Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > Aberdeen Candidate Forum Part III: The Brown County Commission race

Aberdeen Candidate Forum Part III: The Brown County Commission race

October 6, 2014

On Saturday, September 27, the League of Women Voters Aberdeen Area and the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum at the Hub Area Multi District Vocational Center. Due to a spate of illness going through my house I am behind on getting this posted, so I apologize to anyone waiting for this post. This portion of the forum included the candidates running for Brown County Commissioner. The race has three open spots, with all three incumbents trying to get re-elected: Nancy Hansen (R), Mike Wiese (R) and Tom Fischbach (D). The three challengers on the ballot trying to unseat these incumbents are: Doug Fjeldheim (R), Paul Dennert (D), and Louis Liebig (D). The rules for this forum were simple, each candidate was given a three-minute opening statement and each candidate would have a minute to answer each question.

Part I of the forum with the District 3 legislative candidates can be read here. Part II of the forum with District 2 legislative candidates can be read here.

As usual for posts of this type, I will pass on the parts of what candidates said that I find interesting. I probably won’t add too many of my own thoughts to this post. Since one of the candidates happens to be my mother-in-law/co-worker I tend to stay out of Brown County politics on my blog.

Tom Fischbach, Louis Liebig, Paul Dennert and Doug Fjeldheim at a candidate forum in Aberdeen. Photo by Ken Santema 09/27/14

Tom Fischbach, Louis Liebig, Paul Dennert and Doug Fjeldheim at a candidate forum in Aberdeen. Photo by Ken Santema 09/27/14

Written Statements – Two of the incumbent commissioners, Nancy Hansen and Mike Wiese, were unable to attend the forum. They were permitted to have a prepared written statement read to the crowd.

Nancy Hansen – Hansen apologized for not attending the event. She had to be a tax seminar out-of-state during the time this forum occurred (I can vouch for that). Hansen believes she can continue to work on alternate funding sources, budget concerns, and state/national involvement with local issues. She mentioned her history with the State Association of County Commissioners and the National Association of Counties (NACO). At NACO she has been looking into the EPA’s move to regulate all water by expanding the Clean Water ACT (CWA). She says this will impact all farmers, landowners, counties, and townships.

Mike Wiese – Weise feels he brings a straight-forward approach to bringing state and county business together. He also mentioned he will continue to work on road issues and emergency response issues. Along those lines, Weise mentioned he is a reserve police officer, which gives him a different perspective coming to the commission. He also said he will continue to work on behalf of veterans at commission meetings.

Opening Remarks – Each candidate was given three minutes to give a few opening remarks. Most of their opening remarks were filled with biographical stuff, I generally avoid that and will only point out anything I find interesting.

Paul Dennert – Dennert noted he has been very involved in county and state issues for many years (he was a state legislator for 20 years). He said he is running for county commission to bring his views for county government. He mentioned the heavy rainfall and flooding in Brown County over the last few years. Dennert says that makes road issues his top priority. Particularly he noted his experience and knowledge dealing with county taxes and how county government has been hurt by caps imposed in Pierre.

Tom Fischbach – Fischbach noted that even though he is a farmer, he wishes to represent all of Brown County; and not just rural Brown County. Tom said roads has always been among his top priorities, and will continue to be. He thinks the roads have been improving, considering the amount of disasters Brown County has suffered on the roads. Fischbach noted he has supported modernizing the technology used by the county. In particular, Fischbach is proud of the work done by the county to upgrade the 911 system in Brown County. He noted there are some who fought against it, but he feels it has been well worth it to improve the emergency services in Brown County.

Doug Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim has a variety of business-related experience. In that realm his biggest priority will be budgets. He believes it is the civic duty for people to give to the community, so that is why he is running. He then reiterated that “budget, budget, budget” will be his priority. He wants to work with the state to get more revenues for the county. Fjeldheim also noted a good maintenance program is important to maintain the infrastructure, and does not feel that has been done.

Louis Liebig – Liebig wants county government open and accountable to the people. He believes in commissioners having the integrity and honesty to come up with solutions for everyone in Brown County. Liebig noted roads and bridges are a top priority. He said bridges are very important to him since he was over the I35w bridge the day it collapsed. Finally Liebig noted the commissioners have to work with the state to find new ways to get revenue for the infrastructure.

Assistant – Question about the assistant for the Brown County Commissioners.

Fischbach – Fischbach noted he had voted against the assistant. Not because he didn’t think the Commission could use it, but because he didn’t feel the county could afford it. Tom noted the assistant has been of great value for the Commission. The assistant acts as the “eyes and ears” of the Commission. Fischbach didn’t say so, but he made it seem like having the assistant is worth it, even if he originally opposed having the assistant.

Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim said he had mixed feeling about the assistant when it was done. He at first questioned why a commission of five needs an assistant. But he has heard Commissioners say he is an asset. Fjeldheim would look further into whether the position was truly as asset when seeing first hand what the assistant actually does.

Liebig – Liebig says there is a place for an assistant. But he noted that maybe the commissioners should have specific jobs. Which would cut down on the need for an assistant.

Dennert – Dennert noted he has seen the value from the assistant in the meetings he has attended.

IT Services – This is a question I feel would have been better going to Fischbach first. Being the only commissioner, he actually understood what was being asked. The question: “Are you aware of the problems with the company regarding IT computer services to the county. What should happen if a company does not perform well.”

Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim brought this to the BC Fair grandstand ticket sales debacle (which I don’t think this question was about). He noted there should be background checks done on companies that will handle ticket sales.

Liebig – Liebig noted an article in the paper that talked about fraud from contract employees that sold computers to the county twice. If elected Liebig would look at the contract to see if those responsible could be relieved of duty.

Dennert – Dennert decided to answer this with a broad view, because he wasn’t sure what the actual question is about. He believes maybe it is time to put out the contracts for bids again in the IT department.

Fischbach – Fischbach confirmed the question was about the state audit that found the double billing (mentioned by Liebig). He says the Commission is looking into it. He noted maybe it is time to look at having an actual county employee in charge of IT again.

County Relations – A question about the relationship between the County Commission and the other county heads (some of which are also elected positions).

Liebig – Liebig noted all elected officials have the right to make decisions within their area of the county. But also, he said it important at time to work with the Commission as equals for the good of the county.

Dennert – Dennert said all county heads, whether elected or not, should sit with the Commission and work with them about departmental issues.

Fischbach – Fischbach doesn’t believe in micro-management. He expects the departments heads to be doing what is right for their departments.

Fjeldheim – He said the County Commission should be giving full support to the department heads. But he also feels there needs to be some supervision at times. In particular he called out the County Roads Superintendent position.

Infrastructure funding – What type of legislation would you support to bring state aid to our roads and bridges?

Dennert – Dennert noted that all gas tax goes to the state. He tried as a legislator to change road funding so counties have more options for road funding. Dennert noted legislation to pass some gas tax onto counties always failed. He thinks going forward there will need to be a “broad array” of funding sources for counties to use in infrastructure maintenance.

Fischbach – Fischbach feels there needs to be a combination of many taxes, and not just more user taxes. He doesn’t want to put too much burden on one group.

Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim doesn’t think people would have a problem with any tax increases, as long as they see the value.

Liebig – Liebig says the county made good strides this last summer to bring many roads back to usable. He noted nobody wants more taxes, but they will be needed for the roads.

Public Defenders Office – Where are your views on establishing a Public Defenders office instead of the present method of court appointed attorneys? (currently there are contracts for this)

Fischbach – Fischbach noted a variety of methods used over the years to try keeping costs down. He would be open to hearing different ideas on the topic. Fischbach is leaning towards judges appointing, but is open to the thought of a Public Defenders office.

Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim doesn’t believe in the current contract method because there are too many variables. He would rather have the judges appoint defenders.

Liebig – Liebig would also prefer the judges determine how each person will be represented.

Dennert – Dennert said he was unable to give a full view at the time. If elected he would look into it more.

Keeping in Touch – A question asking how they would plan to keep in touch with constituents.

Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim said it is about being out there and meeting the people.

Liebig – Liebig says he is currently always available and will continue to be so. He will make sure everyone has access to him.

Dennert – Dennert said he is a people person. He said as a legislator he was always available. Interesting side-note: he said he lived where he is his his whole married life at his current residence, except for a “brief residency in Aberdeen for political reasons” (that was in regards to him moving to into Aberdeen, legislative District 3).

Fischbach – Fischbach says he has always been accessible during the past. He joked about avoiding two constituents that eventually caught up to him.

Attending Meetings – This question was only for candidates not currently a Commissioner. The candidates were asked how many Brown County Commission meetings they have attended and what didn’t they hear about that they would expect at the meetings.

Liebig – Liebig said he was at every meeting he could attend since announcing, unless work conflicted with that. He believes that would be about ten or twelve meetings. Liebig said there is a lack of discussion between the commissioners. He feels the commissioners are almost agreeing too much on everything.

Dennert – Dennert said he has attended several meetings since being on the ballot. He said he believes the Brown County Commissioners go into executive sessions too often. He said he understands executive sessions are important, but questions why it is done so often.

Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim said he has also attended several meetings. He then brought up the Airport drainage issues as something he has watched with interest (that is a hot issue). Overall he just feels it is time for a new voice and face on the commission.

Closing Remarks – Each candidate was given a minute for closing remarks. Since these are usually thank-you-to-everyone type fluff, I’ll just pass on one sentence each.

Paul Dennert – Dennert said he enjoys working with people.

Tom Fischbach – Fischbach said he has tried to save money for taxpayers.

Doug Fjeldheim – Fjeldheim would like to make sure everyone understands these are county-wide positions; legislative districts have nothing to do with this race.

Louis Liebig – Liebig said county business should be run like family business.

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