TYNDALL — An unusual election-year conflict in the Bon Homme County sheriff’s department has gone viral, drawing national attention.
Deputy Sheriff Mark Maggs ran against Sheriff Lenny Gramkow in Tuesday’s Republican primary. No other candidates filed for the race, meaning the GOP primary winner would become the sheriff for a four-year term.
In the end, Maggs won the election but lost his job.
Gramkow issued a termination notice, firing the deputy one minute after the polls closed Tuesday night.
By evening’s end, Maggs had won in a landslide 878-331, or a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
Maggs posted the termination notice on his Facebook page. The notice, with a 7:01 p.m. time stamp, said, “This letter is to inform you that, effective immediately, you are terminated from the position as deputy sheriff for Bon Homme County. As of this moment, you are no longer an employee of Bon Homme County.
“Please turn in all equipment belonging to Bon Homme County by 5 p.m. June 6, 2018.”
As a result, Maggs finds himself in an unusual situation as sheriff-elect. He will assume office in January and take charge of the department from which he was fired.
In the meantime, he is left without an income and fringe benefits, such as health care. He and his wife live in Springfield with their four children, ranging in age from 6 years to 6 months.
Under state law, a sheriff holds broad authority in the hiring and firing of his personnel. In addition, South Dakota is a “right to work” state where employees can be fired without cause.
Gramkow didn’t respond to Press & Dakotan requests for comments on the termination letter and his reason for immediately firing the deputy sheriff.
Maggs has worked as a Bon Homme County deputy sheriff since March 2013, according to his biography. After filing to run for sheriff, Maggs continued working in the department until his immediate termination Tuesday night.
Maggs told the Press & Dakotan Wednesday that he hoped to meet with the Bon Homme County Commission today (Thursday). The regular meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Tyndall courthouse.
In the meantime, he has declined media interviews until resolving the situation.
“I would like to speak with the commissioners prior to speaking with any media. It sounds like we may have that opportunity (Thursday),” he told the Press & Dakotan.
“My position right now is not only keeping my family’s best interests in mind but also Bon Homme County’s best interests in mind.”
However, Maggs’ supporters weren’t waiting for the County Commission meeting in order to demand action.
“Some of the residents of Bon Homme County have started an online petition in an attempt to have me reinstated as deputy sheriff,” Maggs told the Press & Dakotan.
In his Facebook post, Maggs extended his appreciation for the backing he received not only in the election but also in the aftermath of his firing.
“Thank you all very much for the support. The petition will not be necessary,” he wrote. “I trust our county commissioners heard your voices (Tuesday) night through the election results, and I also trust that they will stand with my family and I (in) the way you all have and ensure that my family will not be left hanging without an income or insurance.
“Thank you all again for the tremendous level of support through the years and currently (in this situation). It means the world to us.”
Maggs graduated from Penn State University in 2011 with a bachelor of science degree in crime, law and justice. He joined the Bon Homme County sheriff’s office in 2013, serving as a deputy sheriff and earning his law enforcement certificate from the South Dakota Law Enforcement Training academy in 2014.
In addition, he has worked for the Clinton County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania and Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield.
Bon Homme County Auditor Tamara Brunken declined the Press & Dakotan’s request for the agenda for today’s county commission meeting.
“It is past the 24-hour cutoff,” she wrote in an email.
The Press & Dakotan consulted with South Dakota Newspaper Association executive director Dave Bordewyk about the declined request.
Bordewyk responded that the Press & Dakotan is entitled to a meeting agenda, regardless of the time frame.
“An agenda is a public record, period,” he said.
In addition, the “24-hour” rule deals with the minimum amount of time that an agenda or other notice must be publicly posted before a meeting, Bordewyk said. The 24 hours doesn’t mean the amount of time that an agenda or other public record remains available, he added.
The Press & Dakotan renewed its request for a Bon Homme County Commission agenda, with no response from the auditor’s office. The Press & Dakotan also requested that the newspaper receive agendas and other notifications for future meetings and other functions.
While not providing an agenda, Brunken did respond to P&D questions about the commissioners’ business matters under consideration as of Wednesday afternoon. The agenda did not include the sheriff’s situation or a meeting with Gramkow and/or Maggs, the auditor said. As a result, she didn’t expect the commissioners to discuss the matter.
In addition, the county commissioners will today canvass the primary election, including the sheriff’s race and the Republican primary for District 5 commissioner. The commission seat represents the Springfield area.
In the GOP primary for the District 5 seat, incumbent Russell Jelsma defeated challenger Dustin Wayne Tjeerdsma 166-162. The race is subject to a recount, according to Deputy Secretary of State Kea Warne.
Under state law, a contest is subject to a recount if the margin between candidates amounts to less than 2 percent of the votes cast, Warne said. In this case, a recount could be requested as the margin fell below seven votes, she noted.
The losing candidate must request a recount within three days of the completion of the county’s election canvass, Warne added.
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