HURON — Two-term incumbent city commissioner Bryan Smith faces challenger Connor Langbehn in the lone race contested for Huron voters in the April 12 joint City/School board election.
Early voting is underway now, with ballots available at Huron City Hall, during regular business hours. Neither incumbents Craig Lee and Garret Bischoff faced opposition for their seats on the Huron School board and thus will retain their seats.
If you are unable to vote early, on April 12 Huron Arena will again host polling places for the Smith/Langbehn City Commission race.
The Plainsman sat down with both City Commission candidates.
Bryan Smith is 55-years old and is the head of lending at Dakotaland Federal Credit Union. He was raised in Huron, graduated in 1984 and earned a degree in Agri-Business from Lake Area Vo-tech in Watertown. He began working at the co-op in Woonsocket, then for the Soil Conservation Service, before his work and familiarity with the local farmers got him noticed by the local bank. Two years later he joined Commercial Bank in Huron and a short time after that was introduced to Dan Cumbee, then president of Dakotaland and he soon joined their team.
“That was 25 years ago,” he mused.
He is married, and he and his wife Teresa have three grown children, one son-in-law and “another son-in-law on the way.”
Connor Langbehn sees himself as the voice of the next generation as he enters his first election. Langbehn is 20-years old and a graduate of Wolsey-Wessington High School. While in high school, Langbehn said that he took over the management of the family’s farm north of Wolsey, overseeing operations and the financial aspect of the operation that consisted of 500 head of cattle and 3,000 tillable acres, of corn and soybeans. “I remain involved today,” he said. “Three generations of Langbehns have lived on that site since it was homesteaded.”
He is currently involved in the renovation of the former Hickory House building on 3rd and Wisconsin Ave, which he purchase with partners last year. “It is a project that is expected to cost about $6 million,” he said.
Reason for Running
For Smith, he said he is seeking re-election to the seat he first won in 2014. “I had no agenda to run on,” he said. “I have always been drawn to serving. It’s been a great learning experience.”
Smith said that the public perception is that things can just be changed overnight, but it is not that easy. “You have to keep working toward a goal,” he said. “Short term goals become long term. There are many requirements of the city commission. One of my strengths, I feel, is working with people, especially when I have something to contribute to that. I have always enjoyed working with people, although my position at Dakotaland has become much more administrative and less face-to-face with customers. Perhaps that was my motivation to run. Now it is to see work that we have started, completed.”
Langbehn said he decided to run for the city commission to ensure that both young entrepreneurs such as himself, and other downtown building a business owners have a voice.
“Right now, doing what I am doing here,” he said from a table in Aroma, the coffee shop that was part of the Hickory House purchase. The space has been renovated into a popular coffee and lunch stop, particularly for downtown workers.
“This renovation is bringing the younger generation in,” he stressed. “Younger people are drawn to downtown; people want to be downtown. They are excited to see people and businesses and they want to see something done.”
Langbehn said that he has heard people say they are excited that someone is taking on downtown.
“Many live here and they don’t have an advocate. I want to be that advocate for them and for the rest of the city. I am easy to talking with and I feel we need someone with some sort of vision. There is no vision there anymore. Many of the commissioners are older, and younger people need to have a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion.”
He stressed that new ideas and fresh perspectives, particularly regarding the downtown area, are what needed in the city. I am a small business owner and I understand the needs of a small business.”
Talk about an obstacle you faced and how you worked or are working to overcome that obstacle.
“Renovating this site is a series of obstacles,” Langbehn said with a grin. His plans involve expanding the lobby area of the first floor, renovating the second and third floors into hotel rooms and having apartments on the fourth floor. “The kitchen will expand a bit, we will be able to host events in our basement facilities and I want to add a rooftop bar on the backside of the building, similar to what they have in Rapid City, with Vertex, which is atop the Hotel Alex Johnson.”
Langbehn said he approaches each day, each obstacle the same way. “How I overcome the obstacles put before me is reliance on my strong faith,” he said. “I pray daily. It’s my faith and my hope that helps me over or around any obstacle.”
Smith singled out the impact that COVID had on the city as the largest obstacle that he’s faced to date.
“I got a phone call from Mayor Paul Aylward in early March of 2020,” Smith said. “He said a task force was being formed and that wanted me to be on it.”
That was the Beadle County COVID Task force, which brought together representation from both city and county government, from the healthcare segment, from schools and more, as a way to deal with the quickly growing pandemic.
“We met for the first time that Saturday to determine a basis and the city commission had an emergency Sunday meeting the next day to put into effect the ordinance that closed some businesses,” he recalled.
“By that time, Beadle County was kind of the hotbed in the state, as we had several infections early and some public people who passed due to the virus. The entire situation was difficult as we didn’t have much guidance and no playbook. We relied on the community. The city’s volunteers made it all work. We (the commission and task force) just went to work and did what needed to be done.”
Tell voters something you hope to see happen if elected.
“I guess it’s to see things completed,” Smith said. “I’m proud of the improvements and expansion of the Southtown addition. Right now, we are looking at a large infrastructure project that will improve water and sewer for many city residents. Those aren’t really sexy projects, but they are good for everyone.”
Langbehn’s focus is on the downtown area. “I want to see it completely change. It used to be crowded downtown and we need to find a way to bring people back downtown.” He said that he and fellow downtown business owner Jeff Pownell started a small group to bring ideas and such to the city, regarding downtown. “Kind of like ‘We think this needs to be done…’” Langbehn said. “But our voices went unheard. They didn’t like it and they didn’t listen.”
He noted that the discussion included downtown beautification being incorporated with the upcoming Dakota Avenue renovation. “They said that there is nothing that can be done, however there are two years before the project starts. There is time to make that beautification project magnificent. That should be the city’s deal. They are funding this. If they want more tax revenue, they need to do it right. I want to see every business succeed down here.”
“While I mentioned Southtown development, downtown is another case,” Smith said. “It is not the city’s responsibility to rebuild downtown. That is for the independent building owners. The City can certainly assist those efforts, but that is not all that you do on City Commission.”
Closing voter appeal
Smith said that he doesn’t know Langbehn personally. “He’s obviously very young and ambitious, with his investment in the community. I believe he has bright thoughts for downtown and we need that, but I don’t know that he has the business and management experience.”
Smith noted that his first term was learning how to do the job. “Part of my motivation now is that I understand and can be better at doing the job. You better understand the challenges. Now I have that experience. I want to see us continue to develop our new department heads, continue to work at attracting new businesses. Just keep Huron moving forward.”
Langbehn said that he thinks Smith is a “great guy, who has done a lot for Huron. But I also think it’s time for a new vision.”
He feels the city should partner with Greater Huron Development Corporation to recruit new businesses – “which won’t be easy, but we have to be on the lookout every day,” he said. “Also, I feel that the city should look at offering incentives through GHDC, for downtown property owners to work on their buildings and make they viable options for living downtown. There are a lot of possible living spaces downtown.”
“Bryan has done a great job for the past eight years,” Langbehn said. “But why can’t the next four years, or eight years be greater?”