Two first-time mayoral candidates are hoping to unseat the incumbent Bob Everson on Tuesday, June 8 in the city election, as voters will decide who becomes Mitchell's top-elected official.
Jason Bates and Giovanni Lanier are challenging Everson's bid to secure another term as mayor. If successful, they would become the 36th mayor in the city's history, but Everson has plans for another three years in office, as well.
The Mitchell Republic interviewed each of them about their goals to move the city forward, and they are below in alphabetical order:
Jason Bates is concerned with the direction the city is headed.
The owner of downtown bar Big Dummy's on Main Street said it's what led him to enter the mayoral race. He pointed to a “dying” downtown area and lack of new businesses locating to Mitchell in the past decade as the biggest examples of why he wants to “bring Mitchell back to life,” as his campaign signs pledge.
“We have one of the saddest Main Streets in the Midwest. I just think there has been some reckless spending, serious neglect on Main Street and a few bad decisions made by our leaders,” Bates said. “The mayor has done a great job, but I think I can bring the town together, build it up and do better.”
Although Bates enters the mayoral race with no prior city government experience, the former pro wrestler and Dakota Wesleyan University graduate isn’t letting that stand in his way
As a longtime Main Street business owner, Bates’ main goals center around revitalizing downtown into the bustling business district it once was several decades ago. His ideas for revitalizing downtown include getting a hotel built on the empty Third Avenue and Main Street lot and turning some of the vacant buildings into loft apartments.
However, it’s not the only goal atop his list, if elected. He said building a new arena, bringing more businesses to Mitchell and strengthening the city’s relationship with the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce are among his key goals to move Mitchell forward.
“Main Street is not my only concern, but it’s the heart of the town. You have to start with the heart and keep building out from there,” Bates said. “I want to get all these side organizations like the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce working together.”
For Bates, the issues with Lake Mitchell are not a major focus of his but if elected, he would like to re-examine how the city is approaching the lake's restoration.
He's also an advocate for building a new arena to host sports events as another way to help Mitchell grow. While Bates sees the Corn Palace as an event center and tourist attraction, he believes the city has put too much emphasis on it lately and has forgotten about downtown small businesses in the meantime.
“We need a new arena because we are the only town our size that doesn’t have an arena. If an arena popped up, I think hotels, restaurants and bars would pop up, which would bring more revenue and sales tax,” Bates said, noting he believes the arena wouldn’t take away from the Corn Palace, Mitchell’s largest event venue.
Bates champions himself as a “great promoter,” which he said is an attribute that would serve the city well in its pursuit to see big growth. He said that would help the community out of its worker shortage.
“I think a great way to build a town is through promotion. And who is a better promoter than a bar owner? As a mayor, it would just be promoting on a bigger scale,” he said. “This town needs the type of promotion I can give.”
In the bar business, Bates said he’s developed “a lot of great skills” that would help him manage the city as mayor. He said his charity fundraisers he frequently hosts at his bar help connect with the community.
“I know the town well. You learn a lot running a business. I’m willing to go into this with an open mind and work with city workers to come to the right conclusions,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m not afraid to rock the boat. I’m not going to be bullied.”
While Bob Everson faced big challenges in his first term as mayor, he’s proud of what he was able to accomplish for the city.
From helping guide Mitchell through the pandemic to dealing with a historic flood in 2019 that wreaked havoc on the city, Everson said the challenges he faced during his first term have helped him grow as a leader. The incumbent said he hopes to continue using his leadership skills to take on more critical challenges the city is facing.
“There were some tough, unforeseen challenges we saw the past three years, but we didn’t let them stop us from making great progress on things in the city we’ve been dealing with for many years, like the lake issue and knocking down several corroding downtown buildings like the Third and Main property,” Everson said. “We have been working with groups on redeveloping downtown properties to bring growth, which is going well. You will see some of those developments start to unfold downtown this summer.”
Among the goals Everson hopes to achieve in a second term are advancing the restoration of Lake Mitchell, revitalizing downtown, improving critical infrastructure, addressing the housing and worker shortage and facilitating growth.
Everson, a professional mechanical engineer and South Dakota State University graduate, has extensive experience serving in city government. He previously served on the Mitchell Board of Education for six years and spent over two decades on the city Planning and Zoning Commission and Parks and Recreation Board prior to being elected with 46 percent of the vote in a four-person race in 2018.
On the lake restoration efforts, the city’s $4.1 million land purchase along Firesteel Creek -- where a wetland and dam aimed at reducing the phosphorus and sediment flowing into the lake will be built -- was a move that Everson said will address a major source of the algae woes that has been plaguing Lake Mitchell for decades.
Since the city unveiled its plans to build the wetland along the creek, Everson said he’s been gaining “tremendous support” from farmers who utilize the Firesteel watershed for grazing and other farming practices.
“The wetland and dam project is in the middle of the design phase, and it’s going to start getting built around late summer or early fall. We have been gaining big partners like Ducks Unlimited and James River Water Development District, which are helping funding efforts to ease taxpayer burdens,” Everson said, characterizing the wetland project as a “major breakthrough” for the city-owned lake. “I’ve had great discussions with farmers on the Firesteel watershed, who have voluntarily reduced some grazing and crop production on the watershed to help our efforts getting the lake back to a healthier state.”
Everson said the city’s planning to begin shoreline stabilization work along the lake in the near future. He’s also exploring placing “floating vegetation islands” in the lake to enhance the water quality.
“In addition to the wetland project, we have the dredging design in motion, which will also be finished in the near future,” Everson said, noting the lake dredging design that an engineering firm is in the process of working on will provide the city with an actual cost of dredging. “Tackling the lake is a challenging, demanding task, but it is an incredible asset to the community that still draws people from all around the area.”
Everson highlighted the city’s ability to take on major projects while staying within the annual budget that’s hovered around $50-60 million under his first mayoral term.
“Our goal is to never overspend and go back to the general fund to get more money. Fortunately, in the last three years, we have been able to put some contingency money back into our reserves and general fund to have a balanced budget,” Everson said. “I’m proud there has not been excess spending in Mitchell in the past three years I’ve been mayor, as we’ve not once gone over our budget.”
Facilitating more growth is a priority Everson shares among city leaders. He said strengthening the relationship with the MADC and Chamber -- which are two nonprofit organizations tasked with recruiting businesses and new residents -- is key to bringing more industry and businesses to Mitchell.
“There are some great opportunities for growth, but we need to maintain our infrastructure to attract more development and businesses. To experience the type of growth we all want to see, we need to utilize all of our resources like the MADC, Main Street and Beyond,” Everson said.
On the worker shortage Mitchell has been facing for several years, Everson is proposing to install a large kiosk in front of the Corn Palace that lists all job openings in the city. He said that kind of promotion could lead to more growth economically and in population.
“We have the Corn Palace that sees roughly 300,000 people in the summer, and putting a kiosk with all the jobs available would promote the opportunities we have to offer to a large number of people,” Everson said. “We have roughly two to three jobs for every unemployed person in the city of Mitchell. If one wants a job, they are there.”
To address the worker shortage and spur growth, Everson said bringing more affordable housing options to Mitchell is a critical part of the solution and he said he hopes to ease restrictions and remove barriers that may be causing developers to shy away from building in Mitchell.
Despite the climbing costs of building materials, there are several housing developments inching closer to taking off. Among them are the Lakeridge development and potentially another subdivision near the Starlite Drive-In Theatre near Lake Mitchell.
“I’m encouraged with the Lakeridge housing development that’s close to starting north of town near the lake, which will bring about 80 lots for homes to be built on,” Everson said. “We also have some more future developments near the lake that we’re anticipating will bring more housing options.”
Giovanni “Gio” Lanier likes the direction the city’s been heading lately, but he believes there is more potential for Mitchell to continue moving forward.
Lanier believes he has what it takes to tap into the potential he sees for Mitchell’s future, which motivated him to get into the race.
“I love this city, and it’s been a dream of mine to help it keep going in the right direction as the mayor. I think we have been moving in the right direction, and I want to keep that progress going,” Lanier said. “As long as we keep walking forward, not backwards, we will see more great things ahead.”
Lanier said he's about improving relationships, bringing more youth-centered activities to the community, reviving downtown into the bustling atmosphere he remembers it as over a decade ago are among Lanier’s key goals he hopes to tackle.
“My goals all come back to a main focus: keep Mitchell growing. We need to make the city more appealing to as many groups of people as possible, including younger generations, older generations and families,” Lanier said.
Advancing the city’s recent progress on restoring Lake Mitchell is critical for the future of the community, Lanier said, calling the body of water a “unique attribute” to the community. He said he intends to reach out to colleges and universities that have a natural science program to develop a lake dredging plan, saying it would be a “great way to cut costs” and ease taxpayer burdens.
He highlighted the recreation opportunities around the lake that bring people from across the region, which he noted helps boost sales tax revenue for the city.
“I believe the lake is a great thing for our city. We have to be patient, and see it through since we’ve come this far,” Lanier said.
As a longtime bartender and event promoter, Lanier’s professional background is steeped in the entertainment industry. He said bartending has allowed him to connect with the younger population and learn more about the things they would like to see in Mitchell to consider making it home post-college.
Chief among the suggestions he said he often hears from younger adults are more live music shows and sporting events. With the event venue that the Corn Palace offers to the Mitchell area, Lanier said he would try to bring in more big-name music artists and performers.
Another age group that Lanier said needs to have more activity and entertainment options in the community is the youth. By bringing more youth-centered activities primarily for kids in the 5 to 15 age group, Lanier said it would make Mitchell a more family friendly city.
"We have a great Rec Center that is an awesome place for our youth to have activities, but we could explore finding a way to make a room that is like the Sky Zone (trampoline park) setup,” he said.
While Lanier knows reviving Main Street has been a goal for many city leaders in recent years, he said his approach would center around getting more community investments funneling into the revitalization of downtown.
“Let’s revive Main Street. Let’s get into the pockets of the people in our community who have extra money available to help the downtown area,” Lanier said. “It can be done. But you have to get out and ask for more community members to get involved and invest in downtown.
With the lofty goals Lanier has set out to move Mitchell forward, he said they must be achieved all parts of the community working together.
“When our relationship is strong, the community will grow. We have to have that relationship as strong as a marriage, and I know I can make that happen,” Lanier said. “This city is a blessing, and I am just proud to be a part of the progress we’re making.”