By David Lias
A fifth county commission candidate, Stanley Peterson, was unable to attend the forum.
Voters will be asked to select three from this slate of five candidates in the at-large county commission election scheduled Nov. 6. Passick and Powell are incumbents, Peterson and Mockler have both unsuccessfully sought the office in a previous election, a Bremer, who for years has served as county auditor, is running for commissioner as she plans to retire from her present job.
"I have been at the county courthouse for 23 years," Bremer, a lifelong resident and wife of Paul Bremer, said. She served eight years as deputy county auditor before being elected auditor.
"I have been working with the county commission for the past 15 years and sitting in on almost every meeting," she said. That experience, Bremer said, has given her a strong background in issues important to the county, such as joint jurisdiction with the city, drainage, and zoning.
"As a county auditor, I have worked with budgets and presented revenue figures," she said. "I feel I am one of the best candidates for this job, since I have been there and know about all of these different issues that come up."
Mockler is also a life-long county resident, who grew up on a dairy farm east of Vermillion. After graduating from VHS and SDSU, he returned to Clay County and worked for area farmers before beginning his own farming operation 14 miles north of Vermillion. He and his wife, Jill, are parents of two daughters.
Mockler has become involved in several organizations in recent years. He is currently on the board of directors of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, and Clay County Farm Mutual Insurance. He is also a member of Clay County Planning and Zoning Board.
"I decided to run for commissioner in order to help the board get a better balance of knowledge, age, and perspective. Agriculture is our number one industry in Clay County, and it‚s our largest tax base in the county. I feel this sector needs direct representation," he said.
Mockler said he would also be a voice for young, working families on the commission if elected. "It‚s important to understand the challenges facing our younger residents," he said, "and why their futures are leading them out of the county."
Passick, a long-time county resident, is married and raised his family in the county. He is retired, having served as Clay County sheriff for many years.
"For a long time in my life, I've been a very strong proponent for local government," he said, "and that's why I'm proud to have county sheriff here for virtually all of my law enforcement career.
"I think local government is probably one of the most effective governments that we have today," Passick said. "It handles day-to-day activities, it affects our livelihoods. It affects our lifestyles/ and it affects our incomes. It's a very important function," Passick said. "For all of those reasons, I take my position as county commissioner very, very seriously. I know that the decisions that we make will have an impact on people within the county."
He said he believes the commission has a done a very good job of trying to do what is in the best interests of county citizens.
"I think that we have resolved a number of issues in the past four years," Passick said. "Several of them have been good for almost everyone involved; obviously it is impossible to please everyone. You have to make a decision, and someone is not going to be happy with the decisions you've made. We've resolved a lot of them and we're still working on some, and it would certainly be my hope to stay at least one more term and try to continue some in trying to resolve some of these more important issues."
Powell, the husband of County Treasurer Cathi Powell, has been a member of the county commission for nearly eight years.
His local government experience prior to that includes serving on the city planning commission, and a three-year stint as Central Ward alderman on the Vermillion City Council.
"At the same time, I was appointed to the county planning and zoning board, and in the course of those appointments, I helped with the writing of the city‚s comprehensive plan and the county‚s comprehensive plan," Powell said. He also gave input on both the city's and the county's zoning ordinances.
"I'm currently the chairman of the county commissioners," he said, "and I really enjoy the way everyone works so well together."
Tom Sorensen, the forum moderator, asked county commission candidates what they would input they would give to members of the state legislature on drainage issues and others matters that important on the county level.
Drainage has been a big issue, as there have been several wet years in the county before this year's drought, Powell said. "There are people who believe in drain tile, there are people who don't believe in drain tile, and in an effort to try to get a handle on it, we put together a task force made up of farmers, one from each township, to try to help us determine if our drainage ordinance is adequate.
"We're keeping them on hold until we hear a little bit more about what the legislature is going to do," he said. "We need to have the laws redefined. The state, a number of years ago, put the responsibility of drainage in individual counties solely with the county commissioners. That pretty much took the problem away from the state and dumped it into our lap. We don't have the expertise to deal with all of that, so we need legislative help."
"Drainage is certainly a major issue facing us in Clay County now, simply because agriculture is our number one industry here in the county," Passick said. "Tiling does appear to have a positive impact on production, but the thing that our state legislature is going to have to consider is that our current state laws are outdated. They do not address tiling and issues that arise out of tiling that come to us. We need more direction and more guidelines."
Passick said the county also must struggle to meet unfunded mandates from the state. The county is still dealing with providing the same level of service to local citizens, he said, after many of the county agencies providing those services received a 10 percent budget reduction from the state.
"In order to maintain these functions, we have to cut somewhere," he said, "because our funds are completely obligated. We don't have any excess funds that we can draw from."
"Drainage is a huge issue in Clay County," Mockler said. "I‚m for tiling; it's a great way to manage the water without sending nitrates down the river. Open ditches send silt down the river."
One reason he favors tiling, Mockler said, is the better drainage allows for increased crop production.
"With the increased production, our tax base goes up, so that's another way for the county to increase revenue," he said. "We need a plan, and it can't be painted with a wide brush. We need clear cut rules that aren't open for interpretation by different administrations. We need a plan, we need to stick with it, it needs to be flexible, but we need something we can work with."
Bremer said she work to have state lawmakers restore funding levels to counties. "Many of our projects get putting back on the back burner, and when we have a five-year plan, I think the state should go along with what they set as a plan, and provide the money for what we need to do."
She said greater state involvement with counties is also needed for the development of drainage systems.
"It seems like everybody drains from the top, and the poor guy down toward the bottom near the Vermillion River gets all of the water," Bremer said. "There should be some way, with this (state) committee that we are working with, to slow down the process of floodwater and to further work on that issue."