State rail board chairman demoted in secret ballotPIERRE — A new chairman is heading the South Dakota Railroad Board after ousting the previous one. It’s unknown what effects might be ahead for grain producers and other shippers along rail routes in the state’s underserved region of farm and ranch counties west of Mitchell and Yankton.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — A new chairman is heading the South Dakota Railroad Board after ousting the previous one. It’s unknown what effects might be ahead for grain producers and other shippers along rail routes in the state’s underserved region of farm and ranch counties west of Mitchell and Yankton.
The board has wrestled for several years to restore service on the Mitchell-Chamberlain line and now is studying costs for further improvements on that route as far west as Presho and Murdo.
Meanwhile, the board has been stalled over the future of the Napa-Platte line for much of the past decade.
Several of the state board members have or recently had business interests at stake in projects involving the Mitchell-Chamberlain and Napa-Platte lines.
Both railroad corridors are owned by state government. The public ownership results from agreements to purchase the bankrupt Milwaukee Road’s lines during then-Gov. Bill Janklow’s first term in office some 30 years ago.
Service is gradually expanding west on the Mitchell route through a federally subsidized renovation project, but the Napa-Platte line doesn’t have functional service.
Among the board’s major powers are decisions over operators of state-owned tracks and low-interest loans to projects.
Earlier this month, state Rail Board members voted 4-3 by secret paper ballot in favor of changing their leadership.
The majority favored installing Chet Groseclose Jr., of Sioux Falls, as chairman, rather than retain Todd Yeaton, of Highmore.
Groseclose, a lawyer whose previous practice in Aberdeen had an office in an old railroad depot, said Monday he doesn’t expect to be reappointed to the state board next year by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
Groseclose said his “sole motive” in running for chairman was that he wanted to serve as chairman during his remaining time on the board.
His current term is scheduled to expire in June 2013. He was appointed Nov. 10, 1987, by then-Gov. George S. Mickelson.
Groseclose is the only current member who was appointed prior to 2003. He said he called Yeaton to explain his plans prior to the July 18 meeting.
“There were, as far as I am concerned, no issues with Todd or his performance as chairman,” Groseclose said. “I hope I was the gentleman he was. At the time I called I thought I had five or maybe six votes, but Todd rallied.”
Yeaton, manager for South Dakota Wheat Growers at the Highmore facilities, said he was “rather surprised” by the board’s 4-3 vote in favor of Groseclose.
“I did the best of my ability to be unbiased and fair,” Yeaton said.
Dan Baker, of Rapid City, nominated Groseclose, and Jack Parliament, of Sioux Falls, seconded. Then Gary Doering, of Cavour, nominated Yeaton, and Ron Mitzel, of Rapid City, seconded.
The seventh board member was Carl Anderson, of Aberdeen. The votes were cast by written secret ballots.
“I don’t look for any philosophical changes or for any significant procedural changes,” Groseclose said.
Yeaton, who’s been on the board since July 2003, said turning over the gavel will allow him to take a different role.
“There will be more definitive decisions made, as now I am free to voice my opinion and introduce motions, et cetera,” he said.
Groseclose was a long-time activist in Republican politics, even attending a national convention, but has supported Democratic candidates for office at times.
For example, state records show Groseclose gave $3,000 in 2010 to Scott Heidepriem, the Democratic candidate for governor.
Daugaard, a Republican, defeated Heidepriem in the general election that November. Groseclose’s name doesn’t appear among Daugaard’s contributors in 2010 or since then.
On Monday, Groseclose recalled the story of board member Bill Hustead, from Wall, who announced just before a chairman’s election one year that he wanted the chairmanship to be “on his obituary.”
Hustead subsequently won the election against Groseclose.
“I’m not sure he finished his term, and he died (in 1999) relatively soon after leaving the board,” Groseclose said. “My motive, and I hope my timing, is not the same as Bill’s.”