Claggett touts experience, leadership skills in mayoral race

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles on the six candidates for mayor of Mitchell. The order of publication was determined by a drawing.

John Claggett
Mayoral candidate John Claggett poses on Mitchell's Main Street.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles on the six candidates for mayor of Mitchell. The order of publication was determined by a drawing.

John Claggett calls himself an optimist.

That's why Claggett is optimistic he will be elected mayor on June 5 and that he would do a good job serving the people of Mitchell while still serving on the Davison County Commission. Claggett is the chairman of the commission, although he said that may change if he is elected mayor.

He said he has the experience, ability and leadership skills to serve as mayor of Mitchell and help solve problems and challenges facing the city, its businesses and its residents.

"I see myself as Mitchell's first full-time mayor with a part-time salary," Claggett said.


Claggett said he would devote at least 40 hours a week to his duties as mayor and would also work about 20 hours as a county commissioner. He said he has worked a 65- to 70-hour work week for years and has no plans to reduce that load.

Claggett said he gets up at 4 a.m. and does "my computer work" before heading out and starting his day.

If elected mayor, Claggett said he would focus on improved planning, and work to promote business development and job growth while also being an advocate for increased housing in Mitchell.

He feels the city is on the right track now with the Corn Palace.

"The first piece is to get out of City Hall, the second piece is to get into there with tourism-oriented things, which I have been saying for years, and then beyond that, we've got some internals in the Corn Palace, and that's all going to come together as budgets work out."

He favors the proposed streetscape effort by the Corn Palace and said taking a gradual approach would allow the Corn Palace to remain open. Claggett said he doesn't want to see it closed.

He would like to see a skywalk built across the street and circle the block. That would be "something fun" for people and also provide a year-round attraction.

Reviving downtown has two key elements, in his view. The second, third and fourth floors of the historic buildings are one factor, he said.


"You need to have people in those buildings, or those buildings die," Claggett said.

The second piece is more parking lots.

"You need off-street parking," he said. "And that's the biggest drawback I have with downtown."

Claggett said he favors continued use of tax increment financing districts and feels they have played a positive part in the city in recent years.

He is not sure how the city should proceed on a proposed shared wellness center with Dakota Wesleyan University and Avera Queen of Peace Hospital.

"The question is, are we going to have the resources to commit?" Claggett said.

Claggett said he has definite views on how the mayor should work with city employees.

"I'm a little different. I am very hands-on but I am very, very much a proponent for allowing the department heads to have autonomy," he said. "I'm very strong in that because that's how you make people feel empowered to do what they need to do."


That's something he learned from his mother, Alice Claggett, who served three terms as mayor.

"The thing she loved the most, when the tourists showed up at the Corn Palace, was to jump on the bus and talk with them," he said. "She got along really good with the employees. And I still run onto employees today that have great affinity for her."

He said while he would remain on the Davison County Commission if elected mayor, he will allow his fellow commissioners to determine if he should remain chairman. Claggett said he sees advantages to the dual role and doesn't believe there would be conflicts or problems.

Claggett said 40 percent of the people who work in Mitchell live outside the city limits and the county and city must cooperate for the people who live and work in the area. Boundaries don't mean much to them, he noted.

Claggett said he still has hopes for a shared city-county administrative building. The county owns land at the former Methodist Hospital site, and he said the two entities should build a new structure together.

"If you're sitting together, you're talking together," he said.

His first taste of politics came in 1969, when Mitchell High School students named him mayor for a day.

In 2007, the self-described conservative Republican ran for the District 5 seat on the Davison County Commission and was elected.


He was re-elected to a second four-year term without opposition in 2011. Claggett served as commission chairman in 2011 and was re-elected to the post when Commissioner Dave Weitala died in January.

Claggett is an ex-officio member of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce board as well as the Mitchell Area Industrial Development board. He has served as the county representative to the City/County Joint Visioning Committee from 2010 to the present and on numerous other area boards.

Claggett was the president of the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners from 2010 to 2011 and has served on its board from 2008 to the present, as well as various regional boards and committees.

He described himself as "selfactuated and self-directed" and said he feels he works well with others.

"I have a very, very strong sense of justice and equitability," he said. "Conviviality."

Claggett said he also feels it's important to look to the future and build things right the first time.

"Whatever you do, do it for the long haul," Claggett said. "So in doing so, you don't take shortcuts."

Claggett, 60, is divorced with a son, Aaron, and daughter, Emily.


He was born in St. Paul, Minn., and moved to Mitchell with his family in 1967. After graduating from Mitchell High School in 1969, he attended DWU and graduated in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

After college, he moved to California and worked in clothing retail.

Claggett said he and his then-wife wanted to return to South Dakota, so he came home and worked with his dad installing security systems for several years, then worked in financial aid and development at DWU.

Claggett then opened his own construction company and operated that for about nine years. He moved to Custer and served as facility manager at Custer State Park, where he oversaw 220 buildings and numerous employees for two years and then managed the First United Methodist Church Camp on Lake Poinsett for eight years.

Claggett returned to Mitchell and opened Home Inspection Associates, where he works for prospective home buyers. If elected mayor, Claggett said he will set that business aside.

All those experiences will make him a more effective mayor, he said.

"You've got to have a diverse background," Claggett said.

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