¡Es necesario enseñar inglés! Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny (left) addresses Commissioner Tom Fischbach (right) and other members of the Brown County Commission, Aberdeen, SD, February 24, 2015.

¡Es necesario enseñar inglés! Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny (left) addresses Commissioner Tom Fischbach (right) and other members of the Brown County Commission, Aberdeen, SD, February 24, 2015.

Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny briefed the Brown County Commission this morning on his organization's current aims. Bockorny, who took the ADC reins last August. Bockorny upheld the conventional wisdom that they greatest obstacle to economic development in South Dakota is a shortage of workers. Bockorny said that while South Dakota's business climate remains much more attractive than the business climate on either Coast, if a business swoops in with an offer to move to Aberdeen and asks ADC to help them find 200 to 400 workers, "that would be a challenge."

The South Dakota Department of Labor puts Brown County's unemployment at 2.9%, meaning 640 workers out of a workforce of 21,675. I agree that the chances that the skills of one to two thirds of those waiting workers aligning with the needs of a single big employer are slim.

Bockorny told the Brown County Commission that he and his brand-spankin' new workforce development coordinator Kati Bachmeyer are working on targeting certain markets for recruiting new workers and integrating newcomers and refugees in the community.

When Commissioner Rachel Kippley asked what areas ADC is targeting for those new recruits, Bockorny said we pretty much have to look to foreign immigrants, to "folks that don't look like the majority of us." Bockorny said Aberdeen currently has 250-some Somali, Karen, and Latino workers, mostly toiling away in the industrial park. Bockorny said the ADC has "acquired contacts" with certain relocating groups who could bring immigrant workers to fill the needs that we can't on our own.

Bockorny said that Aberdeen and Brown County will need to support the integration of these foreign workers. An essential part of that integration will be the English as a second language program at Northern State University. The need for language skills means we're going to need teachers to help these immigrants make themselves at home in South Dakota...

...which leads us to the payoff for this story: Teachers are essential to South Dakota's economic development. If we don't recruit good teachers with good wages, our new immigrant workers won't be able to learn English and integrate into our communities, and we won't be able to keep the workers we need to grow.

Economic development starts with teachers. English teachers.

Tangentially Related Reading:

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I think we need to talk out in the hall—New Angus CEO Doug Cooper (far left) and executive chairman Keith DeHaan (far right) consider what they'll say on the record to Brown County Commission on their effort to resurrect the former Northern Beef Packers processing plant in Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17.

I think we need to talk out in the hall.... New Angus CEO Doug Cooper (far left) and executive chairman Keith DeHaan (far right) consider what they'll say on the record to Brown County Commission on their effort to resurrect the former Northern Beef Packers processing plant in Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17.

Walk into a room with a press tag and a tripod, and the first thing New Angus officials will say to you is, "We're not giving interviews at this time." Ask to record their comments to the Brown County Commission about their plan to reopen the former Northern Beef Packers processing plant, and the first thing they'll ask for is an executive session.

Brown County Commission, prior to meeting, Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17

Brown County Commissioners prepare for the excitement of the New Angus briefing and local blog coverage, Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17

New Angus CEO Doug Cooper and executive chairman Keith DeHaan came to this morning's Brown County Commission meeting at the courthouse in Aberdeen to update commissioners on their progress toward processing beef on the south side of town. Cooper and DeHaan seemed to think that their update, listed on the agenda as a public item item and recorded like every Brown County Commission meeting for posting on YouTube, would be a confidential matter. Alerted to the presence of a local blogger and the commission's own camera, Cooper and DeHaan indicated they'd prefer to speak in executive session. Commission chairman Duane Sutton said the commission could consider that. I asked Commissioner Sutton if the New Angus update would fall under any of the exceptions for legal or contractual matters that allow public boards to close their meetings. Commissioner Sutton said he'd check with the state's attorney.

Ten minutes later, the meeting began, and it remained open.

Among the highlights of these public comments:

  • CEO Cooper sticks with previous projections to reopen the plant this year. He says if the plant doesn't open in 2015, he and DeHaan "probably be sitting here, because it means we didn't get it done. It's not anybody's fault but ours. We accept that." Cooper declines to give an exact date, because he says that disclosing an exact date could "send a wrong signal" that would cause producers to make decisions and investments that could cost them thousands of dollars. "We're trying to fill a bucket with credibility and not drain it in one shot." To that last comment, one commissioner replied, "That would be something new for out there."
  • CEO Cooper says the plant was set up properly and was USDA-inspected. He says New Angus is only making minor changes to accommodate the production plans dictated by their current market analysis.
  • Commissioner Doug Fjeldheim asked if New Angus is primarily targeting the export market. CEO Cooper said yes, primarily Asia, although the Canadian and Mexican beef markets are also open and cheaper to export to. Cooper says Brown County has "the finest cattle in the world" and that the Asian market is particularly hungry for marbled beef younger than 30 months.
  • Commissioner Sutton asked if New Angus plans to operate at the 1500-head-per-day capacity. Cooper said yes: "That's what the engineer plate says."
  • Commissioner Rachel Kippley said a lot of folks come into her tax office who worked for Northern Beef Packers, have stuck around Aberdeen doing other jobs, and are ready to go back to work at the plant when New Angus opens. DeHaan said the handful of staff they've brought in say they know others around the community who are ready to come back to work when the plant reopens.
  • Chairman DeHaan notes that he looks forward to discussing cattle deals with Commissioner Kippley and her husband Jeff. No conflict of interest there when time comes to check on the beef plant's compliance with zoning and environmental regulations or to spend county dollars on road upgrades around the plant....
  • CEO Cooper said he doesn't know what happened in Northern Beef Packers' operations, but he says New Angus's operations are "going to be transparent." Looking forward to that transparency, I presented my card to Mr. Cooper and said that I'll be happy to come for a tour of the plant when he and DeHaan are ready to give interviews.
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...But Is Banking Commission Already on That Case?

The Brown County Commission today voted 4–1 in favor of a resolution brought by Commissioner Tom Fischbach to ask the State Banking Commission to determine whether GOED/NBP/EB-5 scandal figure Joop Bollen evaded bank franchise tax. Bollen managed loans and mortgages through his corporation SDRC Inc. but never got a lending license. If SDRC Inc.'s lending operations are subject to South Dakota's bank income tax, Bollen could owe the state $2.4 million in back taxes, $1.76 million of which, according to Fischbach's resolution, could go to Brown County. That would patch a lot of potholes between Hecla and Groton.

One commissioner, Mike Wiese, opposed the resolution. He doesn't oppose the idea of investigating Joop Bollen. But in the most important paragraph of Scott Waltman's report, Wiese says he thinks the state is already conducting that investigation:

Commissioner Mike Wiese voted against the resolution. After contacting the state Department of Revenue and state Department of Labor and Regulation, Wiese says he believes the issue is already being looked into and taken seriously. He said he wants Brown County to collect the bank franchise tax if the determination is it should have been paid. However, a resolution from the county commission will not carry much sway, according to Wiese [Scott Waltman, "County Commissioners Ask State to Look into EB-5 Taxes," Aberdeen American News, 2014.09.09].

A GOED/NBP/EB-5 issue "being looked into and taken seriously" by the state.* How rarely we hear such words, and how gratefully we hear them... "we" being all of us South Dakotans not being paid to make excuses for Mike Rounds.

*Update 18:03 CDT: Ben Dunsmoor confirms that the state is on the case:

The South Dakota Director of Banking, Brett Afdahl, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that he has already sent a letter to SDRC Inc. requesting information. Afdahl says it can take up to 30 days for a response from the company and then follow up questions will be asked before a final determination about the company’s status is made [Ben Dunsmoor, "Brown Co. Commissioners Ask If SDRC Inc. Is Bank," KELOLand.com, 2014.09.09].

* * *

Rep. Kathy Tyler did not include that $2.4 million in the $140-plus million she calculates Bollen may have defrauded from the state by other means. The bank franchise tax hangs on an entirely separate statutory peg.

But that $2.4 million in tax evasion could have political implications equal to those we can derive from Rep. Tyler's argument. Recall that when it came to the EB-5 activities that the Governor's Office of Economic Development conducted to benefit Governor Mike Rounds's pet project, Northern Beef Packers, the Rounds Administration demonstrated a keen awareness of banking regulations. In 2010, when Northern Beef Packers arranged a $30 million bridge loan from the mysterious Asian bank Epoch Star Limited to tide it over until a new round of EB-5 investors wrote checks, the Rounds Administration sent GOED chief and EB-5 cognoscente Richard Benda to assure the Banking Commission that Epoch Star was not a bank, did not need a lending license, and did not have to pay bank franchise tax.

The Rounds Administration looked at a one-off offshore funding trick and said, "Jeepers, we'd better get a ruling from the Banking Commission!" The Rounds Administration then looked at its man Joop Bollen, who'd been constructing a fistful of loan funds from EB-5 dollars to supplant local commercial lending, and said... nothing.

Could the Rounds Administration not smell its own shtuff? Or were they so committed to shielding Joop Bollen and his profits that they couldn't risk the scrutiny of the Banking Commission... even if that meant stiffing Brown County $1.76 million?

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Word of the day: Capone!

Remember how last November I mentioned that EB-5/Northern Beef Packers scandal fulcrum Joop Bollen might have broken the law by lending money without a license and not paying bank franchise tax? I elaborated on that tax-evasion thesis last week.

And now Brown County Commissioner Tom Fischbach thinks there might be some there there:

Tom Fischbach wants his fellow Brown County commissioners to consider a resolution that might allow the county to collect $1.76 million in bank franchise taxes.

...SDRC Inc. doesn’t have a money lending license to legally make loans and does not pay the bank franchise fees, according to the resolution.

In that vein, the resolution said, SDRC Inc. “may have defrauded South Dakota of $2.4 million in bank franchise tax avoidance with a $480,000 ongoing annual tax avoidance.”

The bulk of the overall total would be owed to Brown County, according to the resolution [Scott Waltman, "Fischbach Calls for SDRC Investigation," Aberdeen American News, 2014.09.03].

Fischbach says he isn't sure whether SDRC Inc. qualifies as a bank, but his resolution asks the South Dakota Banking Commission to figure that out for us. Fischbach sprang the resolution on his fellow commissioners unannounced yesterday, so commissioners told him to keep his pants on until next week's meeting.

Did Joop Bollen run a bank without a license? Did Joop Bollen evade bank franchise tax? Those questions aren't just academic or blogospheric scandal-mongering. Those questions can tell us whether Joop Bollen, acting under the authority of Governor Mike Rounds and Governor Dennis Daugaard, cheated Brown County and South Dakota out of another couple million dollars.

I think those questions are worth answering. So does Commissioner Fischbach.

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District 3, which encompasses the Aberdeen–Bath metroplex, has a Democratic primary tomorrow for its State Senate seat. Aberdeen City Councilman Mark Remily would like the job; so would writer Angelia Schultz.

Remily graces the Madville Times with responses to some questions about major policy issues and the direction of the Democratic Party

Mark Remily, Democratic candidate for District 3 Senate

Mark Remily, Democratic candidate for District 3 Senate

Given that Northern Beef Packers sits just outside District 3, and that fallout from the collapse of the plant hit Aberdeen most directly, I asked Remily for the local perspective on what went wrong at NBP and with the EB-5 visa investment program that poured millions of dollars down that economic development black hole. Remily gets the impression NBP was "doomed from the onset." He's pessimistic about the ability of California buyers White Oak Global to restart the plant; the new owners are less interested in Aberdeen and "the over 200 workers and the many local businesses they stiffed." Remily suspects Aberdeen is more likely to see White Oak quietly dismantle and sell the plant than rehire and reopen.

Remily says he's not entirely against the EB-5 program that sustained NBP. He says the program is workable if we have oversight, but that we won't have reliable oversight and transparency until we have a "healthy minority" in Pierre. Until Democrats can check the one-party cronyism of Pierre, Remily says EB-5 should be banned.

Addressing economic development more broadly, Remily says job creation isn't our immediate problem. Unemployment in April was 3.8%, meaning over 96% of South Dakotans have jobs. "In Aberdeen, we have jobs," says Remily, "but the jobs we have do not pay enough to attract workers. It's a conundrum, which won't be solved till we raise the minimum wage." Remily says raising the wage to $15 an hour over time would help us recruit and retain workers.

Another way to recruit workers and boost the economy is to boost education. Remily says South Dakota has great teachers, but we subject them to Walmart working conditions. "Stress levels would be lower" for teachers, says Remily, "if they didn't have to have two jobs to make a living wage. Citing Aberdeen's base teacher pay of $33,240.00, Remily says raising teacher pay $15,000 would be a "good beginning."

Getting the money to boost teacher pay is always the sticking point. Remily says we need to pay our way by creating revenue streams. He likes Joe Lowe's suggestion of a 1% seasonal tourism tax. Remily goes further and recommends cashing in on cannabis:

One idea would be to join 17 other states in legalizing some form of cannabis sales. Using Colorado as an example. Their state coffers are filling up.... And guess what? Crime rate going down. State prisons would empty out of non-violent offenders saving more millions in incarceration costs. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it [Mark Remily, e-mail, 2014.05.28].

Ryan Gaddy, call your Aberdeen chapter....

Remily passionately supports expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He is not as passionate about TransCanada. He says the first Keystone pipeline that runs through Brown County brought only a brief uptick in jobs for transient workers but no lasting economic boost. He does not support laying Keystone XL across West River.

I keep looking for a candidate who has a plan not just for winning his district but for boosting the Democratic Party statewide. The question of boosting Demcoratic fortunes is particularly relevant in Brown County, a traditional Democratic stronghold that just saw Republicans surpass Democrats in registered voters. Remily says there are plenty of Democrats around Brown County; they just aren't registering. he did his part to solve that problem by carrying voter registration forms when he circulated his own petition and earlier when he circulated the minimum-wage initiative petition. Remily says he and his fellow circulators registered nearly 100 new Democrats. "Most people want to be registered," says Remily, "but don't take the time to do it." If you want to build a party, says Remily, you've got to do the work.

Whoever wins tomorrow in District 3 faces Republican Rep. David Novstrup, who is trying to trade seats with his dad, Senator Al Novstrup. Remily ran for House in 2008 and lost to David Novstrup by about 900 votes (hey! at least Remily beat Isaac Latterell!). Remily says he's ready to bring bigger heat this election. He says his 40 years of "very public life" in Aberdeen, plus his friendly connections with Democrats, Independents, and Republicans around town make him "the only candidate who stands a chance of keeping David home next legislative session."

District 3, Mark Remily offers you a Democrat who takes pretty strong positions on wages and education funding. Remily is also willing to rattle cages with his suggestion of legalizing marijuana to generate revenue for the state. He pairs those strong positions with an assertion of long-time familiarity and electability in the community. Will you prove Remily right tomorrow, or will you choose a newcomer who prefers the "moderate" brand?

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All are punishèd!

In 2006, Aberdeen beef man Dennis Hellwig asked the Brown County Commission to help him build his Northern Beef Packers slaughterhouse. The commission delivered help in the form of a tax increment finance district. Under the TIF designation, Brown County forewent $8.6 million in increased property tax revenue from the packing plant, allowing Hellwig (and, as it turned out, the Korean investors who bought him out in 2009) use that money top pay down the construction costs over time.

Deb Knecht, SDDP chair

Deb Knecht, NBP supporter—blame her, Mike!

Brown County Commission Chairwoman Deb Knecht led the 4-to-1 majority voting for the TIF in October 2006. Defending her vote, she told KELO, "If we turn everything down we'll never have that tax base... we will however in a few years...we have to be patient and wait for it and hopefully with the new building of homes and things like that we will see some money generated for the county."

When Brown County residents submitted petitions to put the TIF to a public vote, Chairwoman Knecht led the same majority in rejecting those petitions, wanting to keep the public from standing in the way of this tax giveaway on the grounds that approving the TIF was an unreferrable administrative decision. Judge Jon Flemmer reversed that undemocratic rejection in April 2007, saying the TIF was clearly a referrable legislative decision. The TIF went to a public vote that month and won 2-to-1 public support.

But the voters, like Deb Knecht and her fellow county commissioners, the Governor's Office of Economic Development, Joop Bollen, Mike Rounds, and 160 foreign EB-5 visa investors, erred. Northern Beef Packers took five and a half years longer than expected to build and open. NBP collapsed into bankruptcy in under nine months, unable to pay its TIF bonds or even the reduced taxes it owes under TIF designation.

Deb Knecht is no longer chairwoman of the Brown County Commission. But she is now chairwoman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, culminating many years of active participation in the SD Dems.

So just think: If Deb Knecht had smelled the offal, if she had not suffered from the same anything-for-a-buck desperation that induces too many of South Dakota's elected officials to sacrifice tax revenues for the sake of economic development, she could have used her clout (and yes, Democrats had clout in Brown County in 2006) to sway just one more vote to join her and Dennis Feickert in voting against corporate welfare for Northern Beef Packers. That no vote could have stopped the project, saved 160 Korean and Chinese investors $80 million dollars, and erased from this universe's timeline state and federal investigations of financial misconduct in the Governor's Office of Economic Development and South Dakota's EB-5 program that looms over the Senate campaign of the governor who pushed NBP, Marion Michael Rounds.

So the whole scandal really is the fault of the chairwoman of the South Dakota Democratic Party. Ah ha! I knew it had to be a Democratic plot!

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Remember the controversial NPR report last October that investigated inequities in South Dakota's treatment of Native American children in our foster care system? Well, that radio journalism was good enough to win reporter Laura Sullivan and her NPR producers a 2012 Peabody Award, the oldest and most prestigious award for electronic media.

The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform alleges that good national journalism isn't protecting local Native advocates from retaliation by South Dakota officials. NCCPR's blog suggests there are dots to be connected between the state ACLU's follow-up to the NPR investigations and the state's taking of ACLU-SD director Robert Doody's stepdaughter into foster care.

Um, NCCPR, you might want to drop that argument. The seizure of Doody's stepdaughter probably had much more to do with the fact that he beat the twelve-year-old girl with a belt than any political agenda.

The NCCPR supports a second allegation of whistleblower retaliation with a bit more substance. They cite a Lakota People's Law Project report on the case of Brandon Taliaferro. The former deputy state's attorney was fired from his job in Brown County last September. LPLP says that Attorney General Marty Jackley charged Taliaferro and court-appointed child advocate Shirley Schwab with witness tampering and subornation of perjury just two weeks after the NPR broadcast of its findings of abuse in South Dakota's foster care system. Taliaferro and Schwab say the charges are retaliation for their efforts to protect Lakota children from foster care abuse:

According to Lakota People's Law Project (LPLP) investigators, the charges against Mr. Taliaferro and Mrs. Schwab were filed because of their repeated attempts to protect and enforce the rights of four young Native American girls, ages 7, 9, 14 and 16, who were involuntarily removed from their Lakota mother by D.S.S. officials and placed with Richard and Gwendolyn Mette. Mr. Taliaferro conducted a professional investigation and concluded that Richard Mette had repeatedly sexually molested the two older girls, while Gwendolyn Mette threatened to punish the children if they told authorities. Repeated reports of Richard and Gwendolyn Mette's conduct were conveyed to D.S.S. officials. However, the D.S.S. steadfastly refused to undertake any investigation of the Mettes. The four girls had originally been placed with the Mettes, a white couple, over the repeated objections of the girls' adult sister, who had asked that the girls be placed with her, as is required by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. In placing the Indian girls with the Mettes, the South Dakota D.S.S. violated section 1915 of the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act that mandates that all active efforts necessary be undertaken by state D.S.S. officials to place Indian children removed from their Native parents' homes with their closest Indian relatives.

Mr. Taliaffero and Mrs. Schwab assert that South Dakota State Attorney General Jackley and his Department of Criminal Investigation operatives are actively coordinating with D.S.S. officials to use fabricated allegations of "unauthorized disclosure of confidential abuse and neglect information" and "witness tampering" to try to discredit the clear and convincing evidence that incriminates both Richard and Gwendolyn Mette of criminal conduct against the Indian children placed in their custody by the State D.S.S. These actions came immediately after the embarrassing National Public Radio expose of the decade-long pattern of unlawful conduct on the part of South Dakota State officials ["Justice as Retaliation," Lakota People's Law Project, May 21, 2012].

This spring, Richard Mette pled 34 felony charges involving five alleged victims down to a single charge of rape against a nine-year-old girl, for which Judge Jon Flemmer gave him 15 years in prison. Beadle County state's attorney Michael Moore arranged that deal. He was also appointed by AG Jackley to prosecute Taliaferro and Schwab. Moore was supposed to bring them to court this week, but a change in judges has delayed that trial.

The Mette-Taliaferro case is not pleasant to look at. But the media need to look closely so we can learn exactly what happened and ensure that our courts and Department of Social Services are acting in the best interest of all of our children.

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