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At least 5 candidates seeking attorney general's office

SIOUX FALLS | Several current or former federal, state and tribal prosecutors are seeking to replace outgoing state Attorney General Marty Jackley as South Dakota's top law enforcement officer.

Former South Dakota U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler formally announced Thursday he would seek the office as a Democrat, setting up a contest for the party's nomination with Tatewin Means, a former Oglala Sioux Tribe attorney general.

Among Republicans, Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald, Yankton lawyer Jason Ravnsborg and state Sen. Lance Russell are seeking the office. Each party's candidate will be selected at conventions in June.

Here's a look at the candidates vying for the job:

John Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald, the Lawrence County state's attorney since 1995, is campaigning on decades of experience as a prosecutor, saying that officials must be vigilant to keep South Dakota "safe and secure." The 62-year-old who lives near Spearfish noted methamphetamine as a key problem that must be addressed through education, rehabilitation and law enforcement.

"It's skill. It's understanding. It's insight. It's knowledge that comes with years of doing things," said Fitzgerald, who has also been Butte County state's attorney. "I've had in excess of 250 jury trials."

Jason Ravnsborg

A deputy state's attorney for Union County and partner at a Yankton law firm, Ravnsborg says he has a strong background to address the drug problem in South Dakota. Ravnsborg would make changes to criminal and juvenile justice overhauls approved by lawmakers, including removing presumptive probation policies that currently apply to lower-level offenders to "give the power back to the judges."

He's also proposing to expand programs that allow lower-level prisoners to work while serving their sentences and establish a meth-specific prison and a mental health facility in western South Dakota. The 42-year-old Yankton resident ended 2017 with a campaign bank balance of nearly $32,000 — significantly more than his two Republican opponents.

He is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Lance Russell

Russell, a longtime Republican lawmaker and former state's attorney, says he's running for the attorney general post to address rising crime and improve government transparency. The 48-year-old lawyer from Hot Springs says South Dakota should have a broader public records law similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act. He says the aim is to stop problems like South Dakota's GEAR UP scandal involving embezzled funds and a dead family.

Russell is also pushing to reverse presumptive probation policies to give judges more discretion in sentencing. But there's one wrinkle in Russell's campaign: he's running to keep his state Senate seat in a primary election held just weeks before Republicans' state party convention to select their attorney general candidate.

Tatewin Means

A former Oglala Sioux Tribe attorney general, Means declared her candidacy late last month in an open letter saying she would lead the state in a new direction. In her campaign biography, the Democratic candidate cites a dedication to reducing recidivism rates and says she would work to build a state where every child can thrive, every trauma survivor can find healing and people with mental health issues have enough support.

Means, now the chair of graduate studies at Oglala Lakota College, says in the letter her determination has grown through experiences as a lawyer, educator, mother and indigenous person. Means' campaign didn't immediately return a telephone message seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Randy Seiler

Seiler served as South Dakota's U.S. attorney from 2015 through 2017. He says he would make fighting methamphetamine abuse his main priority if elected attorney general. The 71-year-old Seiler says there's "no better training ground" to become attorney general than his more than two decades of experience in the U.S. attorney's office. He touted that experience heavily in the announcement, also citing his work with Native American tribes in South Dakota.

Seiler says addressing the meth epidemic will require prosecution, prevention and treatment.

"I believe I have the experience, the leadership and the vision to serve as the state's top law enforcement officer and also to serve as the lawyer for the people of the state of South Dakota," Seiler said.


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Growth continues for biotech company developing blood cleansing filters

ImmutriX Therapeutics, a medical technology firm that develops devices to cleanse blood of toxins and other contaminants, is committed to staying in Rapid City, according to founder, president and CEO Carol Rae.

“I was born here. This many years later, I’m staying here,” Rae said.

ImmutriX is not only staying put, it continues to grow. Founded in 2009 with three people working out of a small suite near Canyon Lake, ImmutriX moved in 2016 to a 10,000-square-foot production and office building at 3620 Homestead St., off of Elk Vale Road in east Rapid City.

Now construction of a $5.4 million, 26,000-square-foot addition to that space is just getting underway.

The expansion, slated for completion in December, will house production equipment and office space for Intrinsic Materials Corp., an ImmutriX subsidiary producing proprietary synthetic-based, activated carbon filter materials soon to be used in human trials to cleanse blood. One such use is to remove radiocontrast agents used in CT scans, but toxic to kidneys, from the bloodstream, said Jeff Barnes, president of Intrinsic Materials.

The current building will be home to the company’s blood laboratory and research-and-development offices. “The reason for the expansion is the size of the equipment we need to meet the production requirement,” Rae said.

ImmutriX is within a couple of months of entering the veterinary field with devices to remove poisons from animal blood through its Aimalojic brand (“Aima” is Greek for blood). Other industrial uses for the technology could follow and mean more growth, Rae said.

“We have future expansion space on the original property,” she said.

The expansion should be completed in December with the number of employees expected to jump from 26 to about 45, Rae said. The company is advertising with surrounding universities for Ph.D.-level graduates.

“We’re looking for material scientists and biochemical engineers,” she said.

The ImmutriX/Intrinsic Materials expansion is one of six building permits recorded in Rapid City in April with valuations exceeding $1 million, according to a release from the Rapid City Building Services Division.

Others include Chrisbro IV Inc. for the Tru By Hilton/Hampton Inn at 825 Eglin St. ($14.8 million); 5MPH LLC for Muth Properties at 6015 Mount Rushmore Road ($2.2 million); Journey Church, 3222 Jaffa Garden Way ($1,802,625); Timberline Properties LLC for Cory's Point S Store, 1700 Camden Dr. ($1,644,000); and Boom Investments LLC for the Booms Business Center building ($1 million).

The city issued 339 building permits with a total valuation of $36,220,647 in April. The only higher valuation total for the month of April was recorded in April 2012 with more than $40 million in valuation issued.

For the first four months of the year, the city totaled 1,004 building permits with a total valuation of $178,733,587.

By comparison, through the same period last year, the city issued 908 permits with a total valuation of $83,956,740.


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City seeks to regulate 'granny flats'

Whether you call them “pool houses,” “granny flats,” “mother-in-law units,” “man caves” or “backyard cottages,” the city labels them “accessory dwelling units” and more importantly, illegal.

But a new draft policy pegged for Rapid City Council consideration in July may soon give the nod to such units in residential districts.

At the city’s “Coffee with Planners” event Wednesday morning in city hall, Community Development Director Ken Young unveiled the policy and fielded questions from the approximately 30 people in attendance. Most were supportive, Young said after the event, but some people raised concerns about the effect allowing the units could have on their neighborhoods.

That’s understandable, Young said, but typically new occupants are simply filling units previously occupied by family members. In short, the nature of the occupants may change but the number of people doesn’t. The city’s proposed policy, which will come before the city’s committees and council in the form of ordinance amendments, seeks to regulate and mitigate any potential adverse effects, Young added.

Accessory dwelling units come in many forms. Some are internal, like an attic or basement apartment. Others are detached, like a pool house. Then, there are attached units extending out from the main structure. All of them, under the city’s proposed definition, have their own cooking, sleeping and sanitation facilities. While such units already exist in many corners of the city, they are technically illegal per city code in Rapid City’s residentially zoned districts.

So, why the change?

It helps increase the affordable housing stock in Rapid City, for one, says the city’s draft policy. It can also provide an additional source of income for Rapid City property owners. And for elderly family members, it can help them strike a balance between remaining independent while having family close by in the case of an emergency. To ensure these desired outcomes come to fruition without any adverse side effects, the city has laid out a host of regulations.

The property owner renting out the unit must reside full time on the property, whether in the accessory unit or primary structure. The unit cannot be detached by a deed and sold. And for those wondering if this is a thinly veiled attempt to regulate short-term rentals — e.g. AirBnB rental properties — the policy explicitly states that accessory dwelling units must be rented for a minimum of 28 days and cannot be used for short-term rentals.

Further, units exceeding 500 square feet must match the appearance of the primary structure and cannot be taller than the primary structure. Any unit more than 15 feet in height must meet increased side yard and set back requirements. The units also cannot be located at the front of a lot and must provide two parking spaces in addition to the two spaces required for the primary single family home.

For lots less than 6,500 square feet, only internal accessory dwelling units would be allowed. The units cannot exceed more than 10 percent of the lot’s overall area, though exceptions up to 15 percent can be allowed under a conditional use permit. Only one unit would be allowed for each owner occupied single family home.

Finally, for property owners with an occupied accessory dwelling units already on their land, a permit application would need to be registered with the city’s Community Development Department. A permitting fee will likely be set by the council this summer and site plans, building dimensions, floor plans, and photos of life safety items required by the city — e.g. carbon monoxide and smoke detectors — would also be required.

Currently, the city hopes to have the ordinance amendments before the Planning Commission at the start of July with consideration by the Legal and Finance Committee and then the Rapid City Council, coming in mid-July. In the meantime, the city will not be actively enforcing its codes prohibiting accessory dwelling units in residential areas but will still respond to complaints, city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said.

When asked when the city plans to unveil its draft policy for short-term rentals — the city council considered a proposal to regulate the industry in October 2016 that eventually failed — Shoemaker said it would come this year but was, for now, “simmering on the back burner.”


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Group to commemorate missing and murdered Native girls, women

The family of Larissa Lonehill has been anxiously waiting for news about the young woman for a year and a half.

Lonehill, 21, went missing in Rapid City in October 2016. Police presume she is dead, and last year offered a $5,000 reward for help in solving the mystery of her disappearance. The case remains unsolved.

“Help bring her home if anybody knows her whereabouts or knows anything,” Marissa Pulliam, Lonehill’s sister, said Thursday. “There are people who care about her.”

Lonehill is one of what is believed to be thousands of Native American girls and women who are missing or have been murdered.

On Saturday, National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native American Women and Girls, the local nonprofit Red Ribbon Skirt Society is joining groups around North America in shining a spotlight on these cases.

“We need to help find our missing sisters,” Lily Mendoza, founder of the Society, said. “That’s the movement behind the day of awareness.”

Her group is advocating the creation of a task force that would focus on such cases and collect official statistics.

Rapid City Council member Darla Drew will read a city proclamation of the awareness day on Saturday, said city government spokesman Darrell Shoemaker. This will take place at noon on the front steps of the Racing Magpie at 406 Fifth St. and will be followed by a get-together over coffee and cookies till 1 p.m.

The Society is inviting community members, such as businesses and families, to display in their window or outside their door a red dress, which represents the blood of the murdered women.

The Red Skirt Society’s work includes putting together care baskets for the families of the missing or deceased women, or helping them with funeral costs. To find out more, go to shamusproject.com/red-ribbon-skirt-society or email lilym@rap.midco.net.


Lonehill