County Rejects Zoning Appeals, Swensen Recused

The Yankton County Commission has once again taken drastic action in regards to its zoning ordinance. 

During a special meeting Wednesday and acting as the Board of Adjustment, the commission voted 3-1 on three separate decisions from Development Services Director Gary Vetter for the revocation of building permits for hog facilities owned by Josh Johnson (one) and Karl Schenk (two). The permits were revoked because major construction had allegedly not occurred prior to the 180-day deadline after issuance.

The actions stem from a special meeting of the Planning Commission in October which, enacted by the County Commission to act as zoning administrator ahead of Vetter’s hiring, reviewed and revoked a number of building permits citing non-compliance with deadlines.

Defense Attorney Brian Donahoe — representing both Schenk and Johnson Wednesday —noted weather as being a major delaying factor on multiple occasions.

“The facts here show clearly that Mr. Schenk did in fact pursue this diligently considering the factors that he had to deal with from the weather, saturated soil conditions, road closures and other things that made it impractical or impossible for him to do significant construction on this particular project and on this site,” Donahoe.

Donahoe indicated that his clients intend to move forward with an appeal of Wednesday’s decisions in court.

Phil Tau, who had filed the complaints against the hog barn owners for not starting major construction in accordance with the county’s ordinance, said zoning ordinances need to be followed strictly.

“None of us want to be in this situation,” Tau said. “But when we’re asked to be required to follow the rules, we do our best and we follow those rules. The same should apply to all of us.”

Before proceedings began on the first appeal hearing, Donahoe approached the podium to object to Commissioner Gary Swensen’s participation in the appeal due to his use of social media.

“He has made comments on social media which have led to concerns about inciting of violence that were significant enough that my client — Joshua Johnson — his wife and others have formally filed a complaint with the Yankton County sheriff,” Donahoe said. “These threats, to the point of requiring a sheriff’s report, along with consistent statements attacking the construction of my client and others as being without valid permits, without any permits or otherwise leading to a potential for people to die is a clear indication of either actual bias or unacceptable risk of actual bias or pre-judgement in this case.”

Swensen refused to recuse himself, saying he believed that he could be an unbiased voice.

“I know all of these people,” Swensen said. “I probably know them better than anybody on this commission. I know the situations. I know the county. I was born and raised in Yankton County. I know the people, the people know me and I get input from people every day almost by news, telephone, face-to-face, and I try to make my judgments clearly.”

However, Commissioner Don Kettering introduced a motion to have Swensen recused by a vote of the commission. Commissioners Kettering, Cheri Loest and Joseph Healy all voted in favor of the recusal. Commissioners Klimisch and Swensen voted against. As a result, Swensen left the commission chambers for the duration of the first item and returned during the recess between the first and second appeals.

However, Donahoe once again objected to Swensen’s continued participation for similar reasons.

Again, Swensen was given an opportunity to speak in his defense.

“I also had threats and I was attacked by two hog barn CAFO owners where I had to call 911,” he said. “(I) had a deputy respond and that (report) was filed at the Yankton County Sheriff’s Office and it went over to Mr. (Rob) Klimisch and he did nothing. I also went to the judge in Yankton asking for a restraining order and the judge said, ‘It’s just hearsay that they’re going to kill you. Talk in the bar.’”

Kettering introduced motions for both of the remaining items before the Board of Adjustment to recuse Swensen and, again, both ended in 3-2 affirmative votes. After this, the board proceeded and Swensen exited the meeting for the remainder of the day.

Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.

(4) comments


Gary Swensen is the boy who cried wolf. He's the Jussie Smollett of Yankton County.


Phil Tau asking for strict application of the law. Hypocrite.


Gary Swensen needs to resign. He won’t, so someone needs to run for his seat. The “code of conduct” that the County Commission is working on appears to be intent on either correcting his behavior (it won’t) or setting him up for failure. Whenever he speaks at a meeting, you can feel the collective eye-roll of the Commission and citizens of Yankton County. Usually his comments are some anecdotal statements to only draw attention to himself. The other Commissioners are unable to confront him for some reason. Things are worse since he took a trip to Washington, D.C. as he now claims to have a “direct line of communication” to Washington on the issues in Yankton County. Of course, he has no specific results other than his inflated ego.


I worry what D.C. thinks of us back here in Yankton every time Swensen talks about his D.C. communications. They probably think the whole town is HSC patients.

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