The Pennington County Commission is taking aim at a citizen whom commissioners and county employees say has become abusive and harassing.

George Ferebee is a rancher, activist and former legislative candidate who regularly attends commission meetings and advocates for a sharply limited government.

Now assistant state's attorney Jay Alderman, on orders from a unanimous county commission, is investigating what laws may apply to individuals "harassing county employees," a move "precipitated by George Ferebee's actions."

"Our employees have probably had enough harassment," Chairman Ken Davis said at Tuesday's Pennington County Commission meeting. "I know I have."

After learning of the commission's actions, Ferebee said he couldn't believe what the commissioners did.

"The first word that comes to mind is shock," he said. "This is not the America I spent the prime years of my life serving."

The final straw for county commissioners was an encounter at Tuesday's commission meeting, in which Ferebee appeared to refer to Planning and Zoning director Dan Jennissen by a vulgarity. The remark, made during a break in the meeting, came after Ferebee clashed with Jennissen, Alderman and commissioners over a zoning issue.

Jennissen, overhearing the remark, took offense and confronted Ferebee. Other county employees nearby joined in, with one suggesting Sheriff Kevin Thom should escort Ferebee from the Pennington County Courthouse.

Ferebee left on his own after a final exchange with Human Resources director Nick Stroot.

Ferebee said he left under the impression that the meeting was over, not because of any of the disagreements.

When the meeting resumed with Ferebee gone, commissioners took up the incident. After retroactively amending the meeting agenda to include the issue, Commissioner Don Holloway introduced a motion instructing Alderman to investigate harassment laws.

Holloway said his goals it to find out how the county can "prevent him from continuing his harangue-a-tanging around here," up to possibly "whether the sheriff could make an arrest."

Alderman didn't need to be told twice.

"I would sure agree with that," he said just before the vote and after Davis criticized what he called Ferebee's long-term "harassment of county employees."

Ferebee declined to comment as to the accusations of harassment.

"You don't have to deal with individuals like we've experienced today," Alderman said. "Employees of the county, they don't deserve that. They don't have to put up with that."

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of Holloway's motion.

Ferebee declined to comment on the particulars of the meeting Tuesday, saying he wanted to review the county's audio and video recording of the meeting.

He responded by referring to a quote by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who said "one of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures - and that means not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation."

Declining to say whether or not his comments fell into the latter category, Ferebee said people should "use that as your context for anything anyone, including me, might say about government."

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or david.montgomery@rapidcityjournal.com.

(8) comments

Command Chief
Command Chief

Another case of Political Correctness gone amuck. The county commissioners should be ashamed for their conduct after Mr. Ferebee left the building. The section heads should be reprimanded for conduct unbecoming their position. Mr Jennissen should have never injected himself into a privet conversation. These people forget they all work for Mr. Ferebee. But the most aggresses of all actions was Mr Holloway's motion to determine if Mr. Ferebee could be charge with a crime and Mr Alderman's willingness to pursue the matter. Both should be very familiar with the Constitution but it seems not. I hate to break it to you bureaucrats but it is your job to deal with "these individuals." I recommend you spend more time on county business and less time on who was offended. It is time to MAN-UP and apologize to Mr Ferebee.

Factsonly
Factsonly

This threat is not acceptable. In a public venue, citizens should be able to speak their minds regardless of whether county officials like the message. George may push them with his passion, but he has the right to speak his mind at each and every meeting. He should remain cordial while doing so. This is South Dakota, in the great ole USA and not a small town in another country that punishes those who present opposing views in public. Voters should pay very close attention to any attempt to censor public opinion at any and all levels of public government.

tinstagtes
tinstagtes

America is tired of "Business as Usual"!! Citizens are becoming involved in all levels of government. From County Commissioners to Congress to the President of the United States, we want to know the details of what is going on. If it feels like harassment, then try being totally upfront with all details and the dealings of the county and it wouldn't be logical or intelligent to think that all would agree. I know the individual involved in your situation and I also know that he is a tue Patriot and Freedom Crusader. You might be seeing more of these folks soon at your meetings. The First Amendment is all part of being a citizen and a part of being a Public Servant...get used to it.

Frank Smith
Frank Smith

It's easy to try to ban or arrest someone when they constantly disagree with you. It takes real men and women of character to listen and try to understand where the opposition is coming from. Claiming someone is harassing just because they vehemently regularly disagree with you is pretty bad, especially for a County Commission. I have some bad news for you, this is what you signed up for when you ran for these positions. It comes with the territory. If you can't take the heat, well you know the rest.

RV Resident
RV Resident

How about requiring county commissioners to read the US constitution, including the amendments, and write a report on it with emphasis on the first amendment?

Judging from their actions, I doubt any of them have ever read the document in question, let alone understand the wisdom it contains.

VikingsLost
VikingsLost

I would agree that every American citizen has the right to free and uninhibited speech. And we do not know the total context of what these commissioners are trying to limit this citizen's exercise of free speech.

There must be rules of proper accepted decorum through free speech that must be adhered to.

Maybe this one example will give rise to a lawsuit for exercise of free speech by this person, if the commissioners do move to limit his free speech.

To be continued.

Joseph Budd
Joseph Budd

Sounds like the commission doesn't like being told it's doing a bad job by a taxpayer. Maybe it's about time to swap out a few of these guys too.

WOFY
WOFY

Harrassment is part of your gig. Help this person understand what just happened. Obviosuly actions were taking place that affected him. A common curse word or derogatory overheard by someone? Sometimes actions by local governemnt and the restrictions to respond take citizens over the edge.
Give this citizen his right to free speech!

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