- Associated Press - Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, August 16, 2014

Banning alcohol at Van Eps won’t end problem

Every day in Van Eps Park at the edge of downtown Sioux Falls, groups of people gather on picnic tables to talk, play games and drink.

The noise and socializing has attracted the attention of neighboring businesses and passersby. Sometimes altercations break out and police are called. It’s not an idyllic scene, and it’s playing out on one of our busiest streets.

But is this problem serious enough to necessitate action by city officials to ban alcohol in the park?

There are serious questions the Sioux Falls City Council should examine as they weigh that possibility in the coming days.

We think the city should step away from taking action in this case. Banning alcohol in that park might have an effect on the number of people who hang out there daily. But it won’t solve the underlying problem. Most likely, it simply would relocate it. And which park would be next?

There already are 12 parks in the city that don’t allow drinking. They are: Whittier, McKennan, Tuthill, Tomar, Heritage, Lyon, Kenny Anderson, Pasley, Arrowhead, Veterans’ Memorial Park, Falls Park, except where approved by council, and Fawick Park, except where approved by council.

The city should think carefully before adding another park to that list. The patchwork park drinking rules are confusing to residents and really only pass potential problems off to other locales.

The policy on alcohol use in city parks should be uniform. And most residents probably find nothing wrong with other park drinking scenarios: A group of relatives having a beer at family reunion; club members celebrating a successful project with a gathering at the park or a lawn chair audience enjoying a festival or concert in one of our parks.

There is momentum for change on the City Council, since they moved this week to wrest more power to govern activities in city parks away from the parks board. In a 5-to-2 vote, councilors decided they needed authority to act quicker when situations arise in city parks. But only for issues of “public peace, health and safety,” the ordinance reads.

That’s the question for Van Eps.

Social service agency representatives say some of the people hanging out at that park each day are alcoholics. But they aren’t interested in or are unable to seek treatment. Chasing them out of that park won’t force them into treatment.

Many city, county and private programs already are working every day to try to help those suffering from addictions. The Catholic Diocese soon will open a new shelter and expanded programs for homeless people not far from downtown.

The Van Eps Park situation could be a catalyst for further community discussions on alcohol addiction and treatment. City and county officials might be able to bring together agency representatives and health care professionals to brainstorm additional help programs.

Each step can yield results for individuals struggling with substance abuse.

We recommend this more cautious, caring approach to dealing with concerns at Van Eps. It will better for us as a community in the long run.

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The Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, August 20, 2014

Mum’s the word at Black Hills VA

If the Black Hills VA Health Care System is to carry out its plans to close its Medical Center in Hot Springs and transfer its programs to Rapid City, it eventually will need to have the support of Congress.

Last week, Congress came to Hot Springs to see the VA facility for itself. A congressional field hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee was held at the Mueller Civic Center Auditorium in Hot Springs.

Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and vice-chairman Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., conducted the hearing, along with Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.

The 31/2-hour hearing included testimony from Hot Springs’ Save the VA committee, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Brian Brewer, South Dakota American Legion Commander Tim Jurgens and Larry Zimmerman, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs - all of whom oppose the VA proposal to leave Hot Springs.

Black Hills Health Care System director Steve DiStasio and Dr. Steven Julius, medical director for Veterans Integrated Service Network 23, which oversees Black Hills VA, testified about the Black Hills VA’s plans.

DiStasio and Julius repeatedly frustrated the committee, saying they were unable to answer questions immediately but would forward the information at a later date.

After the hearing, Noem lashed out at the VA’s unresponsiveness. “I am offended that Black Hills Health Care didn’t bring the numbers with them. They had nothing to show,” said Noem. “Save the VA had all its data and answered every question asked of them.”

The failure of VA officials to respond to congressional inquiries is disappointing, but hardly surprising.

When the Black Hills VA announced in December 2011 that it would close most of its facilities in Hot Springs and relocate its services to Rapid City, it provided very little information about its reorganization plan. VA officials said it was a cost-savings move, but the VA had no data to support its decision. Although most of the congressional delegations from South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Hot Springs officials have asked for more information, the VA has largely been unresponsive in the more than two years since it announced its plans for the Black Hills VA.

When the VA asked for alternative plans for its Hot Springs Medical Center, the local Save the VA group created a detailed plan to utilize the Hot Springs center. To date, they have not received a response.

From the beginning, the VA has kept silent about its reorganization plan for the Black Hills VA Health Care System.

Why would they start talking now?

When it comes time for Congress to approve the VA’s plan for Hot Springs and authorize construction funding for a new medical center in Rapid City, we urge members of Congress to take note of the VA’s apparent belief that neither the people nor their elected representatives need to know what the VA is up to or why.

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The Capital Journal, Pierre, August 19, 2014

Say you’ve got two cleaning and maintenance companies in town. The bigger company screwed up on a big job here in Pierre - let’s say it happened over at the Capitol. They failed to do a good job of keeping that place clean and there was a little bit of dirt spread down at least one of the halls of state government - the one that has to do with economic development.

Now the other cleaning company is howling about how dirty it is in that part of the Statehouse. And the first company is upset and is shouting back that the second company is just trying to dig up dirt.

That’s about how it is in South Dakota these days. We’ve got two parties, Republicans and Democrats, and each of those parties offers a service called government.

But the smaller of those parties, the Democrats, is unhappy with the way the other side has been doing government because Democrats keep noticing the dirt on the carpet from the EB-5 scandal.

They even held a press conference Tuesday to lean on the state Government Operations and Audit Committee to issue subpoenas for former Gov. Mike Rounds, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Joop Bollen - a former employee of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development - and Aberdeen-based lawyer Jeff Sveen.

State Sen. Larry Tidemann, who chairs that committee, responded by telling the Capital Journal that this effort by the Democrats is just “a search for dirt.”

With all due respect to Sen. Tidemann, it’s not just a search for dirt. It’s a search for clean - as in clean government.

Yes, we’re well aware that South Dakota’s Democrats are grandstanding and perhaps trying to exaggerate this scandal so that they can seize a little bit of market share from Republicans, and yes, a better way to do that would probably be to win elections; but it is a scandal, make no mistake. And the quickest way to put a scandal to rest would be to move the rug and have a look underneath. Is there dirt, or isn’t there?

Can’t anybody get Mr. Joop Bollen to tell us, the public, what he’s apparently already told investigators? Can’t we hear from former Gov. Mike Rounds and Gov. Dennis Daugaard? Does it really take a subpoena? Couldn’t they just come out and tell us what went on?

South Dakota Republican leaders are kidding themselves if they think only Democrats want to know what went on, and what went wrong, with EB-5. Rank-and-file South Dakota Republicans, too, really want to believe that their party leaders have nothing to hide.

It’s not a search for dirt. It’s a search for clean.

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