Bingen challenges Olson in Central Ward by David Lias There's a two person race in Vermillion's Central Ward for voters to decide April 8.
Drake Olson, who is finishing is first two-year term on the Vermillion City Council and is seeking re-election, is being challenged by Kate Bingen.
Kate L. Bingen
Bingen, 34, is the wife of Charles W. Bingen, a math/physics student currently enrolled at The University of South Dakota.
The couple are the parents of two children: "a daughter, Bailey R. Bingen, a very rambunctious and outspoken 4-year-old; and a son, Logan R. Bingen, a very curious and extremely active 2-year-old," Bingen said.
The candidate works as an office manager and licensed agent assistant for American Family Insurance in Vermillion. Bingen is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she studied psychology and philosophy.
She attended USD for a half-year where she majored in
biology/mathematics and chemistry.
"I decided to discontinue my education temporarily to support my family," she said.
Bingen hopes to bring a progressive, experienced and approachable voice to city government "and bridge the gap between government and community," she said. "? One person, with determination and
insight, can make a difference no matter what the odds."
Improving communication among city government, the citizens of Vermillion and the administration of USD to keep Vermillion an expanding, thriving and diversified community "with the ability to provide employment opportunities for generations to come," is one of the biggest challenges facing the city, Bingen believes, as well as "the use of a common sense approach in the implementation of cost effectiveness for different city projects and programs."
Bingen doesn't believe the city should pursue plans to construct a new city hall in the near future.
"I do not personally believe that the current plan for a new city hall, as it has been proposed, is neither necessary nor is it required," she said. "In talking with several voters in the Central Ward, too many have voiced their disapproval of the use of funds for this endeavor and since I am attempting to become a representative for this ward, my purpose is to bring the voters' voice to the council � not my own."
She added that something definitely should be done about Chestnut Street, "however the Council needs to listen to its voters and look at some different ideas. There are so many people who oppose the project as it is; maybe we should re-evaluate the need for changes
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and seek other alternatives."
In the area of code enforcement, Bingen believes "the city needs to be more aggressive in regards to dangerous properties, but to be consistent with its enforcement.
"My number one goal if I am elected to the Vermillion City Council is to remain approachable to the voters," she said. The need for curbside pick-up of recyclables and a good, safe youth program for our kids are the two biggest projects I wish to address as well."
Bingen enjoys reading, gardening, needlework and crafts, her involvement with Operation Shoebox for military personnel, serving on the Head Start Policy Council and spending time with her children.
Drake T. Olson
Olson, 23, is the son of Dr. Thomas and Sharon Olson. He was born and raised in Vermillion.
Olson is a graduate student at USD, and is employed as a seasonal kayak river guide and salesperson for Dakota Kayaks and Missouri River Expeditions.
Olson is a graduate of Vermillion High School, holds a bachelor of science degree from USD, and is currently pursuing a master of public administration degree from the university's graduate school.
When not at work or in class, he enjoys bicycling, kayaking, rock climbing, skiing, camping, basketball, outdoor recreation, and public service.
"I decided to run for re-election to city council in the Central Ward because I feel that it is important to keep a student on the council. I feel that there are many challenges before the city, and I want to direct my energy toward finding community-wide solutions to those problems," Olson said.
He describes his first two-year term on the council as "a tremendous experience.
"I wish to remain in my seat to serve the City of Vermillion. I believe that it is very important to keep the views of a younger generation readily available to the rest of the council. I also believe that making sure the students have a voice and an actual vote is very important to bridge close ties to the student population in Vermillion � which happens to be almost half of the total population.
Olson said he also decided to run for re-election because he feels public service is the noblest of professions.
"I enjoy listening to concerns and issues that citizens of Vermillion address with me," he said.
Some of the biggest challenges facing Vermillion, Olson said, include preserving downtown and making sure the city's economy holds strong with local sales.
"We need to encourage people to stay in Vermillion to make purchases in our downtown and Cherry Street business districts," he said. "We face a challenge of continuing to meet a modest growth to attract new businesses and to help expand existing businesses.
"Another challenge will be preparing for the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition tourists visiting the Vermillion area and Spirit Mound. We possess one of the precise locations that the journals of Lewis and Clark document with Spirit Mound," Olson said. "If even half as many people visit our area as predicted, we need to be ready to attract these people to spend time and money in Vermillion."
Olson noted the difficulties some citizens have gaining access to the current Vermillion City Hall building.
"Vermillion City Hall does not meet the standard building code established in 1990 for the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have been 'getting by' without conforming to this code thus far. However, we must meet the basic standards to accommodate all citizens in our city hall," he said.
Olson noted that the current city hall building does not contain an elevator to allow all people access to city council and school board chambers on the second floor.
"The city hall building must meet the Americans with Disabilities Act," he said. "Further, our city hall must provide a functional workplace for all departments currently located in city hall in order to assure efficient delivery of those respected services."
Olson believes a new city hall building's location ultimately should be determined by citizens.
"Currently, there are three sites being investigated (one of them is the current site of city hall � 25 Center Street.) I believe that the citizens of Vermillion should be able to participate in determining where the city hall should be located," Olson said. "When all the numbers of costs and allocation of land are accounted for, I would like to see the city of Vermillion, as a whole, help decide where their city hall building should be located."
The fate of Chestnut Street will be determined by Vermillion voters April 8.
"Chestnut Street has been a topic that was initiated many years prior to my first term on the council. Currently, the road is an unimproved dirt road," Olson said. "The city has, in recent years, moved toward improving a gravel portion of Chestnut Street between University and Dakota Streets.
"Everyone agrees that the current Chestnut Street (narrow, gravel) is unsafe and that it needs to be re-constructed more safely. Before my term on the council, the city council explored many alternatives to connect Vermillion below the bluff from east to west, in an attempt to reduce heavy truck traffic driving through residential downtown and through school areas of the city," Olson said. "After evaluating all of the options, the development and improvements to Chestnut Street remains the lowest cost, the least impact to the city, the best economic improvement, and the most direct route."
He noted that because Chestnut Street is a truck route, truck traffic coming in from Burbank Road likely detours around the unsafe Chestnut section and up to University Street.
"This means that semi-trucks and large farm vehicles currently travel directly in front of Jolley Elementary School. I don't believe that anyone in Vermillion really wants trucks traveling directly in front of our schools," Olson said. "The major cost of the project is the retaining wall that must be built south of Chestnut Street. The wall needs to be there to accommodate the two-lane traffic necessary and required by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials minimum 11-foot lanes for truck routes. Because of the location, the engineering firm set the project in place with 12-foot lanes for added safety. This added safety is at a minimum cost to help save lives on that dangerous section of Chestnut Street."
The city wouldn't experience a costs savings with a different plan for the $1.3 million project, he said.
"If people want a different road, the costs of the retaining wall will stay statistically at the same price. The city will not likely save tax dollars by re-evaluating the project. This project has been evaluated since 1980 and has been through many forms before it received its current plan," Olson said. "Re-evaluating the project will cost more in architect fees and planning costs."
The city is held by certain standards when building roads and by even more standards when building truck route roads, he said.
"We can keep postponing this project and retain this unsafe road, but I am not in favor of that. The safety of many far outweighs the objections of few in my mind," Olson said. "As I said before, the majority of the cost of this road is set by the retaining wall. This cost will not change significantly from one plan to the next because, regardless of the road size, you will have to place a retaining wall there.
Vermillion has secured a federal grant through the Federal Transportation Program Fund to help pay for all of the retaining wall costs, he said.
"However, we must proceed with the project in order to maintain this grant."
In the area of code enforcement, Olson said it is important for aldermen to uphold city ordinances and to re-evaluate city codes to keep them current.
"When a person is elected to city council in Vermillion, he or she takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the state of South Dakota, and the Vermillion city ordinances. We have codes in the form of ordinances that help to protect citizens of Vermillion.
"As a councilperson, it is your duty to uphold the ordinances in the books. Additionally, I think that it is important to re-evaluate the codes from time to time and to update them because it is necessary to meet the current needs and demands of the day," he said.
Olson believes that the city needs to decide what kind of code enforcement is desired.
"If there is a code that doesn't make sense, then the citizens and the council should work together and change the code to suit the different needs of the time," he said. " The feedback from all citizens will help determine the approach to code enforcement we all want to live with. This is another issue that I believe belongs to the citizens, but I do intend to uphold the current ordinances and codes we have in place until we decide to amend them.
Why would we ever have a law or ordinance and tell the police or code enforcement not to enforce it? It seems silly to me to tell code or any department to only uphold certain ordinances and ignore others," Olson said.
If re-elected, he added, his top goal is to retain a voice for students of USD.
"Through my representation, we are able to show all citizens of Vermillion that we care about everyone of every age and are concerned that all of their voices may be heard," Olson said. "My graduate studies include a masters of public administration. This is the same degree that most city managers obtain in order to become a city manager. I am not interested in becoming a city manager, but I am interested in public service and governmental affairs." He said he has focused on local government in his studies and has become more knowledgeable in public affairs, public policy, public administration, and leadership while studying public administration at USD.
"It is definitely a bonus to have someone studying the field and practicing parts of it as well. Thank you, Vermillion, for allowing me to serve for the past two years!" Olson said.