The big news I heard around Madison over the weekend was that Dick Wiedenman had died.

Dick Wiedenman collected junk, lived in junk, annoyed the city and county with junk. His junkiness provoked the county to deem him a nuisance and the local paper to skewer him. People looked at him as some crazy old geezer, wearing junk-man clothes and riding his old bicycle around town.

Dick served on the local Smith-Zimmerman Museum board. He spoke up and spoke intelligently on civic affairs. Yet rumor has it he also housed illegal immigrants in old semi trailers on his property. Dick was not an easy guy to like, but Dick didn't seem to give a darn about what anyone else liked or disliked.

It's widely believed that Dick had money tucked away, but he was always looking for freebies. He came to church for free potluck dinners. The local lore about his death Friday is that he went to the hospital for his free coffee, then plunked down and died. The headline should be not "Wiedenman Mooching to the End" but "What Was in Hospital's Coffee?"

It's less likely that the hospital poisoned Dick Friday than that they decided to move their operations to the south edge of town just so it would be too far for Dick to walk to get his free coffee. The prospect of that loss was just too much for Dick's old heart.

Dick was my dad's friend way back in high school. He built the garage that became the lake cabin that I renovated several years ago into a permanent residence. Not one stud in that building was 24 inches on center. But after a half-century of winters and winds, it's still standing straight.

Like all of us, Dick was a mix of good and bad. My pathological affection for pariahs means I have to say I'll miss him. We could drop by the funeral home or the cemetery to pay our respects, but Dick would have none of that. Folks in Madison say he donated his body to science. The USD med school will chop him up, analyze his guts, then burn him back to ashes and dust. Unlike most of the civic fathers who so groused about his presence, no stone shall clutter the landscape and no fancy box shall rot in the ground on Dick Wiedenman's behalf.*

*Update 2015.02.28 16:17 CST: But wait! I'm informed secondhand via FB that Dick's brother Jack said no such body-donation took place! According to the Weiland Funeral Chapel, following the memorial service on Feb. 26, Dick's remains were to be inurned at Graceland Cemetery.

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The Belle Fourche Development Corporation recently won one of the state's fourteen workforce development grants with an affordable-housing plan that mirrors one proposed on the Madville Times seven years ago. The Belle Fourche housing plan also reveals a fundamental market failure in providing housing for workers.

The state is giving Belle Fourche $175,200 to help buy three lots, build three basements, plunk down three three-bed two-bath Governor's Houses, and hook them up to utilities. The total cost for each property will be $143,884. The city will also draft high school students taking vo-tech classes to build two more new houses during the next school year.

BFDC's application says that big new companies since 2013 have stimulated the Belle Fourche economy with $20 million in capital investment and 160 new jobs. However, those new workers can't find decent affordable housing in Belle Fourche and are having to commute from Rapid City and elsewhere. BFDC includes in its application a July 2014 letter from Permian Tank plant manager Robert Sieve saying that affordable local housing is "an important factor in our employee satisfaction and retention."

I agree with plant manager Sieve: a two-hour commute increases the chances that workers will keep their eyes open for work closer to home and stick the company with more frequent turnover costs. The Belle Fourche Development Corporation is serving the interests of labor, management, and the community as a whole in promoting affordable, quality housing.

But I see in Belle Fourche's plan the same market failure that I've seen in housing development in Madison. Back in 2008, the Madison City Commission granted developer Randy Schafer a tax increment financing district to subsidize construction of working-class housing that Schaefer told me would not get built without government help. In his last great economic development project, Richard Benda convinced the Lake County Commission that market demand wasn't enough to build workforce housing and secured tax increment financing for 28 townhouses in Madison. Tax increment financing will build another 14 housing units on the east side of town.

The assumption in Madison, Belle Fourche, and (as evidenced by the grant award) Pierre is apparently that the market is broken. Housing is a basic need; the market fails to build and maintain enough decent, affordable housing; therefore, government must act with tax subsidies and labor provided by prisoners and public school students.

I agree that government properly acts to redress market failures. But what part of the market is failing? Is supply failing to respond to obvious demand? I have a hard time believing that South Dakota contractors are willing to turn down an opportunity to make money building houses. It seems more likely the market failure lies on the demand side: workers would like houses, but their new employers in Belle Fourche, Madison, and elsewhere in South Dakota aren't paying the wages that will convince the bank to sign the mortgage.

Workers need houses. Belle Fourche is taking reasonable action to help workers get houses. But I worry that Belle Fourche's action and the state money supporting it, like other state programs, subsidizes employers who are shorting their employees the full paychecks they deserve.

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Sixteen groups applied last November for workforce development grants from the South Dakota Workforce Initiative. The Workforce Development Council rejected just two of those applications: Madison's and Sioux Falls's.

I'm willing to bet that the council rejected Madison's just because it was Darin Namken pitching new online banners with slogans and logos as underwhelming as the old ones his people came up with. Madison's application was just pork to pay Namken's people $5,000 to fiddle with search engines and post vacuous comments to social media. The application says Madison has a housing shortage, a problem the proposed marketing program does nothing to fix, but then goes on to say that Madison already has successful programs in place to recruit workers. I skim the application and see no compelling case to hand Namken's company more free public dollars.

Madison's plan was weak, but at least they offered a plan. Sioux Falls got rejected, apparently because they wanted state money to pay for thinking about a plan. Forward Sioux Falls applied for $56,433 to pay a third of the cost for having consultants help them develop a workforce development plan. (What? People can get paid six figures just for sitting around helping people think? I do that job in the classroom all the time, and I never get six figures for a gig! I need to rebrand: I'm not a teacher; I'm a brainforce development consultant.)

And let's get real: Sioux Falls needs the least assistance developing its workforce. Almost every other town in this state loses workers to Sioux Falls, because Sioux Falls, in the South Dakota scheme of things, has almost everything. Their application and their own woe-is-us reaction to the state's rejection in today's paper state that Sioux Falls has growing and diverse industries. Its population is growing at nearly twice the state rate. The city offers more opportunities, more people, and more money. In an environment like that, the workforce pretty much develops itself.

The proper role of government is to help along those worthy projects that aren't happening on their own. Madison already has the tools it needs to Tweet job openings. Sioux Falls already has the economic and cultural attraction to build its workforce. The state can justify focusing its meager workforce development resources elsewhere.

You can peruse the fourteen winning applications here and see how Aberdeen, DeSmet, the Associated General contractors, and eleven other organizations snagged their pieces of government pie.

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Dakota State University football coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with Oregon freelancer Nigel Duara's portrayal of his program and his community. Actually, nobody should be happy with how they appear in Duara's SBNation.com exposé on NAIA football. Duara makes Anderson sound like he tricked Robert Johnson and other out-state transplants with unkept promises. He makes Johnson sound like a liar. He makes Johnson and other ineligibles sound like lazy bums who arrogantly presume to know more than their coaches. He makes the DSU athletic department sound like a welfare queen counting on Medicaid to pay for health care for the young men it breaks in the pursuit of fleeting sports glory. He makes Madison sound like a Hicksville that doesn't support college football. And he makes NAIA football sound like a pay-for-play racket filled with deluded underachievers on the field and in the classroom.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Coach Anderson appears to have reason to feel betrayed by Duara. He tells Madison sports beater Larry Leeds that Duara misrepresented his intent in writing about DSU football:

What Anderson thought would be a positive piece for Madison became an online rant about a small Midwestern town and the allegedly unmet expectations of a California athlete.

"It is my fault because I took a man for his word when I was told there was a desire to do a 'feel good' story about a young man (Robert Johnson) from California who went to junior college and then came to DSU to do good for himself [Larry Leeds, "Website Story Criticizes DSU; Anderson Sets It Straight About Football Recruit, Program," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.12.26].

Anderson says Duara misrepresents Johnson and his situation. Anderson says Johnson simply didn't meet the staggeringly low eligibility requirements to play NAIA ball:

Students coming out of high school need to meet two of three qualifications to play at the NAIA level. They need an 18 or better score on their ACT or an equivalent score on their SAT; a 2.0 or higher GPA; and must graduate in the top 50 percent of their class.

The only thing Johnson was offered by DSU was a scholarship upon becoming eligible.

"Our football staff and academic administration did all we could do to help Robert pass some tests to help him gain credits which would make him gain eligibility last fall," Anderson said. "Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way we all had hoped, but it was not for a lack of effort on anybody's part, especially Robert's" [Leeds, 2014.12.26].

Um, Coach Anderson? I appreciate your generous words as a coach in defense of your player, even an ineligible player whose comments gave a reporter fodder for some bad press. But let me speak as a teacher: not being able to meet two of the three academic criteria listed above is almost always a result of someone's lack of effort.

Coach Anderson challenges the picture Duara paints of a town not supporting college football. Anderson highlights the meals churches and businesses provide his players, the reinstated Trojan Parent program, and the service projects through which his team repays the community. "The entire town of Madison is nothing but supportive to DSU and Trojan football," Anderson tells Leeds.

Anderson's "entire" perhaps overstates things. Duara does find one local entrepreneur, Beth Klingbile, owner of Gary's Bakery, whom he gets to almost talk smack about DSU athletics:

But not everyone is receptive, like main street cafe co-owner Beth Klingbile. She should fit the profile of a school booster: A cheery local business owner who graduated from Dakota State and stayed in town. But when the topic of Dakota State athletics comes up, Klingbile's smile is a little less certain.

"Yes, they come and ask for donations," said Klingbile. "But that's the only time I see them."

Have you ever given them money?

She shakes her head [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Duara imputes to baker Klingbile a "less certain" smile and a lack of financial support. Take Duara at his word (and as Anderson says, we should do so with caution), and we have one person to undercut Anderson's claim to entirety. But Duara doesn't balance the brief slice of his Klingbile conversation with an interview discussing the substance of support—the team meals, the Trojan Parent adoptions—with any of DSU boosters. He squirts ink mocking booster and Dairy Queen owner DeLon Mork's name and alleged accent, but he doesn't ask Mork about the specific actions through which he supports the football team of his alma mater.

Anderson may exaggerate just a touch when he says the "entire" town supports DSU football, but Anderson isn't a journalist. He's the leader and principal advocate for his program. He's doing his job. Journalist Duara is not.

(Speaking of balance, Leeds speaks to no one but Anderson for his response to Duara. He does not interview Johnson. He does not get comment from Duara. Maybe Leeds is offering a sort of blogospheric balance: Duara peddles his bias, Leeds gives the local retort, we read both and make our own call.)

That said, Coach Anderson doesn't entirely understand the job of a journalist:

Since time has passed since he first read Duara's posting, Anderson has realized that he is not mad at the author, just really disappointed with himself.

"What I learned, and what I would like others to learn from my mistake, is that I should have had the author sign a disclaimer allowing me to approve the article before anything was allowed to be published or posted," he said. "What is done is done, but I will not make that mistake again" [Leeds, 2014.12.26].

Again, Anderson gets carried away in absolutes. I'm just a blogger (darn right you are! I can hear Duara and Anderson growling at their screens), but I have never had an interviewee hand me any sort of written contract and demand my signature before we proceed with an interview. I've certainly had conversations with sources about what's on the record and what's off. I've checked back with sources to make sure I've gotten what they told me right. But I've never given—and I doubt other journalists give—anyone I've talked to prior restraint over entire articles.

Coach Anderson, did you require Larry Leeds to sign a disclaimer before publishing his interview with you?

Anderson will likely have a hard time sticking with his disclaimer/prior restraint vow. The PR side of his job requires that he share his thoughts pretty freely with the local press. Maybe he can maintain the traditional neighborly agreement with the Daily Leader's sports reporter, but I suspect he's going to have a hard time getting a written contract from every reporter who happens to ask him for a comment on the prospects for next season.

Perhaps Larry Leeds has already reminded Coach Anderson of the proper role of journalists, over coffee at Dairy Queen. Don't overstate your case, Coach—you don't need to resort to your own exaggerations and absolutes to properly point out that Duara dinged your program and your town with sloppy, axe-grinding journalism.

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Nigel Duara's article on Dakota State University football includes one intriguing tidbit on DSU internal politics:

Two years ago, after nonstop losing, Dakota State's president pledged 2013 would be [head football coach Josh] Anderson's last season. Then that president resigned. His replacement, an interim president, hasn't issued any final edict. In the meantime, in an effort to win now and save his job, Anderson decided to go on a spending spree and spent double his $70,000 athletic budget. "I told my wife, I'm sick of nickel-and-diming it," he said. "If I have to hold bake sales, I'll make the cookies myself" [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Former DSU president David Borofsky went on a canning spree during his two-year tenure in Madison, removing the athletic director, the VP academic, the dean of Arts and Sciences, and the dean and the assistant dean of Business and Information Systems before "retiring" last August and head to a temp job in Florida.

Borofsky apparently could get by with messing with administrators, but perhaps turning his sights on popular hometown coach Anderson broke some camels' backs and got the Regents (including Madison booster Randy Schaefer) to pay attention and bring an end to Borofsky's reign of terror.

And now with the target off his back, Coach Anderson enjoys the freedom to go 100% over budget. Hmmm... I wonder if any relieved professors are enjoying that same fiscal freedom this academic year....

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Dander is up in Madison about a December 17 article on SBNation.com about the Dakota State University football team. Head coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with how Duara portrays his program in his exposé of the shady pay-for-play nature of NAIA football. I'll have more to say about Anderson's heartburn and Duara's thesis in a separate post, but for the moment, I'd like to critique Duara's journalistic skill and apparent cultural biases.

In his attempt to paint some cultural context for his far-flung readers, Duara, who grew up in Florida, got bad grades in J-school in Missouri, and now lives in Oregon, opens his piece by painting my hometown as Nowheresville:

The Middle of Nowhere, the very dead center, is probably somewhere on South Dakota's Country Highway 40 in Lake County. The city of Madison, pop. 6,474, birthplace of Entertainment Tonight co-host Mary Hart, is a good enough place to start looking. The town's motto is "Discover the Unexpected." That's as close to a warning as you'll get [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Middle of Nowhere? Duara has apparently never driven out to interview Larry Rhoden in Union Center.

While I am glad to get an outsider's perspective that matches with my own long-standing assessment that our town marketing slogan invites ridicule, an article that opens with two glaring inaccuracies does not bode well for the writer's commitment to the truth.

  1. There is no "Country Highway 40" that runs through Madison. There is a county road designated as "40," the old pavement that runs west from Bourne Slough, turns to gravel where the old highway curves north at the old implement dealership, and continues west to the back end of Lake Herman State Park and Dirks Resort. Look at all the places on even that back road!
  2. The population of Madison, by the most recent published Census estimate, is 6,949. 6,474 was the 2010 Census count.

Duara isn't making things up when he says Madison is quiet, even on a home game day. "Madison is in a perpetual state of quiet during the harvest season," writes Duara, "when life in the Midwest should be rowdiest." Duara misses the fact that on a sunny October day, that harvest may have many people out in the fields working (which Duara saw on his way into town, men in a combine, but failed to put two and two together). I don't know what Saturday Duara visited, but he also ignored the competition of hunting season, which could draw many sportsmen away from the stadium for sport of their own. For all his striving to be an astute cultural observer, Duara seems to have been wearing blinders to some fundamental aspects of local culture.

Duara then gets personal in a way that further reinforces my impression that he wrote more of what he wanted to see than what he really saw. I don't know what to say about the journalistic credibility about a writer named Nigel Duara who says DeLon Mork is a funny name. "Unlikely" is the word Duara chooses to describe one of the most respected names in South Dakota business. Duara also sees fit to cast Mork in Fargo:

Mork owns the Dairy Queen in town, as did his father and his grandfather. He survived testicular cancer, twice. On National Blizzard Day, he outsells any DQ in the country. He busies himself around the store, fiddling with the shades or clearing counters. Customers leaving get a "see yuh!" in his heavily-accented speech from the Upper Plains. People like DeLon Mork.

A few wins and a few more close losses have him in high spirits.

"Aw jeez, dey're just turnin' it around up there, aren't dey!" he says, his perpetual smile brightening. He, perhaps more than anyone else, believes in this team and his friend, Coach Anderson [Duara, 2014.12.18].

Duara provides no phonetic transcription of anyone else's speech in this article. He certainly doesn't attempt to capture the regional flavor of the speech of California transplant Robert Johnson and his acquaintances back in exotic Palo Alto. He quotes Trojan player Cliff Marshall in standard English, with complete ending consonants and no hint of his Chicago dialect. He gives a hint of dialect from Johnson and another ineligible player, Collins Macauley, whom he catches leaving out a linking verb and an auxiliary verb in the midst of arrogant presumption against their coaches ("These the real coaches... they calling everything wrong") and using foul language.

Duara takes the one local booster who more passionately than any other can challenge Duara's desired portrait of Madison as a losing town and paints him as an ill-spoken yokel.

As Duara acknowledges, people like DeLon. I like DeLon. And DeLon's a tough enough guy that he probably doesn't care what Duara says about him. But I take it personally that, in pretense to literary wit, Nigel Duara thinks that twitting DeLon Mork, not to mention the entire town of Madison, helps advance his thesis that DSU football is part of an abusive NAIA system.

Were he to notice, Duara would likely twit my response here as small-minded, small-town defensiveness, another aspect of the dull culture that annoyed him so one sunny Saturday in October. The thing is, I agree with much of Duara wrote: Madison is not a big-league town. Dakota State University does not play big-league football. But Duara, with his simple inaccuracies and cultural bias, is not writing like a big-league journalist.

Bonus Copy Editing: Duara says Johnson has a tattoo consisting of "blueish rhombuses." I have a hard time finding a dictionary that will attest blueish as a preferred or even acceptable alternative spelling to bluish. And come on: if you love language, if you're swinging for the literary fences, you don't miss a chance to say rhombi.

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In somewhat better local economic news, Madison's movie theater is reopening next week. Owner Todd Frager shut the West Twin Theater down at the beginning of October to give the place its first real renovation since it opened back in the late 1970s. The main upgrade is to digital projection equipment, but we can hope the renovation has also upgraded the movie house itself, which over four decades had declined to an embarrassing state of disrepair.

Alas, the rechristened Madison Theatre loses the distinction of being a two-screen cineplex. Evidently we're down to a one-screen house... which is fine, because really, how many good movies are out there?* Update 2014.11.13 09:32 CST: Mistake on my part! Cinema manager Carol Frager calls me today after hearing some confused stories about this blog post at the Community Center and tells me that her son Todd Frager has not gutted the interior and consolidated screens. The newly rechristened Madison Theatre still has two screens! But during this first reinaugural week, the Madison Theatre will show just one film.

The cinema grandly reopens with a special early showing of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 on Thursday, November 20, at 8 p.m. (for seven bucks!).

Note that this community cultural preservation is brought to you by government intervention, in the form of an economic development loan coordinated by the Lake Area Improvement Corporation. LAIC director Julie Gross says the theater renovation "coincides with the mission of the Madison Downtown and Beyond taskforce, which is committed to enhancing the vitality of the Madison area." Emphasis on Beyond, of course, since the Madison Theatre is located one mile west of downtown, at the back of a gravel parking lot, along a state highway with no sidewalks where kids can ride their bicycles.

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The Governor's Office of Economic Development and Madison's Lake Area Improvement Corporation score another coup, bringing Iowa sexy bra manufacturer Best Darn Guns (should a company really force us to swear?) to town:

Best Damn Guns website, http://bdguns.corecommerce.com, screen cap, 2014.11.13

Best Damn Guns website, http://bdguns.corecommerce.com, screen cap, 2014.11.13

In a brilliant example of vertical (or is it horizontal, or cross-your-heart?) integration, the LAIC announces it is also bringing the closely associated Wilt Manufacturing, whose subsidiary Wilt Wire and Fabrication does something with Wire EDM, which is obviously connected to the the supporting industry of making underwires.

Or not. Once I get past the crass and gratuitous disembodiment and oversexualization of the female body, I realize Best Darn Guns makes gun parts. But their advertising makes clear the real psychology behind South Dakota's gun nuttery. Carrying guns and now building local economic development makes us real men and gets us action.

Welcome to South Dakota, Best Darn Guns and Wilt Manufacturing! We look forward to your billboards.

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