of that gap. I know the city legally only has to advertise in two different locations – 1) The Plain Talk and, 2) city website. But that is the minimum that has to be done. Only until the residents came to city council meeting did more discussion happen and at that time, it was tabled. Then, from what I understand, a letter was sent. Now I know that can’t be done all the time, but in this case, it worked. A little more effort goes a long way.

I want voters to know: I just want to say I really like Vermillion. I’m invested in it. I’m a member of Vermillion Fire and EMS since 2015. It’s truly a passion of mine. I wish everyone in Vermillion could see how dedicated the members are to this city. It’s truly an honor to be a part of. That being said, we are in need of volunteers. If you are interested, please contact the Fire Department for an application. All training is free to the members and there are several opportunities offered. And if you are thinking about joining, just remember you miss every chance you don’t take. Thanks for taking the time to read all of this. Early Voting is open and Election Day is June 7. Vote Mike Murra for Northwest Ward City Council!

(1) comment

Carson Merkwan

Thanks for getting the word out about the candidates! We appreciate it.

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