- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Feb. 19, 2016

Church made tough decision the right way

While we’re usually reserved about razing historic buildings, we recognize that sometimes it needs to be done. That’s why we applaud Mitchell’s City Council for also recognizing that with two recent demolition approvals, one for the Holy Family Catholic Church rectory and the other for the Goodykuntz House at 205 N. Duff St.

Much has been said about the Goodykuntz House already, so we won’t expound further, other than to note we empathize with the house’s owner - but do support the council’s decision to demolish the property.

What we’re more impressed with is Holy Family Catholic Church, and how it made the undoubtedly hard decision to say goodbye to its historic rectory, which was built in the 1920s. The rectory once served as the home to the parish’s priests, until the church purchased a new building east of its campus in recent years.

We weren’t part of the behind-the-scenes process to make this decision, but the church presented a decidedly unified front to the council. Dean Uher, who spoke to the council Tuesday on behalf of the church, said the demolition has unanimous support from parishioners.

He said the church raised about $3 million since 1999, when a review of the church’s grounds found the rectory and the church in dire need of repairs. In the years since, though, most of that $3 million has gone to renovate the church.

Uher presented extensive documentation and research to the council - approximately 70 pages worth - noting that tearing down the rectory seemed like the church’s only feasible option.

We’re glad that $3 million went to renovate the church building, for a couple of reasons. Practically speaking, the church building serves more people than the rectory. On a more personal note, it’s a beautiful building, and has been a part of Mitchell’s landscape since it was built in 1906. It would have been a shame to watch it fall into disrepair.

In a perfect world, the church would have been able to dedicate enough resources to save the rectory as well. But since it couldn’t, we’re pleased to see all parties come together to reach a peaceable and appropriate solution.

Items like this too often become heated, contentious and downright petty when people disagree on how to handle a situation. People tend to be sentimental about historic buildings, particularly if those buildings are attached to a symbol of their faith or childhood - like a church.

It’s easy to see an alternate ending to this story, where a battle to save brick-and-mortar could tear a church apart. And that would be far more tragic than losing a historic structure.

Because ultimately, the point of church is its people, not its buildings. We applaud the people of Holy Family for recognizing that.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Feb. 18, 2016

Rep. Mickelson’s conflict of interest bill falls far short

In the wake of the state’s GEAR UP scandal where millions of dollars of federal grant money led to no measurable increase in the number of Native American students who went on to college, House Bill 1214 was introduced to address the conflict of interest issues that have recently became public.

As has been reported in numerous media outlets, two members of the Board of Education that distributed GEAR UP funds also received contracts from the board.

In order to address concerns about how state boards award contracts and if favoritism might be an issue, state representative and likely gubernatorial candidate Mark Mickelson introduced House Bill 1214, which was unanimously passed Tuesday by the House.

The bill, however, does little to change the political culture that enabled Education Board members Kelly Duncan of Northern State University and Stacy Phelps of Rapid City to receive sizable contracts approved by fellow board members.

In fact, the legislation simply codifies past practices while taking a rather tepid approach to disclosing which conflicts of interest are acceptable if a board wants to award a contract to one of its own. And, finally, Rep. Mickelson’s bill only applies to 22 of South Dakota’s 130 boards, which makes it difficult to call it transformative legislation.

If this bill is approved by the state Senate and signed into law by Gov. Daugaard, it would make what proponents say are two significant changes that should let the public rest easy.

First, the legislation allows conflicts of interest if the board approves of them. This, however, is exactly what the Board of Education did for its two members. Secondly, once the board authorizes the conflict of interest, it is then entered the public record, which in this case means it is filed with the auditor general who presents it for review to the Government Operations and Audit Committee, which consists of state lawmakers.

In other words, the public would have no direct access to those approved conflicts of interest and the beneficiaries, which falls far short of meeting the transparency standards we expect from state government.

This legislation does not go far enough to reassure the public that lawmakers are serious about changing the culture in Pierre that allowed the GEAR UP scandal to emerge after the suicide of Scott Westerhuis who also murdered his family when he learned his organization, Mid Central Education Cooperative, would lose its contract after questions were raised about finances.

In addition, if it weren’t for tenacious efforts by the media, the public likely never would have learned of the conflicts of interest and that the program never delivered on its stated mission of preparing Native Americans for college.

It appears the real beneficiaries of the GEAR UP program were those awarded contracts by the state Board of Education.

This legislation approved by 67 lawmakers in the House is not going to significantly change past practices in Pierre. The Senate needs to take steps to either introduce real reform and real transparency, or it should reject the measure.

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The American News, Aberdeen, Feb. 18, 2016

Circle Bear rally was a reminder of the power of people

A rally and march Sunday reminded us of the power of people.

A group of about 20 met on a snowy Sunday Valentine’s Day to remember Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old woman who was in the custody of the Brown County Jail last summer when she was found unresponsive in a holding cell and later died. The official cause of death was a methamphetamine overdose.

Her death became headlines here, around the state and throughout the Native American community.

Some still question whether Circle Bear got all the care she needed while in custody, or if someone of a different race would have received better care than she did.

Though a state investigation determined Brown County Jail personnel acted appropriately in dealing with Circle Bear, there are still many who are asking, “Why?”

That’s why they braved the cold, donned red and gathered in Central Park downtown. That’s why they walked in a circle around downtown and back to the jail, where Circle Bear died.

The group sang, carried signs and one person did a ceremonial smudging with sage for each person.

And they shared caring words with Circle Bear’s children, who were spending their first Valentine’s Day without their mother.

We are proud of the sponsoring agencies - Native Lives Matter, Idle No More Twin Cities and American Indian Movement Twin Cities - for bringing awareness and concerns forward in that most direct of ways. Their event made a difference.

Ron Wager, Aberdeen city attorney, agreed.

“We were following it because their lawful assembly is constitutional and encouraged,” he told the American News last week.

He is right.

Though the rally came from a place of sadness, those who gathered Sunday can take pride in the good work they did.

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Capital Journal, Pierre, Feb. 19, 2016

We support a high school trap team

These days kids have a lot of activities to choose from.

Sometimes it seems there are too many, especially to the busy parents carting those kids to soccer practice, choir concerts, hockey camp, football camp, basketball and everything else they’ve got going on. But there’s a good argument to be made that being able to participate in so many diverse activities gives kids a broader range of experience that, in the long run, will help them lead richer lives.

That’s why we support the creation of a new high school trap team in Pierre. They’ll compete against teams from around the state and pick up a sport that they can take with them all their lives. It’s a sport that will teach kids discipline of the mind and body. It will expose them to kids from other communities and It’s also one of the safest sports in the country.

Those are all good things. This is a club team so it’s free to the taxpayers. We hope the rest of the community is willing to support this new team too.

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