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Mitchell councilmen celebrate a decade’s worth of public service

At least 24 nights per year since 2006, count on three longtime Mitchell residents to be found in the same old spot. For 10 years, Councilmen Dan Allen, Marty Barington and Jeff Smith have spent the first and third Monday of each month deliberati...

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From left to right, Councilmen Jeff Smith, Marty Barington and Dan Allen stand in front of the newly renovated Corn Palace on Tuesday. (Evan Hendershot/Republic)

At least 24 nights per year since 2006, count on three longtime Mitchell residents to be found in the same old spot.

For 10 years, Councilmen Dan Allen, Marty Barington and Jeff Smith have spent the first and third Monday of each month deliberating in Council Chambers of City Hall, poring over plans to renovate the Corn Palace or to build an indoor aquatic facility, all while keeping the best interests of their city in mind.

The three councilmen took the oath of office in 2006, Barington and Smith through the election process and Allen through a nomination by former Mayor Lou Sebert. This week, the three councilmen completed their 10th year on the council.

For Allen, 56, serving on the council is an opportunity to give back to the city where he was born and raised. And, Allen joked, it gives him a way to pass the time during retirement.

“Obviously I’ve got a lot of time on my hands,” Allen said. “And I want to give something back to the city of Mitchell.”

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Since joining the council in 2006, with a brief break in 2014, Allen has been an active and vocal member of the council. Recently, Allen spoke out for his constituents who were concerned about a proposed streetside parking ban on recreational vehicles and boats. In past years, he joined fellow Councilman Barington to spearhead the creation of the large-scale soccer complex in northern Mitchell.

“I’m tickled with the Pepsi Cola Soccer Complex,” Allen said.

Allen and Barington helped guide the project to fruition, scoping out site locations and helping to raise funds, and Barington also pointed to the complex as one of the highlights of his tenure in office.

“To gobble up that many acres of land at a reasonable price, we kind of had to make it a little further out of town,” said Barington, a 44-year-old lifelong Mitchell resident. “But it’s a beautiful complex out there and it turned out just great from what we have for our community.”

Smith, 54, also touted the soccer complex as one of his proudest accomplishments while serving on the council, but he said another recreation project has been one of the high points of his decade on the eight-person board.

In 2013, the Mitchell Activities Center added a second sheet of ice as part of a $2.8 million expansion to the facility. Smith, who serves on Mitchell’s Sports and Events Authority, said it was fulfilling to see the project move forward.

“It’s really turned out to be a nice project for both the youth of Mitchell and the adults, and also bringing in people to town in the offseason when we really do need it,” Smith said.

While Smith, Barington and Allen have all been a part of positive progress within city limits, serving 10 years on the council does come with a few challenges.

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One aspect of public service the three longtime councilmen could agree on is the fact that no decision will ever be unanimously praised by every citizen of Mitchell.

“After 10 years, you’re not going to make them all happy,” Allen admitted. “You do the best you can.”

Barington agreed, saying it takes thick skin to be able to stand behind each one of his votes following the first and third Monday of every month.

“We all know it’s sort of a thankless job, but I don’t do it for that,” Barington said. “I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I love the city and community.”

Smith said it’s a strange to wake up in the morning on a Tuesday and everyone knows how he voted on a new law or city project, leaving some residents happy with him and others upset.

One of those projects that’s led to some division within the city of Mitchell is the recent $4.7 million renovation of the Corn Palace, an undertaking which earned the full support of Barington. While Barington acknowledges the project is divisive, he looks forward to continuing to make upgrades to the city’s major tourist attraction over his next two years in office as a councilman.

And Barington still stands by the initial Corn Palace investment passed by the council.

With each of the three council members entering their 11th year on the council, none had any major regrets about their first three terms. And each was proud of moving Mitchell forward.

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“Yes, 10 years is a long time, but it seems as if it’s gone by rather quickly,” Smith said. “And I feel we’ve probably accomplished quite a bit over that time period, but I know there’s a lot more we can try to get accomplished.”

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