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Dispute over time at office highlights treasurer debate

Brenda Veldheer2 / 3
Christie Gunkel3 / 3

The number of services provided and hours worked each week became points of contention between the two Republican candidates seeking the nomination for Davison County treasurer in the June 5 primary.

Challenger Christie Gunkel alleged that the current attitude of the treasurer is that if the office is fully equipped and duties are being performed correctly by employees, the treasurer does not need to be present. She made the charge Tuesday in front of about 80 people during a debate with incumbent treasurer Brenda Veldheer at Mitchell Technical Institute as part of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee forum.

Veldheer said she's always treated the position as fulltime and acknowledged she has taken some vacation time, which she said was deserved.

The Republican primary will likely decide who will become Davison County treasurer, as no other candidates have filed to run in the Nov. 6 general election.

In her opening remarks, Gunkel said she would work 40 hours or more each week, if elected.

"You won't have to have an appointment, all services will be offered at all times," she said, adding she would even consider extending the hours the office is open to accommodate those who live in rural areas and lack the time to come into Mitchell during normal daytime working hours.

The two candidates also sparred over how passport applications should be handled. Veldheer was criticized by the Davison County Commission earlier this year for reducing the hours during which passport applications could be handled at the treasurer's office to limited times on three days each week. She told commissioners the move was made due to a lack of qualified staff and the amount of time each application took to process. Passport applications are also processed at the post office.

Following Veldheer's complaints about inheriting passport processing, the duty was recently moved to the Auditor's Office.

"I truly believe it should only be at the postal service," Veldheer said Tuesday. She worried adding passport processing to the duties of those working at the treasurer's office would interfere with people coming in with other "immediate needs," such as title transfers or tax payments.

Gunkel, who has worked for the Davison County Treasurer's Office in the past, said she would like to "give people another option" by keeping passport services at the Treasurer's Office.

The candidates were asked what they felt the relationship between the county commission and the treasurer should be.

"We do need to work together, we do need to have mutual respect for each other because we are all elected officials," Veldheer said.

Gunkel said the commission serves an important role as the "voice of the community," and the treasurer should respect that.

"Just because you're a county official doesn't mean you should be able to do whatever you feel like," she said.

The candidates were asked to name the most important function of the office.

"It's offering all the services that are supposed to be offered at all times and taking those extra steps," Gunkel said. "It's about how you treat others. You treat others how you would like to be treated."

Veldheer said she always strives to help customers as efficiently as she can. In her closing remarks, Veldheer said it was a privilege to serve as Davison County treasurer during the last eight years. "I would really love the opportunity to continue to serve the Davison County people," she said.

If elected, Gunkel pledged to work hard for all the county's taxpayers. "I want to do it the right way," she said.

At the conclusion of the debate, each candidate immediately left the debate table, not acknowledging each other.