The Mitchell school district and the Wagner economic development corporation are heading opposite directions with the workforce development grants they recently won from the state.

The Mitchell school district has gotten a number of area school districts—Ethan, Hanson, Mount Vernon, Parkston, Plankinton, and Tripp—to the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy for vo-tech classes instead of trying to fund their own teachers and programs. Mitchell and its partner schools in this endeavor will use state money to cover the cost of busing high school students to Mitchell for classes. Four routes covering a total of 240 miles each day for 88 school days will run $38,444.

Preferring to bring the mountain to Mohamed, Wagner Area Growth will use $44,478 (costs split between state grant and local effort) to bring two instructors to town from Mitchell Technical Institute to conduct three five-day welding courses and two three-day CDL/truck-driving courses. These courses will target If these pilot programs work, WAG says it will expand the program to meet other local workforce needs.

Note that in both cases, we could save participants (students headed to Mitchel, instructors headed to Wagner) a lot of time by delivering these courses online. But when we're talking welding and driving, there's only so much a webcam and a chat box can get across.

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Last summer, Governor Dennis Daugaard expressed concern that the 21 vaccinated and screened child refugees placed in South Dakota posed a health risk to our fair state. Governor Daugaard should have been more concerned about the health risk posed by local yokels not getting their shots. Thanks to the vaccination paranoia promoted by certain members of the Governor's party, such shot-resistors have brought South Dakota its first measles outbreak since 1997:

According to health officials, the six people that have been diagnosed with the virus are in Davison County, and are made up of three adults and three children. The children range from under the age of five all the way to teenagers.

Health officials say they are all part of an extended family that came together for a holiday celebration. None of them are vaccinated against the measles.

...Several other people are showing symptoms and are being closely monitored. The state is also in contact with about 50 other people who may have been exposed to the virus [Rachel Skytta, "Six Confirmed Cases of Measles in SD," KDLT-TV, 2014.12.31].

South Dakota actually leads its federal Health and Human Services region in MMR vaccination rates at 93.1%. The national rate is 91.1%. Our neighbors in Minnesota are only at 90.8%. (Michele Bachmann is apparently infectious.) Think of those numbers this way: if one of those infected Davison County anti-vacciners walked through the food court at the Mall of America and sneezed a few times, he could have infected one out of eleven people.

The state Department of Health says measles causes brain damage in one out of a thousand cases and death in three out of a thousand cases. SDDoH says measles is highly contagious and can spread by direct contact or by airborne droplets. It is thus less deadly but more contagious than Ebola, which had Senator John Thune calling for a big-government travel ban to prevent the remote possibility of that disease spreading. Fellow blogger Larry Kurtz wonders why Thune is not now calling for a travel ban on Mitchell, but that wondering expects of our Senator logic and consistency, things to which Republicans have developed a strong herd immunity.

The Affordable Care Act has required insurance companies to cover vaccines for four years. The measly Davison County family could have taken advantage of their health plan to get their shots at no additional costs. Instead, they've chosen to become a hazard to people with allergies or compromised immune systems (like kids with leukemia undergoing chemotherapy) who cannot get the MMR shot.

Vaccination rates have been declining nationwide based on no solid scientific evidence of vaccine harms. At the same time, outbreaks of measles and other diseases for which we have vaccines are rising. We can go back to the bad old days when nearly everyone got measles, or we can knock off the vaccine paranoia and get our shots.

And for now, put off that trip to the Corn Palace.

Related Reading: Alas, I'm probably just making matters worse: recent research shows that public health messages promoting vaccines and efforts to debunk anti-vaccine myths only strengthen parents' resolve not to vaccinate their kids. There's just no communicating with some people. Might as well ship them to the FEMA camps....

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Stace Nelson dooms his candidacy by putting Heidelberger in his first TV ad...

...my crazy cousin Aaron Heidelberger, that is. He's the guy in the red shirt.

Smartly, Stace and his production crew keep the ad off full-reserve banking and on the basic lines of the GOP primary: Obamacare, gun rights, abortion, balanced budget, and illegal immigration, blipped just like that.

Stace's TV team also shout "One of Us!", in word and image: bandana, darn fine mustache (that guy's face and voice are golden; put him in every ad), frayed baseball cap (with a 96, surely a subtle reference to the GOP's failure nationally thanks to nominating centrist Bob Dole instead of firebrand conservative Pat Buchanan)... and the Corn Palace! The Corn Palace! You don't get more South Dakota than that. No Parisians or stock photos in that ad (not that some Parisians visiting the Corn Palace wouldn't class the Nelson joint up a bit). Compared to Mike Rounds's strike-out first TV ad, Nelson's is a solid base hit.

And you know what, Pat? The extended version of Stace's ad, just 20 seconds longer, is even better. What you call a fatal fixation with Rounds is an appropriate concentration of fire on the frontrunner. It spends just ten seconds laying out the most concise case possible against the frontrunner, then turns to the positive reasons (for conservatives) to vote for Nelson. And the repetition of "Stand with Stace" three times before the candidate leads that final gladiatorial cheer is better than the one-off the slogan gets in the TV cut. Good theater comes in threes. Keep up the good work, Team Nelson!

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The statewide texting-while-driving ban passed by our Legislature this year is inspiring Mitchell to repeal its local ordinance on electronically distracted driving. The new state law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning troopers can't pull you over for thumb-screen absorption, but they can enhance your ticket if they stop you for something else and you don't hide your iPhone before they come to your window. Mitchell currently makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that's the only reason city cops need to stop you and take your contribution to city government.

Councilman Phil Carlson voted with the council majority last Monday in favor of first reading of the repeal. Carlson prefers uniformity in traffic laws. He also thinks repealing the local ban will save the city some legal bills:

Carlson says that Mitchell should repeal its ban because drivers could fight their tickets in court, which could cost the city money.

"There could potentially be some legal issues with it. For instance, somebody gets ticketed under our ban instead of the state ban, there could be a legal fight over that that could go potentially all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court," Carlson said [Leland Steva, "Mitchell City Council Takes First Step in Repealing City's Texting Ban," KELO-TV, 2014.04.12].

Drivers can fight lots of tickets in court. There is debate on whether they would win the argument that the state's texting-while-driving ban supersedes any local ban. But how many drivers will litigate? The Mitchell fine is $120. Even the boldest pro se defendant will burn up that much money just in time off from work to go to court well before getting to the complicated and costly state Supreme Court stage.

I'm not saying people should not litigate when they have genuine grievances against improper laws and official actions (or inactions). I'm saying the cost of accessing our justice system, even to get a simple answer about whether state law supersedes local law, is so high that the test case Carlson fears won't materialize from most rational drivers.

Carlson also fails to include in his cost-benefit calculations the public-safety benefits Mitchell gets by more strictly encouraging drivers to keep their eyes on the road. If the tougher local ordinance makes a thousand Mitchellians decide not to pick up the phone and text while crossing town to Cabela's, and if just one of them manages not to crumple someone else's car or run over a pedestrian, the city comes out ahead, even if someday the lawyer Mitchell PD pulls over sues his way out of his $120 ticket.

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The Department of Legislative Audit turns from the crony-capitalist pork palace to the Mitchell Corn Palace. Auditor General Marty Guindon finds that Corn Palace management has failed to follow proper procedures and/or city rules in counting, securing, and documenting money from its concessions operations. Guindon's report finds sloppy contracting with performers, vendors, and sponsors. The report also alerts Mitchell officials to violations of municipal credit card and gift policies.

The Department of Legislative Audit presented its report to the Mitchell City Council last night. Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy asked for Corn Palace director Mark Schilling's resignation at the beginning of the month. With the audit now public, Mayor Tracy says there's no evidence that Schilling broke the law or took money from the city.

Mayor Tracy notes that the investigation happened only because people spoke up:

The city asked the state for the audit after Tracy was informed by multiple sources — including Mickelson, the assistant director of the Corn Palace — who he said told him there were certain procedures at the Corn Palace that needed review.

“I appreciate the fact that those people had the guts to come to me and tell me what was going on,” he said.

Mickelson has since taken over for Schilling on an interim basis [Chris Mueller, "Mayor Uncertain If Schilling Stole Money, Committed Any Crimes," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.03.18].

Schilling took one questionable trip to Las Vegas in November 2012. Solo counting of the till and other sloppy bookkeeping may have been going on for longer than that. It thus took over a year for the information to come out. But it came out, because other employees saw what was happening and felt they should and could voice their concerns to someone up the chain of command.

The DLA's report on the Corn Palace parallels its audit report on the Governor's Office of Economic Development in one important way. Each report identifies as a fundamental problem the lack of oversight leaving lone actors too much leeway to err or malfease. But where Mitchell employees apparently felt comfortable raising their concerns, the Eide Bailly review of GOED internal controls found that GOED employees were not sufficiently aware of the channels through which they could report suspicious activity without fear of retribution.

Preventing mistakes and abuses in any organization, public or private, requires putting more sets of eyeballs on every operation. Catching errors and abuses requires that honest eyeballs turn to voices when necessary. Mitchell can be glad its Corn Palace voices spoke up. South Dakotans should continue to wonder why more voices in Pierre haven't spoken up about mistakes and malfeasance in the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

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Ronald Fuchs should be the face of the Medicaid expansion debate in South Dakota. The Mitchell man is a regular guy, age 63, suffering from various maladies that make it hard for him to work. Still, he can't get disability payments. His Social Security income ($650 a month) is too low to qualify for help under the Affordable Care Act but too high to qualify for the Medicaid coverage that Governor Dennis Daugaard refuses to expand.

Republican legislators are spending more time working on a resolution to urge repeal of the Affordable Care Act than they are looking for a solution for Ronald Fuchs.

Ultimately, Ronald Fuchs's only hope remains a couple years of luck, followed by the most reliable health care coverage in America, government-run Medicare:

He says the only advantage he has now is his age. He’s 63.

"So, I can spend another year and a half to two years uninsured, hoping that I don’t get sick, that I don’t have to use the emergency room. Hoping against hope," Fuchs says.

When Ronald Fuchs turns 65 years old, he’ll qualify for Medicare. He says younger people struggling in poverty can’t simply wait it out for their health care [Kealey Bultena, "Medicaid Decisions Impact Mitchell Man," SDPB Radio, 2014.03.12].

This is now way for South Dakota to treat a neighbor. We have the money to expand Medicaid. Let's do it.

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Following the reëlection of President Barack Hussein Obama, various captains of industry vented their grief by asserting that they would not be able to do as much business as they would have if that man of their own stripe, Mitt Romney, had won 334,000 more votes. For instance, Bruce Yakley, CEO of Trail King in Mitchell sour-grapesily moaned that he would have hired 150 more people if Romney had won.

More than two years later, Yakley finally throws out his sour grapes and admits that he's hiring every good worker he can find. The problem is that that darned Obama economy is expanding faster than he can recruit:

Trail King President Bruce Yakley has seen his company consistently struggle to fill skilled positions, such as welders, needed to keep up with demand for its products. Yakley, who started at Trail King in March 2011, said he knew within two months that workforce was going to be an issue.

"The experience has been frustrating, to say the least," Yakley said in an interview this week with The Daily Republic.

The trailer manufacturer, with locations in Mitchell and West Fargo, N.D., cut nearly two-thirds of its workforce during the recession. When the company looked to expand in a burgeoning economy in 2012, the workers weren't available.

"We lost a lot of business because we couldn't ramp up fast enough," Yakley said.

The company's Mitchell plant currently employs approximately 550 people, up at least 30 employees from last year, according to Yakley.

Trail King is still looking to expand, but to meet its goals the company will have to hire as many as 200 skilled laborers in the next five years, Yakley said.

"We are definitely still in need of workers" [Chris Mueller, "Help Wanted in Mitchell," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.02.21].

The relative dearth of young workers compared to baby-boomer retirements and the challenge of convincing people to move to Mitchell are putting Trail King in a hiring bind, not the victory of President Obama. Contrary to the theme of Romney's Republican-capitalist campaign, Yakley continues to call for more government help for his fortunes:

A long-term solution to the state's workforce shortage won't come from just one source -- it will require cooperation from local communities and state government, Yakley said.

"We need to work as a region on this problem," he said [Mueller, 2014.02.21].

Yes, Yakley and the rest of us all hate government until we want something from it.

By the way, Obamanomics have unemployment declining, the stock market surging, growth projections rising, and things look a lot better for Yakley and friends now than they did at the end of the Bush Administration:

Obama Economy 2014

Pesky facts, indeed.

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Former legislator Rod Hall renews his challenge to perennially vacillating legislative aspirant and educational not-so-goodnik Joe Graves in a letter to the Mitchell Daily Republic. Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell school district, sent up trial balloons in 2004 and 2008 saying he wanted to run for Legislature. In 2008, Rod Hall, a former legislator and former member of the Mitchell school board, said he'd run against Graves if Graves threw in. Graves didn't run.

In Sunday's letter, Hall says his challenge stands: if Graves runs, Hall runs. Hall also says that Graves's seeking permission from the board to run is an unnecessary political ploy:

Graves correctly states in his response to The Daily Republic, “District employees have a right to run.”

Should Graves decide to run he simply notifies the board. No board action is required or is appropriate. Asking the board for a stamp of approval to run is getting a non-political school board involved in a partisan political election by asking for that board’s endorsement [Rod Hall, letter to the editor, Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.09.28].

Hall is correct that Graves needs no permission to run. Graves needs his board's permission to rejigger his work schedule to ensure that he can fulfill his contractual obligations while campaigning and, if elected, legislating. Such permission wouldn't quite be an endorsement of his candidacy, but it would be a formal vote from an elected body that the candidate could use to rebut one key argument against his candidacy.

I won't hold Graves's conversations with his board against him: Graves and the Mitchell school board, like any other employee and employer, should have a clear conversation about the impact outside part-time employment will have on the effective performance of his duties. But if he does run, I look forward to Rod Hall's counter-candidacy to explain to the voters of District 20 why Joe Graves as legislator would be bad for K-12 education.

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