What's with the South Dakota Association of County Officials lately?

The South Dakota Association of County Officials is an interesting organization. Since this organization representing County Treasurers, Auditors and Registers of Deeds (if I pluralized that correctly) started up several years ago, having served as a director of the organization used to mark a sure rise up the ladder in Pierre's political community.

If you haven't taken notice, the SDACO has spawned several successful careers. Bob Sutton, current head of the South Dakota Community Foundation started as a director there as he moved out of USD's MPA program. Following him was Shawn Lyons who has recently taken over as the Executive Director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, arguably one of the most recognized and influential lobbying positions in South Dakota.

After Shawn was director, Rich Sattgast accepted the position and after a successful tenure, found himself on the statewide scene as South Dakota's State Auditor. I think Rich himself would tell anyone he owes a lot of the credit for his election to the many contacts and acquaintances he made while serving as their director.

But since then, it seems as if the position of Executive Director for the SDACO has become somewhat of a revolving door.

Now, don't get me wrong. (disclosure time..) I did their website for a year or two, and consider it a wonderful organization. But it seems as if they haven't been able to click with a director for the past three years or so.

Following Rich as director was Dwight Neuharth, who had previously held a position within the joint SDACO/South Dakota Association of County Commissioners office.

Now, just by way of background, the SDACC and SDACO have had a love/hate relationship at times as they've found themselves sometimes at odds over certain issues, legislative as well as the SDACC not always recognizing the equality between the two organizations.

After Dwight, a former car salesman, had a couple of years with the SDACO, which included the formerly joint SDACC/SDACO office splitting apart into two distinctly different entities (with distinctly different office locations), Dwight and the SDACO parted ways.

Now I'm told that with only about a year of tenure with the organization, former Ft. Pierre Economic Development Director Day Breitag who took over for Neuharth in mid-2005 is no longer with the organization. The timing of this move is surprising, given the fact that their statewide convention is less than two weeks away.

In fact, if you visit the SDACO website, you'll find that any mention of Day has been utterly expunged, leaving only the name of administrative assistant Viccy Falk as a point of contact.

What has led to some of the alleged organizational tension? It's difficult to put a finger on it, but it's my understanding that for each of the recent directors, their first legislative sessions have possibly had a tendency to be a bit... bumpy. And with any new director, that's probably to be expected as they might not know the players and the landscape as well as a veteran might.

Lobbying can sometimes tend to be on the job training, but if you're working for an organization who doesn't have much patience for short term bumps, that can be difficult.

Also factoring in might be the demands of the Minnehaha County 800 pound gorilla that the rest of the organization might not care for. That can be expected with Minnehaha county's sheer population numbers - it can be intimidating, and might sway decisions one way or another, whether or not it's even intentional. But in this organization, they're just three office holders - no better, and no worse, than all of the others. In making the gorilla happy, the rest of the state might not have been getting their bananas.

What might you watch for in the coming weeks out of this group? I anticipate that after their convention, which is held somewhat jointly with the County Commissioners, you will see movement towards a new director being selected.

The South Dakota Association of County Commissioners will probably make overtures towards the groups coming back together, but I don't anticipate the SDACO will show much of an interest in joint operations under SDACC Director Bob Wilcox (also the brother of former Republican State Senator Patty deHueck).

Coming to the organization from being a County Commissioner himself, Bob is not known as being an influential lobbyist. Couple that with the SDACC's internal problems, such as it's inability to move forward on a per-drink tax, and the Pennington County Commission's very public break with the organization over that issue, they will likely not want to inherit those headaches.

For their new director, I'd watch for the SDACO to go with someone who has been more exposed to the process, and can navigate some of the political minefields. They may target someone from the Department of Revenue - where a chunk of their legislation tends to affect - or they may go with a young up and comer; the type of person that they've have previous success with.

My advice? Watch for movement on this one as September comes to a close.


Nicholas Nemec said…
Shawn Lynons got his start as a Democrat intern in the SD House in 1992. He was one of the best interns we ever had and within a few years he had the SDACO job.

Most of the SDACO members are women and at the time most were old enough to be Shawn's Mother or Grandmother. He treated them with respect when he talked to them and they responded by taking him under their wings and treating him like their son. "He's such a nice young man."

I would agree that this is a excellent organization and an excellent position for a young person to hold if they are interested in government in South Dakota. Shawn also had a good understanding of the legislative process, from his days as a House Intern, that served him well at SDACO.
Anonymous said…
As a former intern myself, let me tell you that you do not gain any experience punching holes in bills and returning constituent calls that would help in holding a position like this. Shawn did a good job in his role as SDACO ex dir and does a good job today because he is bright and articulate.

On another note, I have to disagree with PP on Bob Wilcox. He is an effective lobbyist and is a great person. Bob works hard and really doesn't deserve the back hand slap from someone that doesn't sit in the Senate lobby watching him work.
Anonymous said…
Agreed on Bob Wilcox, last anon. Good guy, well liked.
mhs said…
Gotta agree with the Anons on Bob Wilcox. Any criticism of his performance last year has be tempered with the knowledge of the horrific accident his family experienced. If he was a bit distracted, rightfully so.

No, your comment on the 800 pound gorilla brings up the larger issue. True, Minn Co. can be a goliath, but, I can't think of any unit of government that has a more homogenous nature, and likewise should have a more unified voice, than Counties do.

Think about it, whether it's Bison or Minnehaha, a county budget looks the same: it almost all goes to indigent care, roads and public safety. There's a bit here and there for other things, but, its roughly the same mix. Likewise, their revenues almost all come from the same place: a (usually pretty low compared to schools, etc.) single property tax levy.

Since their functions and revenues are so alike, SDACO should be a very unified, powerful organization. If there are differences, it usually comes from fringe issues not related to county government functions (hunting right, etc.). Their less than powerful voice in the Legislature, (compared to the Municipal League and others) can't be due to staff: it's the lack of will among it's member officials and the old East / West distrust.
Anonymous said…
I would watch for the SDACO to go with someone they can afford, and because County Commissioners probably have to approve the dues, that won't pay for much.
Anonymous said…
I've observed Wilcox for about ten years or so as a lobbyist. I have to disagree with your assesment of his skills. I have found them to be excellent. He always has a good command of his subject matter and is trusted. Being trusted is about as good as it gets in the SD leg. He has on occasion been distraced by personal tragedies, but who won't be? He will serve the counties well if they will let him. They are a tough client.
Anonymous said…
To be truly effective for the Retailers Shawn will have to decide that the Dougherty's and the tobaco companies aren't running his organization's political agenda. Only time will tell if he will be able to break this shamefull relationship and truly represent the whole of his membership.
Anonymous said…
Pretty sad comments about Wilcox, PP. I've worked with the guy for the last dozen years and I don't know of one single person who has the integrity that this guy possesses.
County work ain't for sissies.
Anonymous said…
Comments? It's more like comment:

"Bob is not known as being an influential lobbyist."

In PP's defense, not all lobbyists are at the level of a Jeremiah Murphy, a Dean Krogman, or a Harry Christianson. In fact, most would not be considered overly influential.

It sounds like people are reading more into it than written.
PP said…
Uh... I feel a bit silly, because several of you are reading much more into things than intended.

I'm sure Bob is an o.k. person, but the point is much like anon 2:54 noted.
Anonymous said…
.The officials ass'n. was at one time the "lady's Auxilliary"
to the co comm.It is supposed to
represent and make life easier for
elected co officials who, being mostly female, experience discrimination from the state legislature and co comm in all areas.This ass'n. does not need to exist if that is all it is going to be able to do. We saw some actual progress under Bob & Shawn but are now (and I speak for the officials out of the loop of executive bd)are in the process of shooting ourselves in the foot while trying to stay on the good side of comm. Comm and officials will be at odds - this is how the process is supposed to work. Officials aspire to run their offices legally and correctly and would love to be paid for what they would earn in the private sector. Since Aud & Treas handle the money, they understand that this is not possible most of the time, and if it were, that money would no doubt go to male highway supt and road equipment! So while it may important to work together on the legislation we agree on, we will be at odds - it can't be helped if either organization is to fullfill their function. I agree that SDACO has to get a grip on kicking out directors (possibly the executive bd could lower their
"sucking up" expectations? I think Day was starting to get a handle on things but if not, all of us should get to know exactly what she did that was so terrible and so should she! I also think Bob Wilcox is easily the best director the Comm have had -- maybe SDACO can steal him .

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