- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, April 20

State should look into secret sect

Rep. Tim Goodwin of Hill City recently asked a question that has been on the minds of many Black Hills residents. Will the state investigate what is going on at the compound in Pringle led by the brother of convicted sex offender Warren Jeffs?

The Associated Press reported this week that Goodwin wants his fellow lawmakers to investigate the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ compound, a request that was shot down by Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

“If he thinks we need some laws, beautiful,” said Mickelson, who is also chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board. “If he wants us to go investigate, I’m out.”

It’s interesting to hear that Mickelson is open to considering new laws even as the leadership at the FLDS compound continues to flout them.

According to the Department of Health, no reports of births or deaths have been received from the compound since the sect came to the state 10 years ago even though state law requires they be reported.

Furthermore, a former resident of the 140-acre compound in Custer County estimates there have been at least a dozen births there, which includes two of her daughters who were not allowed to have their births documented. In addition, no one in the state knows if the children there are getting an education.

Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler would also like the state to learn more about the super-secretive sect, which has a guard tower at its 140-acre compound.

The compound, one of several owned by the sect, is led by Seth Jeffs, the brother of Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader and prophet now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting two of his child brides. He was arrested in 2011 after law enforcement raided a FLDS compound in Texas. Prior to that, he had been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for arranging marriages between his followers and young girls.

Seth Jeffs, meanwhile, was convicted last year of participating in a multi-million dollar food-stamp fraud case in Utah.

The track record of this sect and how it treats women and girls in particular should offend any sense of decency. Yet South Dakota, which prides itself on its Christian and family values, has chosen to not only look the other way but has enabled the sect’s presence in the state.

In 2015, the Water Management Board approved a permit to increase water use at the compound even though its attorney would not disclose the number of people who live there and several neighbors opposed the request on the grounds they believed suspicious activities were occurring there. The board voted 5-1 to grant the permit, which is good for 20 years.

Even though the Legislature might not be the appropriate body to investigate why the FLDS doesn’t follow state laws, Mickelson could have expressed his concerns about a sect led by a convicted felon and then encouraged Attorney General Marty Jackley or the Department of Health to investigate why births and deaths are not being reported. As Goodwin said, an investigation of the less serious offenses could uncover the types of crimes that put Warren Jeffs in prison.

To continue to do nothing, however, sends the message that state laws don’t apply to everyone, which will only encourage others who think they are above the law to come here and do as they please.

We’d rather see Jackley, who is running for governor on a law and order platform, and other state agencies hold this sect to the same standards they expect of other residents.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, April 24

Community assets needed for small towns

Want to have a thriving, forward-thinking rural community?

Here are some ideas: Update the town’s ballpark. Polish up and improve the local pool. Or, like in Mount Vernon recently, build a new track at the high school.

Mount Vernon late last week got to show off its $450,000 track at the inaugural Greenway Relays, and we couldn’t be happier for the small town.

Community assets are so important for rural areas. And while these investments many times do not have direct financial returns, the benefits are for long-term success.

Important to understand is many of South Dakota’s rural communities are losing populations quickly. And that trend will likely continue for years to come.

But the towns with leaders who put stock into where they live will last much longer than those that are happy with business as usual. Remember, there’s no silver bullet for success in rural areas.

We presume there are some who live in Mount Vernon who aren’t happy that nearly a half-million-dollar track was constructed, but we applaud the move.

Communities like Mount Vernon need reasons to draw and keep people when there aren’t as many jobs available as larger-sized towns. These rural areas need to engage the public and create a sense of community pride.

In Mount Vernon’s case, the school district just showed a big commitment to athletics and extracurricular activities. It also gave residents an area to exercise and potentially hold community events.

So if you think your rural town needs a shot in the arm, talk to your local leaders about finding areas to spruce up or develop. Get involved with fundraising. Make a difference.

Doing nothing will only ensure a quicker decline to the death of rural South Dakota.


Capital Journal, Pierre, April 18

Recent closure announcements underscore need to support local entrepreneurs

There was a bit of bad news for Pierre last Friday.

Another national retailer announced the imminent closure of its Pierre location. This time it was Rue 21 up at Northridge Plaza. This is sort of a double whammy for the local mall and it’s really not the Northridge Plaza management’s fault.

Smaller malls have been declining in popularity for more than a decade and the retail sector of the U.S. economy has been sputtering through a tectonic shift in the way it does business. Profit margins are shrinking and store visitation is down, which means the folks at the top of these national chains have to decide whether the expense of keeping a smaller store in a rural area open is justifiable.

Increasingly, it seems, the answer is no, those smaller stores aren’t worth keeping open. The corporate officers making these decisions are not beholden to the people who lose their jobs or the customers who find their already limited shopping options narrowed a bit more. They answer to the stockholders and the company’s board of directors. That is as it should be. After all, a corporation exists to both mitigate risk and pay its shareholders their dividends.

The bottom line for those of us who live in rural America is that we are increasingly under served by that kind of business, particularly when it comes to retail. The problem gets worse when the ag economy finds itself on the down side of its business cycle like it is now.

Thankfully, Pierre and Fort Pierre are somewhat insulated against the ag economy’s downturn thanks to the presence of state government. Still, as evidenced by the recent closure announcements of Rue 21 and J.C. Penneys, our community is still going to be affected by national trends, just like any other rural community. And like other rural communities those issues will continue to make growth harder.

The solution is entrepreneurship. We should be looking to our own citizens to fill gaps in our communities. We should be encouraging people to come here to open a business. Support for local entrepreneurs should come not only from each of us as individuals but from our city and county governments too.

Locally owned businesses are far better for the local economies too. The money spent at local businesses tends to stay in the community far longer than money spent at large chain stores, for example. Local business owners also are far more likely to give money to local charities and are more likely to be civically engaged.

More of that can only be a good thing.


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