A Yankton County commissioner is once again the subject of criticism from other public officials.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Yankton County Commission, Yankton County State’s Attorney Rob Klimisch took part of the board’s first public comment session to discuss allegations made against him via email by Commissioner Gary Swensen.
During a special meeting last Thursday to discuss repairs on the Jamesville Bridge, an executive session was held to address matters of litigation. In the middle of this executive session, members of the media observed Swensen walking out of the meeting, never to return. When the board reconvened after the conclusion of the executive session, Commissioner Don Kettering asked that the record reflect that Swensen had left the meeting early.
On Tuesday, the Press & Dakotan obtained a number of emails that had been forwarded and sent by Swensen to several elected officials in Yankton County and throughout the state. One email explaining his departure had attempted to be sent to the Press & Dakotan, but due to a misspelled email address, it was not received at the time.
The email read as follows:
“The reason I left the Executive Session on Thursday so abruptly was because ...Rob K. States Attorney... was tapping [sic] me when I spoke,” Swensen wrote. “...Rob Threatened me just before a meeting shortly after I exposed him for Not coming to County Commission meetings..on Face Book [sic]..after threatening me he said ‘Your [sic] Not above the Law’...... I wish you could have seen his face.....”
The subject heading of this email reads “Fwd: Mistreatment of Dogs by Muslims (mass killing) – YouTube.”
Klimisch told the board that these allegations simply aren’t true.
“I said nothing to Gary, made no comments to him and never have I said any of that stuff,” Klimisch said.
He added that emails like this have become overwhelming of late.
“Right now, he sends so many emails, I don’t even print them anymore,” he said. “I take pictures of the screen, send them to myself and put it in his file — that’s how crazy this is on what he’s sending out. … I probably spend a half-hour to 45 minutes per day addressing and looking at Gary Swensen emails.”
Klimisch detailed one particularly disturbing email that Swensen had sent out that had generated several complaints. Klimisch showed a screenshot of it to the board.
“This is what he sends,” Klimisch said, referring to the screenshot. “It’s a charred body in a fire. There’s pieces missing on this person. These are horrible pictures. I don’t get why anybody would send them. … He’s sending these out to people and I’m getting phone calls asking him to stop.”
During the second public comment period of the evening, Klimisch approached the podium again to address the allegations that he’d been taping Swensen in the meetings.
“Never have I taped a conversation here, in executive session or at any meeting I have ever been a part of,” Klimisch said.
In another email, Swensen accused commission Chairperson Cheri Loest of having inappropriate ties with Gov. Kristi Noem.
“Loest and Noem are Tight very tight,” Swensen wrote. “Rumor has it that Noem will appoint her to some big job in Pierre just before her next election..2022.”
Loest also used part of the first public comment period to address the allegations that she and Gov. Noem have some sort of agreement.
“I am being accused of having a ‘kush’ job awaiting me in Pierre to work directly for the governor,” Loest said. “I would like to make it very clear that is not the case. I have met the governor on one occasion. It was the day after the March flood event last year when she flew into our community to speak to us about a flood event.”
She added that at the conclusion of the governor’s meeting in Yankton last year that then-Chairman Dan Klimisch got a picture of the two of them together and that was Loest’s final interaction with Noem.
At no point during either public comment session did Swensen address the emails or allegations.
Following the meeting, Loest told the media that she has no disciplinary control over other commissioners.
“I might be chair of the commission, but I am nobody’s boss,” she said. “We all have the same vote on the commission. We were all elected by the public to lead them and it is our choice for the behavior that we do when we are in office.”
She added that this is a bad look for the county.
“It’s tough to see your elected officials at odds with each other,” she said. “I personally think it’s a disservice to the community. As a county, Yankton at times makes headlines where we don’t want to make headlines because we draw some attention to ourselves that we wouldn’t need to do. But addressing that is a much tougher challenge.”
Loest said she plans no legal action on the matter.
Swensen has been the subject of a number of controversies since joining the commission in 2017.
In 2018, he made reference to Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler when talking about fellow commissioners and stormed out of a meeting at one point. Last year, he shared a meme on his personal Facebook that seemed to excuse bringing harm to politicians. He was also banned from Yankton City Hall for a year due to this meme and a number of incidents with city staff.
In other business Tuesday, the commission:
• Approved three plats.
• Approved a county mission statement.
• Approved the purchase of GIS software.
• Discussed county load limits.
• Announced that there will possibly be a quorum at next Tuesday’s (Jan. 28) Yankton Day at the Legislature in Pierre. No county business will be conducted at this time.
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