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Supporters turn out to back Davison County vets officer

Steve McClure, Davison County veterans service officer, left, talks with Kevin Bowen, South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs field officer, while waiting for the Davison County Commissioners to finish an executive session Tuesday at the courthouse in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Support for Steve McClure was strong Tuesday.

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Eight people spoke on behalf of McClure, Davison County’s veterans service officer, during his bid for reappointment to the position at the regular county commission meeting at the courthouse in Mitchell. Whether they were veterans or family members of veterans, it was clear they wanted McClure to keep his job.

“I really appreciate everyone being here,” McClure said shortly after the commissioners unanimously voted to reappoint him to a new four-year term that lasts through 2017. “It means a lot to me.”

At last week’s commission meeting, a man publicly lodged complaints about McClure with the commissioners and openly sought to be appointed to McClure’s job.

Per South Dakota law, a veterans service officer — who is responsible for assisting veterans with application and eligibility forms for benefits, among other duties — has to be reappointed every four years by the county commissioners. McClure’s current term ends Jan. 6. He is paid $16.64 an hour, which totals $34,611.20 annually.

McClure, of Mitchell, took over the department in 2005 and has been working with veterans benefits since 1972. The commissioners were scheduled to reappoint McClure to a new four-year term at their Dec. 10 meeting before a complaint was brought to the meeting.

Mitchell resident Craig Bennett raised questions about how the veterans office is being run. The commissioners tabled appointing a new VSO at that time to gain input from other veterans about McClure’s work.

Commissioner Denny Kiner said he’s received about 30 calls within the last week from veterans and family members of veterans showing support for McClure. He said of the calls, only one was a concern about McClure’s job performance.

Bennett, who works as a veterans service representative for the federal Veterans Affairs regional office in Sioux Falls, did not attend the meeting Tuesday. After the meeting, in a phone interview with The Daily Republic, Bennett said he couldn’t attend because he had work obligations.

At last week’s meeting, Bennett claimed some veterans have “slipped through the cracks” in Davison County and had to travel to Sioux Falls for benefits and services. He also claimed there’s a statewide problem that not enough veterans are educated about their benefits. McClure claimed Bennett has access to certain records that McClure does not.

“The bottom line I want everyone to know is that no matter who is there, our responsibility is to make sure the veterans, their families, their widows and widowers are receiving the maximum amount of benefits they’re eligible for, they’re timely and they’re being done expeditiously,” Bennett said by phone. “It’s a great position and I wish whoever is going to be there the best. We’re here to help the veteran, no matter what chair you sit in.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, McClure’s direct supervisor — Kevin Bowen, a South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs Field Officer — praised the work McClure has done as a veterans service officer.

“I haven’t seen any issues in Steve’s office that haven’t come up in any other county,” Bowen said. “Are there people who are probably disgruntled with him? Probably. Name one person that has a job in the courthouse that doesn’t have someone who’s disgruntled with them, whether it’s due to a claim being unsuccessful or a personality clash. Not everybody gets along. Some of the problems that we’ve seen come out of Davison County are symmetrical across the state.”

Jerry Fischer is a U.S. Army veteran and former Davison County commissioner. During the citizens’ input portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Fischer explained he’s been a lifelong resident of Davison County and showed his support for McClure.

“He’s helped a lot of people,” Fischer said. “He came here with a lot of credentials, knowledge and experience. He has a lot of support.”

Kobes speaks again

Wanda Kobes, of rural Mitchell, told the commissioners during citizens’ input she has proof her neighbor is illegally operating a business from a home.

Kobes has been at other commission meetings this year issuing complaints about Paul Jerke, whom she alleges is operating a towing service and mechanic shop without a conditional-use permit out of his father’s garage off state Highway 37 south of Mitchell. Jerke has been issued a cease and desist order to stop operations in the garage, but Kobes claims he still is working in the shop and doing it at late hours of the day.

Jerke applied for a conditional-use permit to operate a towing business in April 2012. In Davison County, a conditional-use permit is necessary in the ag-residential district.

When he applied for the permit, the commission received letters against granting it, saying past history showed that type of business collects inoperable vehicles and safety concerns. The permit was not granted.

Although Kobes has issued complaints and said the business is still being run, the commissioners told her previously to get proof.

“I have pictures of a wrecker right in front of the shop, I have pictures of cars coming in on trailers and he brings them in late at night,” Kobes said. “I’ve had verbal with his help. They’ve told me they were going to come over and knock me out. Well, come over and bring it. Come on. You’re not big enough.”

Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke asked Kobes if she brought the photos to the meeting, because “without pictures, there’s no proof.” Kobes did not bring the pictures to the meeting, but said she would be happy to bring them and show them to Bathke.

“What’s your suggestion? Print those pictures out and bring them in?” Kobes asked Bathke.

Bathke said, “We have to have proof that he’s actually operating a business out of that address. Him parking a truck there is not proof of him operating a business. He may just be there visiting his parents and happened to be driving that vehicle. We can’t stop him from driving that.”

Commissioner Gerald Weiss asked Kobes if she’s tried to talk with Jerke. She explained she’s had talks with his parents, who own the property and share a driveway with Jerke.

“When I moved there, I didn’t know I was buying a house next to a salvage yard and next to a business,” Kobes said.

Other business

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners:

  • Noted that Commissioner Randy Reider was absent due to a trip to Pierre.
  • Recognized Roger Triebwasser and presented him with a plaque for decorating the Davison County Courthouse for several years.
  • Approved the signing of a letter, presented by Civil Deputy Kathye Fouberg, that showed seven mobile homes that were either destroyed, unlivable, moved off property, or no longer there, and put them on an uncollectable list rather than issuing a distress warrant and continuing to list them on the tax rolls.
  • Held an executive session on union negotiations with employees of the county jail.
  • Approved a motion to assign Minnwest Bank, of Minnesota, to the tax increment financing district for the Edgerton Place apartments project.