County Commissioner Fischer unleashes criticismAnger about building, role of auditor, other issues prompts argument.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Frustrated by a project he never favored, Davison County Commissioner Jerry Fischer briefly left the Commissioners’ Room during Tuesday’s courthouse meeting and returned with a prepared statement.
“The purchase of the Central Electric building by the county has really upset and disturbed me,” began Fischer in a two-page, handwritten letter.
The discussion was precipitated by a review of the latest interior design plans for the 1420 N. Main St. building, which the county has committed to purchasing for $575,000. No closing date has been set. Central Electric will move to a new headquarters building on Betts Road later this summer.
The building will house at least the county’s community health nursing offices and a meeting room for the commissioners.
The latest Puetz Corp. interior plan gives about two-thirds of floor space to the nurses and one-third to the commissioners. Hampering an efficient layout is the lack of sewer service to the north end of the building. Extensive renovations may also require the removal of asbestos-containing materials.
In brief, Fischer’s letter states that the county should have pursued construction of its own building on land it already owns rather than buying an existing structure. The letter also says the county failed to take advantage of government bonding authority that would have given beneficial financing.
In 2010, $2.5 million in federal government-backed Build America Bonds were available to the commissioners, but they waited too long and ended up releasing the financing just ahead of the deadline to use it.
“So here we are now, buying a 50-plus-year-old building with 3.941 acres and taking it off the tax rolls,” wrote Fischer, pointing out that the building now generates “roughly between $12,000 to $15,000,” in taxes.
“We don’t have open government here,” said Fischer to Commission Chairman John Claggett. “We have what you want, what she [Auditor Susan Kiepke] wants and what other people want.”
Kiepke objected. “Jerry, I have no authority to make any decisions.”
“You’re the sixth commissioner,” shot back Fischer. “Everybody out there tells us that. We hardly have anything to say here that you don’t interject in.”
Fischer also complained that Kiepke did not make the results of a January asbestos report immediately available to the commissioners.
Kiepke then left the room and turned the job of taking meeting minutes over to a deputy. She said, in a later telephone interview, that she did advise against taking on long-term debt to build a new structure.
“It was my opinion only. I have no authority to bond or not to bond. I just stated that because the costs have risen so much I just didn’t think it was a good idea to have that much debt.”
Fischer also charged his fellow commissioners with being biased against him. “You guys have been against me forever, you play politics on everything.”
Claggett responded to the charges.
“There’s no way,” Claggett said. “I won’t go with that.”
Claggett said he initially favored bonding for a new building, but it fell through. The commissioners ran out of time to pursue financing and, facing a government deadline, had to release its bonding authority.
“We’ve got to deal with the existing situation,” Claggett said.
When calm was restored, it was decided that Fischer will meet again with Puetz officials on Thursday for a re-evaluation of the plans.
In other business, the commissioners reviewed a May 17 accident report.
A county-owned semi driven by Rodney Mathers was driving west around 1 p.m. on 250th Street between 394th and 395th avenues when, according to Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg, “it got too close to the shoulder and he couldn’t pull it back.”
Mathers, who was wearing a seat belt, was not injured and no other vehicle was involved. The Highway Patrol issued no tickets, Weinberg said, and Mathers passed blood alcohol tests after the accident. A review of his cell phone log showed that Mathers was not on the phone when the accident occurred.
The 1995 White GMC truck has been taken out of service. No estimate has been given on damages to the semi or the trailer.
In other business, the commissioners:
• Noted the next commission meeting will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 7, because the Commissioners’ Room will be used for voting during the Tuesday primary election.
• Approved, at the request of 4-H Youth Adviser Alice Nickelson, the hire of South Dakota State University student Rebecca Knight as part-time 4-H help under a work-study cost sharing agreement with SDSU.
• Noted that County Highway 41 (265th Street) between 398th and 399th avenues will close July 9 for the installation of a box culvert. The road will be ready in time for the harvest season, Weinberg said.