Campaign finance or pheasants?

What do South Dakotans care more about, campaign finance reporting or shooting pheasants?

One involves pursuing wily birds who stay low, flee if needed and usually seek available cover. The other is about hunting pheasants.

Since South Dakota is a state where politics and hunting are two favorite sports, I think a lot of people pay attention to both. I know we will in the next few days.

The Mitchell City Council will once again take on campaign finance reporting at its Monday night meeting. This will likely cap four months of discussion on requiring city candidates and ballot question committees to report who gave them donations of $250 or more, as well as list all contributions and expenses.

Candidates for county, school and state offices already do so, but not city candidates in all but three cities in South Dakota. Is that an oversight or merely because city races are traditionally low-profile and very cheap?

Are local races too inexpensive to ask for info about? Do candidates have nothing to hide and thereby, nothing to report? Or should the voters have a right know who’s kicking in the cash?

And where are all the pheasants?

Drawing up Mitchell’s wards

Dive in. Mitchell’s population is headed to the lake.

There are four wards in the city and Ward 4, the one that surrounds Lake Mitchell, is growing, which means it needs to shrink. I’ll explain.

The city is required to keep the four wards as close in population as possible and the Mitchell City Council is working to ensure that happens. Monday night, the council approved an option to take nine blocks from Ward 4 and shift it to Ward 3.

Here’s the story on Monday night’s meeting.

According to the census count from April 2010, there are/were 15,254 people in the city. Each ward has between 3,700 and 3,900 people in it and each ward is represented by two members of the eight-member council.

While Ward 4 is gaining people, Wards 1 and 2 in the southern end of the city remain largely unchanged in population while Ward 3, in northeast Mitchell, is losing population. It seems people want to live by the lake and who can blame them?

City Planner Neil Putnam worked with Mayor Lou Sebert and Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson to draft two options for the revised ward boundaries. Putnam and Wilson also worked on the lines in 2001 after the 2000 census, since it’s that 10-year count that sparks the effort each decade.

Putnam said it seems very likely Ward 4 will continue to gain people as more dwellings, from houses to multi-family units to apartments are constructed in the north end of Mitchell. That means as Ward 4 grows in people, it must get smaller in size.

“So see you in 10 years,” the ever-cheerful Putnam told me after the council meeting. “Mark it down.”

Money in local politics: Is it your business?

Who wants to know?

Is it your business, the public’s business, or the media’s business who contributes money to political campaigns in Mitchell? That will be discussed and, perhaps, decided tonight during the Mitchell City Council meeting.

A first vote is set for tonight, with a potential final approval on Oct. 3.

Councilman Mel Olson thinks voters have a right to learn who kicks in the cash to fuel campaigns, both for office and on ballot questions. Other elected officials, most notably Councilman Dan Allen, said it’s no one’s business who contributes to his campaigns.

The issue has sparked two lively debates at past council meetings this year, on July 18 and Sept. 6. We’re trying to count votes this morning and it does look like it may be a close one.

Any advice for your elected representatives? Here’s today’s story on the issue.

And while you’re thinking and talking about it, vote in our poll on the issue.

Greg McCurry reaches out to citizens

Newly installed Mitchell City Councilman Greg McCurry is pioneering new ways to communicate with local residents.

McCurry will hold monthly “Coffee with the Councilman” meetings. The first is set for 8-10 a.m. Saturday at Cafe Teresa’s.

“The media’s not welcome,” McCurry told me as he left his first City Council meeting Monday night. He said it with a smile, and I doubt he would strong-arm me or any other intrepid journalist who came to the weekend morning meeting.

But I will be headed to a softball tourney Saturday morning, so he need not worry about me interferring. I hope he draws a crowd of people wanting to learn more about city government.

McCurry has also launched a blog on his city government experiences:

That’s especially interesting after he asked his fellow council members and Mayor Lou Sebert to be more web-friendly with public information. Sebert, who doesn’t appear to be an Internet-savvy guy, said he thought posting committee information on a City Hall billboard was adequate, but Council President Jeff Smith agreed with the need to reach out to people online.

As we continue to learn in the news business, online is the future, even for small-town civic business. McCurry is just the first elected city official to venture into this brave new world.

Will Mitchell see council races?

So far, there are four candidates for four seats.

Voters will choose four members of the Mitchell  City Council on Tuesday, June 7. One alderman per ward will be voted into office.

So far, we have one candidate each.

Former councilman Ken Tracy wants to recapture the Ward 1 seat he held for eight years. Tracy was appointed to the post in 2000 and won two elections before losing to current Councilman Doug Backlund in 2008.

Backlund said again Monday that he hasn’t decided if he will run again or not.

Ward 2 Councilman Dan Allen will seek re-election.

Phil Carlson, a Mitchell lawyer, is seeking to represent Ward 3 on the council.

Greg McCurry, chairman of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee, is running for a seat to represent Ward 4.

Ward 3 Councilman Scott Houwman and Ward 4 Councilwoman Geri Beck said earlier this year they will not seek second terms.

The terms of council members Mel Olson, who represents Ward 1, Travis Carpenter, who represents Ward 2, Council Vice President Marty Barington, who represents Ward 3, and Council President Jeff Smith, who represents Ward 4, will not end this year. Mayor Lou Sebert is also not up for re-election in June.

Will anyone else file? It seems likely. How about you?

Tuesday was the first day to pick up petitions. Candidates need signatures from 50 registered voters in their wards to qualify for the ballot.

Tuesday, March 29, is the deadline to file.