Mitchell City Council approves leadership restructuring of Golf and Cemetery Dept.

With the council’s approval of the changes within the Golf and Cemetery Department, it will decrease the number of managers in the department and add a full-time golf specialist with knowledge and experience of working on a golf course.

Changes are coming to the city of Mitchell's Lakeview Golf Course personnel and management operations following the City Council's approval to merge the Golf and Cemetery Department with the Parks and Recreation Department. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell officially became the leader of the city’s Golf and Cemetery Department on Monday following the Mitchell City Council’s 6-1 approval.

As part of the proposed personnel restructuring of the Golf and Cemetery Department, Powell will take on a dual leadership role, serving as director of both the Parks and Recreation and Golf and Cemetery Departments. While the council approved the restructuring of the Golf and Cemetery Department, council member Dan Sabers strongly opposed the changes, which he said will “be a major mistake” that will “set Lakeview Golf Course back.”

“I think we have one of the nicest golf courses in the state, and having a department head who is there and hands on is a big part of that. In the late 1980s, they pulled away from the Park Board and had a department head, and it has been very successful,” Sabers said. “A working department head I think is a very good thing, and it has worked very good here. The golf course is booming, and a working department head is how you represent the golfers and members who use it. Everyone I talked to wants to keep the department head.”

With the council’s approval of the changes within the Golf and Cemetery Department, it will decrease the number of managers in the department and add a full-time golf specialist with knowledge and experience of working on a golf course.

During the first reading of the ordinance at the Aug. 2 meeting, Sabers, who previously managed the Lakeview Golf Course clubhouse nearly a decade ago, made the lone vote to deny the proposed changes. Although Sabers didn’t discuss his reasoning behind denying the first reading of the ordinance at the Aug. 2 council meeting, he explained his opposition to the ordinance on Monday, noting he’s yet to hear a golfer who supports the changes.


The restructuring of the Golf and Cemetery Department was proposed by Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson, who highlighted the changes will help save the city money. Everson said the restructuring will also allow the city to hire another full-time employee solely focusing on the city-owned golf course.

“I don’t feel it's a good use of city money. I can’t justify a department head overseeing three people. What we’re doing is modifying that in an effort for savings,” Everson said, noting it will save the city between $42,000 and $63,000. “The reason I did this as well is that Parks and Recreation do a lot of the same work as the golf course.”

The proposed changes to the Golf and Cemetery Department come a year after former Golf and Cemetery Director Kevin Thurman retired from the role, capping off a 38-year career. Since Thurman retired in the summer of 2020, Powell has served as the interim Golf and Cemetery Director.

City Attorney Justin Johnson said the Golf and Cemetery Board will still oversee the Lakeview Golf Course and cemetery, not the Parks and Recreation Board although Powell will be the director of the golf course and cemetery.

With the dual role, Everson emphasized Powell's salary will not increase. According to the city’s 2020 payroll report, Powell earns a yearly salary of $95,543 as the Parks and Recreation Director.

Jeff McEntee, a member of the Golf and Cemetery Board, said the board recently voted to deny the changes in the leadership structure of the Department.

For McEntee, the lack of a department head who is on site and actively working on the golf course and cemetery could have a negative impact on the facility. As a former official with the state’s Game, Fish and Parks, McEntee shared his negative experience in operating without a department head who has specialized knowledge in the industry he’s overseeing.

“As a law enforcement officer, I was managed by a biologist. A lot of times when we made requests, it had to go to a biologist who had no experience. That’s since changed in that agency,” McEntee said. “The golf course superintendent is not Carl Spackler from Caddyshack. It takes a very knowledgeable professional who has a lot of experience in golf course management. It’s a highly specialized field.”


McEntee said the lack of a department head on site has also put “a lot of stress” on golf superintendent Jason Gunnare to maintain the course and cemetery without a department assisting him like Thurman previously did.

McEntee claimed it would cost $3,000 per year to have a director like the previous set up.

City Administrator Stephnaie Ellwein said the golf course has been operating in the red also known as a deficit since 2015. However, Ellwein said the golf course has improved significantly this year under the current structure with Powell serving as the head of the department as proposed.

Council member Marty Barington requested to use the savings from the changes to add another employee in the future to help ease the workload on Gunnare. Councilman Jeff Smith suggested the golf board make the recommendation of whether the city should hire another full-time staff member at the golf course.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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