A group of legislators, led by State Senator Neal Tapio, are apparently protesting the State’s sale of the now closed STAR Academy:
Lawmakers Ask Governor to Delay Public Auction of former Star Academy Property Near Custer
A group of South Dakota lawmakers is making a last minute call on Governor Dennis Dauggard to postpone the pending public auction of the former Star Academy property near Custer, scheduled for Wednesday at the Custer County Courthouse, saying they don’t believe enough time has been allowed to find the best use for a property that might still serve a valuable future purpose for the citizens of South Dakota.
The 180 acre facility was used as a youth boot camp and later a juvenile diversionary program until it closed in the Spring of 2016. In March, state legislators voted to approve a public auction of the site. After an appraisal, a public auction was set for October 18, 2017, at 11:00 am.
Senators Neal Tapio of Watertown, District 30 Representatives Tim Goodwin, Julie Frye-Mueller and Senator Lance Russell, as well as Senator Phil Jensen of Rapid City are among 30 lawmakers expressing concern about the pending private sale of a property and structural facilities that would cost the state as much as $50-million to replace. Tapio says he and others have repeatedly called for the facility to be repurposed in some way, possibly to deal with the state’s growing methamphetamine and opioid dependence problem, as a potential diversionary life skills training center.
“Privatization of unused state assets can be a good idea to exercise fiscal responsibility, but in dealing with this particular site, there may still be a number of functions and needs that might be served by repurposing it for something else.”
Tapio says the expense of dealing with methamphetamine addiction and the burden on the conventional justice system make a diversionary partnership with a private entity a very effective way to save South Dakota taxpayers substantially by giving first time meth convicts another choice. A life skills training center could be a valuable tool for drug courts judges as they confront the meth addiction issue where offenders need to be removed from a toxic home environment.
Citizens are also concerned that the condensed timeframe of the sale’s schedule left inadequate opportunity for public awareness and may even conceal an unarticulated agenda on the part of potential bidders better acquainted with the mechanics of the process from the outset.
Representative Tim Goodwin of Hill City says he is hearing from people taken completely by surprise about the scheduled public auction who are very concerned about what they see as a rushed process involving a very valuable public asset.
“A number of my constituents from district 30 have raised concerns that the details of a very short timeframe have allowed an unfair advantage on the part of political insiders in profiting from a glaring example of crony capitalism and incestuous ties between political insiders and business interests,” Goodwin said.
Representative Julie Frye-Mueller, who has opposed the sale from the very beginning says the entire process reeks of strong arm tactics and insider profiteering.
“We killed this legislation the first time around voicing these same concerns, but in that process I heard from several lawmakers who told me that they were intimidated and coerced into changing their votes when the measure came up for reconsideration.”
House Bill 1209, the legislative bill structuring the pending public sale was originally defeated by a vote of 36-31, but was approved later on the same legislative day by a vote of 46-21. Governor Dauggard signed the bill on March 13th.
“Legislators were bullied by the governor’s office into changing their votes, allowing this entire process to move forward over the strong objections of some very conscientious people.” Frye-Mueller said.
Those favoring a delay of the pending auction say sales of properties of similar value normally require many months of marketing and even national searches to locate interested buyers and to establish best market price.
Senator Tapio agreed the marketing of the property seemed less than aggressive, “It seems odd that with millions of tourists visiting the Black Hills each summer, a for sale sign with a contact number would have at least been appropriate.”
Tapio added, “no one knows the proper way to address the meth addiction issue. There are numerous calls to build jails and prisons around the state and it would be a shame if at a later date South Dakota needs a property like this, or if there’s realization that this sale was a terrible idea a few years down the road, reconstructing a similar facility anywhere in the state would cost many multiple times even the appraised value of our existing investment.” Tapio said.
“In no world will that be responsible fiscal management of tight budgets and state resources in the face of growing potential needs on a number of fronts.”
The Governor’s office has responded in the media:
In an emailed press release late Monday night, a group of South Dakota lawmakers asked Gov. Dennis Daugaard to postpone the public auction of a former-juvenile detention center near Custer that is set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
The press release sent by Sen. Neal Tapio, R-Watertown, said there are 30 lawmakers expressing concern about the pending sale of the former STAR Academy property because of “a very short timeframe,” for the auction.
Tony Venhuizen, Chief of Staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, disagreed that the there was a short timeline and said in an email that the state first solicited proposals in Dec. 2016 and the state legislature approved the sale in March. He also noted that the auction date was advertised in the newspaper for the first time on Sept. 11 in accordance with state law.
If you look at the legislation which was brought this past session, it’s not as if the vote in the legislature came without some controversy, as it failed in it’s first attempt to come through the State House of Representatives…
… and had to try again with a second pass…
.. flipping Bartling, Brunner, Chase, Clark, Dennert, Duvall, Glanzer, Goodwin, Gosch, Latterell, Herman Otten, Rasmussen, Schaefer, Wiese and Zikmund.
In the Senate, it fared better on the first run, but still, it only won on a vote of 20-15:
I don’t anticipate that the request from legislators are going to sway Governor Daugaard from completing the sale. Despite protests, it’s not like this should come as a shock. It has certainly been known it this was going to happen, having been signed into law on March 27th.
The allegations from legislators opposing the sale seem to be coming a bit late, given the fact that this all a done deal seven months ago when the legislation was signed. Where has all the moral outrage been in the meantime?
Maybe it’s just me, but why would we be protesting the land being returned to the tax rolls? Wouldn’t it be a good thing for someone to develop it into something that pays taxes and reduces the county tax burden?
What are your thoughts?