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Jackley denies Democrat claim of campaigning on taxpayer time

Republican candidate for governor Marty Jackley is denying a recent claim by the South Dakota Democratic Party that he is campaigning on taxpayer time.

Jackley is the state’s attorney general, and he is running for the Republican nomination for governor. He will face other Republican candidates in the June 5 primary election.

On Jan. 4, the state Democratic Party issued a news release that was titled, “Jackley’s Record of Campaigning on Taxpayer Time.”

The release said, in part, that the attorney general’s travel budget grew from $60,624.71 in 2016 to $105,689.20 in 2017. That was “an increase of almost 75 percent while running for Governor,” said the emailed release, which included an internet link to a page of accounting data where the figures were listed.

But Jackley said the data used by the Democrats pertained to only one division of his office and had nothing to do with his own travel expenses.

“This is nothing more than politicians trying to play politics, using numbers that aren’t real,” Jackley said in a phone interview.

Travel expenses for the entire Attorney General’s Office in 2017 were actually $969,992.04, according to documents provided by Jackley’s office. That amount was down from $987,168.69 in 2016.

Further documents from Jackley’s office showed that his personal travel vouchers totaled $4,803.51 in 2017, up from $4,054.20 in 2016. Those figures are for expenses such as meals and hotels. Jackley travels in a state-owned vehicle, and records from his office show the vehicle was driven 14,097 miles in 2017, which was down from 15,674 in 2016.

The source of the Democratic Party’s single page of data appears to be a 327-page report known as the “Blue Book of Other Funds.” The report is prepared annually by the Department of Legislative Audit for the Legislature’s Interim Government Operations and Audit Committee.

Included in the 2017 report are eight pages of accounting data for eight funds controlled by the Attorney General’s Office. Six of the eight funds had travel expenses. Between 2016 and 2017, travel expenses increased in three of the funds — including the one cited by the Democratic Party — but decreased in the other three funds.

The fund that the Democratic Party drew its figures from is named “Attorney General-Other.” The Blue Book says the fund receives revenue from record-check fees, consumer affairs settlements, drug seizures and purchases of bound copies of the attorney general’s legal opinions.

Jackley said the travel expenses in the fund are for the Consumer Division of the Attorney General’s Office. His office spokeswoman followed up later with an email attributing the division’s increased travel expenses in 2017 to a pair of factors: consumer settlement agreements, which include mandates to spend money on items such as training or education for investigators; and increased activity by the division’s elder-abuse team, pursuant to recommendations and resources stemming from a 2016 report by an Elder Abuse Task Force created by the Legislature.

The state Democratic Party was not the first to notice and question the fund’s increased travel expenses for 2017.

On Dec. 18, about two weeks before the Democratic Party issued its news release, the travel expenses were discussed during a meeting of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. Jackley attended the meeting, along with representatives of various other state departments, to answer the committee’s questions about financial matters.

It was committee member Justin Cronin, a Republican state senator from Gettysburg, who called attention to the travel expenses in the “Attorney General-Other” fund.

“What was the increase there, if you could just remind us?” Cronin said, according to an audio recording on the Legislative Research Council website. “It’s about a $45,000 difference. You were pretty constant for the prior three years. What was the difference there?”

The question sparked a verbal exchange that lasted about seven minutes, during which Jackley gave an explanation similar to the one that he and his office later gave to the Journal. The committee asked Jackley to follow up later with documents to support his testimony, and then the committee moved on to other matters.

The committee’s membership includes the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, Rep. Susan Wismer of Britton, and the only declared 2018 Democratic candidate for governor, Sen. Billie Sutton of Burke.

The Journal asked Sutton if he is concerned about the travel spending by Jackley’s office. Sutton said he looks forward to seeing the additional information that the committee requested.

“Anytime when travel increases for any reason in a large degree within any department, I think it’s important that we just make sure there’s a reason for it that’s allowable,” Sutton said.

Legislative Research Council records show that Sutton received $552.68 in travel reimbursements for the 2017 fiscal year, in addition to the standard per diem and mileage payments that all legislators receive for the annual legislative sessions. The extra travel reimbursements were for attendance at meetings of legislative committees, a task force and an oversight council.

Sam Parkinson, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said in a Journal interview that he remains concerned about the travel expenses in the Attorney General's Office, even if the expenses referenced in the party's Jan. 4 news release are not directly attributable to Jackley.

“If it’s not his travel, we would like to see that. I think there needs to be a little bit more transparency in the Attorney General’s Office,” Parkinson said. “For it to go from just over $60,000 one year to over $100,000 the next year is something that citizens should question and just be curious as to why.”

Parkinson added that, to his knowledge, Jackley’s press conferences earlier this month in Sioux Falls and Rapid City to discuss legislative proposals were the first of their kind. While that is true, Jackley said, it is only because he was short on time this year and decided to conduct press conferences rather than meet individually with various media outlets, which was his practice in past years.

Building boom continues in Rapid City with $300M permit total last year

Rapid City is on a roll of robust construction activity, and the roll shows little sign of stopping, or even slowing down, after seven straight years.

After a five-year run of building permit valuations topping $200 million, the city’s Building Services Division has issued building permits with a combined total valuation in excess of $300 million for the last two years.

Mayor Steve Allender said city development officials have marveled at the run of permit valuation exceeding $200 million from 2011 through 2015. The first year the city reached that plateau was in 2007, just before the recession.

"Everyone wondered 'How can you beat $200 million?' How do you beat it? $300 million, and we’ve done that the last two years,” Allender said at last week’s Rapid City Economic Development Partnership annual meeting in Rapid City.

And 2018 is already off to a blazing start, with the highest single permit valuation ever issued in city history, a whopping $92.5 million permit issued to Regional Health for Rapid City Regional Hospital’s massive phase II expansion project.

Two other high-valuation permits also went to Rapid City Regional Hospital, including a $38 million permit issued in March of 2017 for site preparation work, footings and steel structure for the phase II expansion and a $34.9 million permit issued in December for Regional Health’s Advanced Orthopedic and Sports Institute facility, under construction near the intersection of Mount Rushmore Road and Catron Boulevard in southern Rapid City.

Record monthly totals in August and December and near-record totals in January and July fueled last year’s continuing construction boom.

August’s $54.8 million and December’s $41.35 million were both records for those months, while January’s total of $35.4 million and July’s $29.8 million were the second highest recorded totals for those months.

In 2017, the city issued 3,936 building permits totaled $302,570,950, including 38 with a valuation exceeding $1 million.

In 2016, the city tallied a total 3,242 permits with a total valuation of $320,054,359, the highest-ever valuation for the city.

More medical and professional office construction should follow the boost coming from Regional Health’s expansion in Rapid City, said Rapid City Community Development Director Ken Young.

“It’s a great wave we’re on, and I can see it’s going to continue for a little bit,” he said.

Young said the run of apartment building construction seen for the last few years seems to be abating for now, but background work is underway between the city and manufacturing and retail firms looking at building here, although he was unable to elaborate.

“Nothing is firm yet, so I can’t divulge names,” Young said. “I just know there are some exciting things that can and hopefully will be hitting us before the end of the year.”

Young said the seven-year run of building permit valuations topping at least the $200 million mark can be attributed, in part, to the local and regional economy playing catch-up in the wake of the recession.

Downtown redevelopment and planning for the Rushmore Crossing shopping center preceded the downturn in the economy in 2008-2009.

“It was just waiting, lying dormant,” he said.

Young, moving from Utah and coming on board as community planning director in September, said the city’s measured approach to growth helped attract him to the job.

“I was very impressed when I looked at what Rapid City had going here,” he said.

“There have been a lot of great things that have already happened and there’s a lot of potential for more,” he said.

He said the $92 million Rapid City Regional Hospital building permit, announced within the first few days of the new year, puts the city nearly a third of the way toward another $300 million mark and perhaps a record year in building activity.

“Rapid City is great place to be right now if you’re involved in growth and development. There’s a great future here, and it’s exciting to be here at this time,” he said.

Other areas in the Black Hills are also showing high levels of building activity. Last year saw a record-setter for building permit valuations in Spearfish.

The Associated Press reported the city issued 439 permits with a value of nearly $52 million, shading the previous record set in 2014, with 513 permits and a total valuation of about $49 million.

“This is yet another strong indication our local economy is moving in the right direction. We anticipate another exciting year in 2018,“ said Kory Menken, executive director of the Spearfish Economic Development Corporation.

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Big changes sought in state's liquor laws

PIERRE | The governor and some lawmakers want to rewrite many South Dakota laws on making, distributing and selling liquor, beer, wine and other alcohol and expand some too.

The best part: They want it done before the legislative session ends March 26.

It’s going to be a big fight that comes as Gov. Dennis Daugaard enters his final year.

Daugaard set things brewing months ago, not long after the 2017 session ended.

He told the state Department of Revenue to start working with different parties about straightening out various parts of laws that seem inconsistent, are in conflict or need changes to keep pace with other states.

Those products appear in two proposals Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach already filed. A third is coming directly from Daugaard.

Individual legislators also have been working on specific proposals. One lobbyist said Friday the bill count is past 20.

The first arena is the House Commerce and Energy Committee. Its chairman is Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre.

He’s a brother of U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, who, while governor, saw South Dakota’s alcohol laws expanded. Several Rounds brothers opened a liquor distillery.

In his role as chairman, Rep. Rounds held a preview for the committee Friday. It lasted about 35 minutes. He set the tone at the start.

“For years I’ve been waiting to see Chapter 35 cleaned up. It’s a mess,” he said.

Lobbyists for beer and liquor businesses sat throughout the room and watched from the doorway.

Revenue Department official Jason Evans took the witness chair and briefed the gathering about eight bills. The department introduced two, he said.

HB 1070 is 65 pages with 133 sections covering scores of changes proposed for manufacturing, distributing and retailing.

HB 1067 creates a second type of license for farm wineries.

Evans said a third measure still without a number is “a governor’s bill” and covers beer breweries in South Dakota. Governor’s aide Patrick Weber is handling it.

Evans identified five other bills by draft numbers. He said legislators would sponsor them.

Rounds said the committee should plan for “an alcohol day” of hearings on the bills.

Several beer lobbyists grumbled so loud they could be heard at the far side of the room after Rounds described a proposal on distilling and cider-making as a “cleanup.”

He later apologized.

Bob Riter, a Pierre lawyer representing the South Dakota Beer Distributors group, spoke to the committee after Evans finished.

Riter said a University of Delaware analysis estimated the “total economic impact” by the distributors at $226 million in South Dakota, including their 550 employees. He described the comments as “my cheerleading speech.”

Some of South Dakota’s alcohol laws are “outmoded” and should be changed, Riter said, but he also cautioned “It’s good to know where you’ve been.”

He noted one proposal would expand the ban against a business serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.

The need to attend a noon caucus ended the meeting a few minutes before the big clock’s hands both pointed to twelve.

“This is our start, folks,” Rounds told the representatives around the U-shaped combination of tables. “And now you know why I wanted to get the discussion started today.”


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Calif. authorities seek to extradite man accused of killing mom

South Dakota authorities will be dismissing the state charges against a man accused of choking his mother so he can face the murder charge in California.

Tosten Walsh Lommen, 30, is charged in the killing of his mother, Michelle Walsh, believed to have occurred around Dec. 30 in the Palm Springs, Calif., home they shared.

Walsh Lommen admitted choking the 58-year-old woman and attempting to clean up the crime scene with bleach, according to a Palm Springs detective’s statement filed in California court.

South Dakota troopers found her body on Jan. 1, wrapped in a blanket in the back of an SUV Walsh Lommen was driving. The discovery followed a high-speed chase on Interstate 90 that went through three counties and ended in Rapid City.

Walsh Lommen is charged in Pennington County with multiple offenses: aggravated eluding, drunken driving, reckless driving, resisting arrest and possessing an unauthorized article in the county jail. He is detained in lieu of a $2.5 million bond.

The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office said Walsh Lommen’s local charges would be dismissed once he is held on the out-of-state arrest warrant.

“Once CA warrant and hold is placed on Defendant we will dismiss our file so he can go back to CA,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Sara Rabern said in an email.

On Wednesday, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office received the warrant. He will be scheduled to appear in court to formally hear and respond to the extradition request, said Robin McCool, extraditions coordinator at the sheriff’s office.

There is no timeline yet for his extradition, since he could challenge the request, said John Hall, spokesman for California’s Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the murder case.

But once he can be extradited, California authorities plan to send their people to South Dakota to take him back.