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Mitchell mayor questions public comments made by lake committee members

Mayor Jerry Toomey publicly questioned the actions of two volunteer Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee members at Tuesday's regular meeting. After two lake committee members made comments to The Daily Republic regarding the group's progress, Toomey...

An aerial view of Lake Mitchell last August. (Republic file photo)
An aerial view of Lake Mitchell back in August of last year. (Republic file photo)

Mayor Jerry Toomey publicly questioned the actions of two volunteer Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee members at Tuesday's regular meeting.

After two lake committee members made comments to The Daily Republic regarding the group's progress, Toomey showed frustration with those members expressing their personal opinions.

At the monthly lake committee meeting at the Mitchell Recreation Center, Toomey said the comments from committee members Dave Allen and Chad Nemec caused him some "concern" and "consternation." Neither Allen or Nemec was at the meeting to defend their actions.

Toomey was concerned with Nemec's comment that the lake committee had moved on from Fyra Engineering, the group that proposed a $73,000 restoration plan to the city of Mitchell. At an earlier lake committee meeting, the group decided to indefinitely move on from Fyra Engineering after months of discussion.

Allen also spoke out against Fyra's plan in comments to The Daily Republic last week, saying "I got tired of Fyra."

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And after missing the last lake meeting, Toomey said he has not given up on the plan and was surprised to read the comments from Nemec and Allen.

Toomey then said the group needs to be on the same page, especially when making a public statement.

He then said anyone who is done listening to possible solutions to addressing Lake Mitchell's blue-green algae problem might want to find another way to spend the second Tuesday of each month.

"I also concluded if anyone is tired of listening to Fyra or anyone who has a possible idea to solve our lake problems, then you need to ask yourself if you really want to be on this committee," Toomey said while apparently reading from a prepared statement.

Following Toomey's statements, Committee President Joe Kippes asked for some clarification regarding the mayor's concerns. Kippes, who was contacted for comment for Saturday's article but did not respond, said the two committee members in the article were speaking on their own behalf.

"I don't understand why we have an upset mayor," Kippes said.

Toomey said he took issue, in particular, with Nemec's comments that the committee has moved on from Fyra. Toomey also said he thinks Nemec was speaking on behalf of the entire committee when he made the comment.

When Kippes countered by saying it was Nemec's opinion, Toomey said, "I don't think a committee member should be making those," before admitting Nemec and Allen are entitled to their opinion.

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Toomey was also surprised to read about a series of budget requests made by the board, including a $20,000 request for funding to be applied to the James River Water Development District to improve the Lake Mitchell watershed by reducing contaminants and particulates flowing down Firesteel Creek.

Toomey said the request-which was mentioned publicly as early as the June 30 Parks and Recreation meeting-will not be in the 2017 budget, and he wondered when the requests were going to be presented to him.

But the items were discussed during at least two public meetings, the June 30 Parks and Recreation meeting and July's lake committee meeting.

The committee was also forced to work without the guidance of a Parks and Recreation director for approximately six months, and Kippes said the director would typically be the person to bring forth any committee funding requests. Toomey then said City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein was serving as the interim director of the department during the hunt for a new director.

With the lake funding left off the 2017 budget, which Toomey said will be presented Monday, the mayor said the budget should have been presented to Ellwein. Toomey's comment quickly prompted a response from Kippes.

"I've never seen her at one of these meetings," Kippes said.

Park Supervisor Steve Roth then said the lake committee's funding requests were presented to Ellwein. At the June 30 Parks and Recreation meeting, Roth personally presented each lake committee budget request in the presence of Ellwein.

But Toomey stood by his decision not to include the $20,000 request, a $10,000 request for baffles in culverts to slow down stormwater drainage and $2,500 for water testing by the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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"It should've been in front of me and Stephanie long before this point," Toomey said about the requests that were presented during a public meeting in June.

Due to what Toomey perceived as a breakdown in communication between himself and the lake committee, Toomey suggested committee minutes be completed and turned in more quickly. The group also planned to meet next week to regroup following Tuesday's meeting when no agenda items were discussed.

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