Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias An overzealous independent spirit is killing South Dakota.

Some may categorize the above statement as an opinion, but James Satterlee, a retired sociology professor from South Dakota State University, has the data to support such an observation as being the cold, hard, factual truth.

Satterlee recently shared his information with members of the South Dakota Legislature. It was televised last week on South Dakota Public Television.

And, in many ways, it was like watching a horror show.

Consider this:

* There has been such a dramatic shift in the state's population in recent years that more than half of the people of South Dakota are living in just 10 communities.

* Nearly every county in South Dakota is losing population.

* The population of the entire state, repeat state, is equal to that of Tucson, AZ.

As Gov. William Janklow said in his State of the State address, "we're one of the largest land masses in America. We have 310 towns and cities. We are the most dispersed population of any state in the Union.

"Our third-largest city has less than 30,000 people. Our fourth-largest city has less than 20,000 people. We become very, very small very, very quickly in South Dakota," he added. "Yet, on the other hand, we have to carry on all the functions that any modern society does as we try to figure out how we develop this state."

Satterlee did more than throw facts and figures around when he addressed state lawmakers recently. He offered solutions.

We wouldn't be surprised, however, to learn that not everyone agrees with his suggestions.

You see, Satterlee suggests that South Dakotans do something that, in general, can be difficult for humans to accomplish on a regular basis.

He wants us to cooperate more.

That means we must be willing to work harder at simply getting along. We also must be willing to compromise, and recognize those times when we must lessen our grip on some traditional tenets of society.

Satterlee suggested establishing "neighborhoods" � consolidated counties � with centralized services for the larger region with satellite offices throughout the area.

That could mean combining two or three counties into a single governmental entity. It would allow the consolidation of many of the duplicated services that currently exist in those counties, such as administration, law enforcement and public safety.

It sounds easy, until you factor in the "human" element, that part of us resists change, which holds fast to tradition, which keeps us convinced that what was good for our parents and grandparents will be good for us.

A good example of human nature at work can be found just to the west of us in Yankton County. The county and city of Yankton are demonstrating an economic vitality that no doubt would be envied by many South Dakota counties.

But a strange dichotomy has emerged within that county's borders, and it has become especially evident when the Yankton County Commission began to take steps approximately a year ago to replace its aging, unsafe courthouse.

It was suggested by some that the new courthouse be a joint building containing both city and county offices.

That created a fervor. Lines were drawn in the sand. The authors of some letters to the editor published in the Yankton Press and Dakotan suggested, in simple terms, that people who lived out in the country were "county" residents, and those who lived in Yankton were "city" people.

And, they added, county and city business should always remain separate.

These viewpoints fail to recognize that people who live in the city of Yankton are residents of Yankton County, too. Simple human nature is at work � what's mine is mine, and I won't share with anyone else.

It also fails to recognize, as Satterlee noted, that the ratio of government employees to population is exploding. In Kingsbury County, he said, there is one government employee for every 17 people. Minnehaha County is demonstrating how inefficient that ratio is, with one government employee for every 600 people.

An overzealous independent spirit has long been termed a favorable trait, especially among the pioneers that risked everything to settle the plains, begin new lives and eventually create the state of South Dakota.

South Dakota is facing a new era that demands another healthy dose of courage from its residents. We must find the courage to change.

Failure to change will mean we will continue to lose young people. We will have fewer farms, fewer businesses, fewer churches.

Our independent spirit will kill us.

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