Monthly Archives: November 2014

SDRS trustees meet Thursday

The South Dakota Retirement System board meets Thursday in Pierre at View 34. The trustees will receive financial statements, a valuation report and an audit report for the past fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, and a projected funded status for the current fiscal year that runs through June 30, 2015. They’ll also get analysis of costs for some SDRS benefits and set the improvement factor (cost of living allowance aka COLA) that takes effect for benefit recipients on July 1, 2015. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. CST.

Road hunting on Thanksgiving eve

This happened near dusk on Wednesday. We were headed east on U.S. 14 between Blunt and Highmore, traveling to Watertown to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our son. A car was parked on the east-bound shoulder. I slowed our car slightly and looked. There wasn’t anyone in the parked car. Instead there was a man standing in the ditch about 20 to 30 yards farther east. I took a closer look at him. From the way he was standing, he appeared to be a hunter holding a shotgun and waiting for a game bird — likely a pheasant — to flush. I hadn’t seen another person or a dog. Road hunting, I thought to myself.

And that’s when I saw the car in front of me that seemed to have come to a complete stop. I crammed on the brake pedal hard and braced both hands on the steering wheel. With each millisecond our car got closer and closer to the rear of the car ahead of us. I knew we were about to smash into it. There just wasn’t enough time and distance. Then, just at the moment I thought the crash couldn’t be avoided, the car ahead gained just a little speed and then a little more. While I kept braking as hard as I could, the car in front began to ever so slowly pull away. We had escaped.

The car in front still wasn’t moving fast. I pulled around it and passed. I glanced for a moment to see the driver. It was a woman likely in her 70s or older, old enough to have been my mother. She didn’t look over. I don’t know whether she ever knew that I was behind or how close I came to crashing into her. My guess is she had done what she believed to be prudent and had slowed down to look at the car parked on the shoulder and then perhaps slowed way down when she saw the man standing in the ditch with a gun.

We made it to Watertown without further incident. I give thanks.

Regents need to OK search team at DSU

One of the seemingly small but extremely important decisions to be made by members of the state Board of Regents next week at their Rapid City meeting will be setting the members of the search team for the next president of Dakota State University in Madison.

As proposed, the search committee would have five DSU employees, two DSU students, a Madison community member and two executives from Sioux Falls — alumnus Michael Halverson, now a Citibank global senior vice president for information security administration, and Miles Beacom, president and CEO for PREMIER Bankcard, who is DSU foundation president. There would be one outside perspective from Northern State University president Jim Smith.

The Madison campus went through an unusual degree of administrative turmoil under the past DSU president, David Borofsky. He suddenly found the exit door in August during a regents meeting in Pierre that he didn’t attend. Instead Marysz Rames, an official from South Dakota State University, was hurriedly installed as interim president. Borofsky was supposed to be an interim president when he was installed in January 2012. Because of community support, the regents reversed their plan and hired him as the permanent president later that year. The arrangement didn’t last. Rames has been vice president for student affairs at SDSU since 2000 and carries a strong list of achievements there.

There are four regents assigned to the search. They are Terry Baloun, the retired Sioux Falls banker; Randy Schaefer of Madison; former long-time regents president Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen; and Bob Sutton of Pierre. This is the sixth search for a president at one of the six state universities since 2008. It tends to be exhausting work.

EPA, carbon emissions and South Dakota

Let’s start by agreeing on two points (whether or not you actually agree with both, neither or just one or the other). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency always is looking out for humankind’s best interest. Rural electric cooperatives are always looking out for humankind’s best interest. EPA’s latest round of proposed clean-air rules puts the federal agency on the opposite side of rural electric cooperatives as well as investor owned electricity utilities in South Dakota. Brenda Kleinjan is a good journalist by training who works for the South Dakota Rural Electric Association. Her latest piece on the EPA proposal arrived via U.S. mail yesterday in the Cooperative Connections newsletter / magazine for December 2014.  It is worth reading. The latest installment looks at “Dispatching More Natural Gas.” The link to the article is here. The link to the previous installment, “Increasing Coal Plant Efficiency,” is here. And she suggests visiting the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission website for its information on the topic here. She added this note in her response to my email asking for the Cooperative Connections links: “As of Friday, nearly 15,000 South Dakotans had sent in a message to the EPA through action.coop. (And more are coming in this week.) The EPA public comment period closes on Monday, Dec. 1.” The action.coop site is here if you want to see it.

Keystone XL hearing set for Dec. 9

No, there won’t be a hearing tomorrow before the state Public Utilities Commission regarding the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The PUC pushed the date back to Dec. 9 to allow more time for various interveners to prepare their responses to a motion from TransCanada. The company wants the PUC to limit the scope of the issues that will be argued. TransCanada contends the permit granted four years ago never expired and agrees that, because the construction permit hasn’t yet been used, the company now needs to certify that the conditions underlying the permit haven’t changed. The interveners and PUC staff face a Dec. 1 deadline to submit their legal positions on that motion from TransCanada. The company then faces a Dec. 5 deadline to respond. The PUC plans to consider the motion as part of its regular meeting on Dec. 9. The PUC also will hear that day from the parties about the procedural schedule and might make a decision that day regarding the scheduling. TransCanada’s motion seeking limited scope can be read here.

It’s a three-day week — for some

By executive order, Gov. Dennis Daugaard has declared the offices of state government to be administratively closed Thursday for Thanksgiving and Friday. The order applies to those offices under the governor’s control, but it sets the tone for other state government offices to be closed those two days this week as well. He’s also declared closure for Christmas, which falls on Thursday, Dec. 25, and the next day, Friday, Dec. 26, as well.

Fresh start coming for SoS office

Secretary of State-elect Shantel Krebs will install a new team in the office come January. She’s already moving toward that goal on several fronts. Nine jobs are posted as openings and the application period closes Nov. 25. Three are in business services, three are in elections and three are in office management and various services. Unofficial word in the Capitol is she’s bringing back two experienced top hands in Teresa Bray and Kea Warne who were part of Chris Nelson’s team when he was secretary of state. She’s also reportedly bringing in former state Rep. Tom Deadrick, R-Platte, to join Bray and Warne as senior management. Bray and Deadrick, a former speaker of the House, were candidates for the Republican nomination in 2010 but lost to Jason Gant of Sioux Falls at the Republican state convention. Krebs, a state senator from Renner, decided in the summer of 2013 that she would run for the nomination. She filed her organizational paperwork before Gant had announced his plans. He ultimately didn’t seek a second term. Krebs won the nomination over Gant’s current deputy, Pat Miller. Since deciding he wouldn’t run for re-election, Gant moved back to Sioux Falls. It also will be interesting to see whether interaction and involvement increase between the state Board of Elections and the secretary of state office after Krebs moves in. That’s been a fractious relationship during Gant’s time. The board met three times in the past two years — one hour and 59 minutes total on two occasions so far in 2014 and two hours and 48 minutes at the one meeting in 2013. Krebs showed her work ethic as a legislator for 10 years. She’s bringing aboard solid professionals as her top administrators. It would seem better times are ahead for one of the most important offices in state government.

Watershed meeting will feature big choices

The Nov. 24 meeting of the Legislature’s watershed task force will be anything but puffery. The panel’s four subcommittee chairs will present their reports:

Former state Rep. Kim Vanneman of Ideal on water management entities and districts, water management assets and funding of best practices;

Sen. Mike Vehle of Mitchell on standardized disclosures of new drainage projects, tracking of drainage and infrastructure activity;

Attorney Dennis Duncan of Parker on mediation and dispute resolution; and

Rep. Brian Gosch of Rapid City on the retention pond concept.

The meeting starts at 10 a.m. CT at the state Capitol (room 413) with public testimony scheduled for 11 a.m. More public testimony will be taken at 1:15 p.m. if needed. The task force expects to make recommendations for possible action in the 2015 legislative session.

Other legislators on the task force are Sen. Jason Frerichs of Wilmot, Sen. Tom Jones of Viborg, Sen. Jim White of Huron, Rep. Dennis Feickert of Aberdeen, Rep. Spencer Hawley of Brookings and Rep. Leslie Heinemann of Flandreau. Two other former legislators on the panel are Mike Jaspers of Sioux Falls and Paul Symens of Amherst. Mike Traxinger, a lawyer for Wheat Growers, and George Vandel, a former state Wildlife Division official, round out the task force. Two pieces of draft legislation are available regarding mediation disputes and river basin natural resource districts.

GFP Commission will discuss Vonk’s successor

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission meets Thursday (11 a.m. CT) by teleconference to talk about the commission’s involvement in the search for a new department secretary. Jeff Vonk has declared his intention to retire effective Jan. 8. State law allows the commission to offer names of candidates for the post, but the final word belongs to Gov. Dennis Daugaard. A Nov. 17 letter to the commissioners from Nathan Sanderson, a senior aide to the governor, notes that the governor isn’t bound to make his choice from any names offered by the commission but he requests their suggestions. Sanderson told the commission he will be leading the search on behalf of the governor. He asked for the commission’s suggestions by Nov. 28 and says the governor would like Vonk’s successor in place by late December so there can be a smooth transition. The commission’s current chairman is John Cooper of Pierre, who was Game, Fish and Parks secretary prior to Vonk. Cooper, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, was GFP secretary from 1995 through 2006. He was appointed to the commission by Gov. Mike Rounds and confirmed by the state Senate on a vote of 22-12 in March 2010. Vonk was appointed by Rounds as secretary in January 2007. Daugaard retained Vonk when his new administration began in 2011. Vonk is a forester by formal training and made his career in public service, mostly in work for the federal government. He was director for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources prior to his hiring for the South Dakota job. Sanderson received a promotion this month to director of policy and operations for the Daugaard administration. He takes part of the job previously held by Tony Venhuizen, who was promoted to chief of staff. Venhuizen succeeded Dusty Johnson, who left state government for a job in the private sector with a telecommunications business at Mitchell.

State Board of Education is boxed-in

Some state boards and commissions — and even committees of the Legislature, the governor with the Capital for a Day program, and the state Supreme Court at times — prefer to take their meetings out to the people on occasion. The controversy over Common Core standards in math and English for K-12 schools in the past four years has created an unusual situation for the state Board of Education. Here’s why.

State law requires the state board and the state Department of Education to revise standards on a scheduled basis. That’s currently every seven years for most subjects and every five years for career and technical education subjects. Backlash among legislators, who felt they and the general public weren’t adequately notified about South Dakota joining Common Core back in 2010, led to restrictions on the state board. Through a series of laws passed in recent years, the board now must hold a series of at least four meetings on each proposed revision of standards, and those four meetings must be in Aberdeen, Pierre, Sioux Falls and Rapid City. There are 28 sets of standards. The board and the department had fallen behind on revisions and is now on a schedule that means standards for at least one or more subjects at some level will be revised every year. Because these are public hearings, a quorum of at least five board members must be present in person at the meeting place. Up to three members can participate by teleconference, but the board as a whole can’t meet over the telephone or videoconferencing network.

The board normally  holds six regular meetings in the course of a year. In addition to overseeing K-12, the board also has responsibility for the four public technical institutes at Watertown, Mitchell, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The board typically holds its January meeting in Pierre because of the legislative session. You can see where this leads. You won’t be seeing the board in Spearfish, Sturgis, Huron, Brookings, Brandon, Yankton, Madison, Chamberlain, Vermillion or any mid-sized or smaller communities any time soon — that is, unless the board wants to hold more than six meetings. In fact, the board likely won’t even be able to get to both Mitchell and Watertown in the same year.

The board sets its 2015 meeting schedule on Monday. Here it is:

Jan. 15 — Pierre;

March 16 — Sioux Falls;

May 18 — Aberdeen;

July 27 — Rapid City;

Sept. 21 — Watertown; and

Nov. 16 — Sioux Falls.

The board has taken steps to make meetings more accessible to the public. All meeting documents are available on-line and at the meetings for the public. A telephone line is available for people to listen and to comment. The meetings aren’t held in small rooms any longer. The step that hasn’t been made yet is getting the meetings on-line; audio from some recent meetings is archived.

Go here for the schedule of standards revisions.