Election forum held Saturday

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HURON — The six candidates in the April 9 election for Huron mayor and Huron School Board faced the public in a forum Saturday morning, held in the commission room at City Hall and hosted by the Huron Chamber and Visitors Bureau Governmental Affairs committee.

The forums were held separately, beginning with the mayoral forum.

Bryan Smith opened the forum, highlighting his background working at Dakotaland and his years serving on the Huron City Commission. He stated that his time serving as finance commissioner has allowed him to understand a lot of the overview that the mayor would be charged with.

Mark Robish spoke second during introductions. He noted that he and his wife both have been at their current jobs for more than 30 years. “We love it here, and we aren’t going anywhere,” he laughed. He also was proud to announce that his son-in-law Cody Schilling was recently named the head coach of the Augustana University men’s basketball team.

Robish also emphasized that Huron is more than just within the city limits, that the city is also an important part of what happens in surrounding communities. He explained that he would like to help bridge relationships with those surrounding communities and take into consideration the impact of decisions within the city on the entire area as mayor.

Drew Weinreis referenced his time with Dakotaland and his time on the commission in his introduction. He also stated that he serves on the Center For Independence board and as an ambassador with the Huron Chamber.

Weinreis stated that he would be interested in promoting the diversity of the community and ensuring the downtown project is completed correctly. Finally, he stated that he would emphasize transparency, including further use of social media, as mayor.

The candidates were asked about the Huron Rising 2.0 issues that were discussed and implementing those ideas. Weinreis stated that he believed the relationships that he has formed within the community would allow him to focus on the issues brought up during that session. Robish talked about the first Huron Rising meeting and the large amount of items from that first Huron Rising that were accomplished. Smith added to that, stating that “most of those tasks were achieved” and that the commission and mayor’s office will take the items from Huron Rising 2.0 into consideration when putting together five-year plans for the community.

Current commissioner Rich Bragg asked the candidates about handling making unpopular decisions as mayor. Robish emphasized how the commission works together with the mayor and department heads to gather as many viewpoints as possible before making the final decision. Smith noted that a mayor’s vote is only really important when it’s the deciding vote. He expressed that the commission has the real voting power in moving things forward in the community. Weinreis emphasized that all processes to tough decisions should be transparent so the community can understand why those tough decisions are made.

Smith and Weinreis were asked about whether they have put together a short list to appoint to their position were they to be elected. Both answered that they have looked at a few names, but it’d require working with the commission to have that person approved into their new role.

All three candidates were asked about working with a commissioner that will have lost the role of mayor in the election, as there are two sitting commissioners in the race. Each joked about how it’s been a friendly, competitive race. Robish joked, “after hearing their opening remarks, when I win on April 9, I’d be happy to keep Drew and Bryan on the commission.” He also emphasized that the mayor would be the key point of using the strengths of each commissioner, and knowing how each worked as a commissioner would allow to help build a relationship with commissioners through strengths of all those around the table.

School Board

The school board candidate forum was second. Ray Cardona led off introductions, emphasizing his role with Dakota Provisions in a management role working with government compliance in that role, something he said would come in valuable in the school system.

Tim Van Berkum discussed his Navy career that led to heavy travel, but he always wanted to come back to South Dakota. He explained that an opportunity at Manford Music brought him to Huron and he raised his family in the community, serving 14 years thus far on the school board with terms as both the board president and vice president.

Candidate Brittany Layher stated that she has life experiences that allow her to be an advocate for the community. She explained that a recent experience coming to the School Board with an issue left her disappointed and spurred her running for a board seat.

The candidates were asked the top three challenges for the system were. Cardona answered that he thought that handling growth, the behavior issues and truancy with certain children, and transparency by the school board. Layher cited teacher retention and pay, transparency and communication from the board and administration, and continued strides in educational excellence, especially Career and Technical Education (CTE). Van Berkum went last, and he replied that teacher retention, continuing to push forward in CTE options, and also school finances due to the gap between school fiscal year and the date in September when funding for the school year is determined.

A question was posed regarding teacher pay and retention. Van Berkum discussed how a lot of the teacher pay considerations are set forth by the state for a minimum bump. He praised the current business manager of the school, Kelly Christopherson, for the hard work in making sure teacher pay is prioritized in budgeting. Cardona emphasized that support staff salary should also be considered in pay raises as they are the backbone of the education system. Layher stated that finding ways to reward experience as well as education is important.

The candidates were asked what they felt would be the biggest challenge individually as a member of the school board. Layher discussed balancing budget, need, and abilities within the school system. Cardona emphasized balancing the desires of personal contacts with also working within the system in place to move the school system forward. Van Berkum discussed the ever-changing laws that the board has to abide by in order to be in compliance and maximize state outlay to the school.

The final question was brought up about the continuing education programs that are part of the Huron Community Campus to allow staff to achieve their master’s degree. Van Berkum noted that those degrees doe allow teachers to receive a boost in pay, and he cites that availability in the community as a large incentive for teachers to come and to stay within the district. Layher noted recent decisions of hiring, stating that despite the in-house advanced degree options, the board went outside the district to hire the Buchanan K-1 principal and the activities director. She expressed that she felt someone within the community would have been a better fit. Cardona recognized the value of additional education among the staff and stated that he would like to see the district look into ways to help teachers as they are pursuing those advanced degrees.

Early voting is open Monday through Friday during business hours at City Hall and at the school administrative offices. The election will be held April 9 at the Huron Arena.