At the very least, a public meeting held in Irene Saturday on the possibility of several townships seceding from Yankton County was perhaps the clearest display yet of the frustration that some people here have toward county government and operations.
In this case, much of the frustration was attached to the county’s perceived approach to agriculture.
But the frustration and general distrust go back further than that and cover other issues.
Saturday’s meeting discussed the possibility of four townships seceding and possibly joining Turner County, or perhaps even forming their own county. The townships — Marindahl, Mayfield, Turkey Valley and Walshtown — comprise about the northeast quarter of Yankton County, have a combined assessed land valuation of more than $212 million and contain 104 miles of roads, 48 miles of which are paved. The meeting drew a large crowd.
It’s believed that secession from a county has never been done before in South Dakota, and as it was explained during Saturday’s meeting, one can see why. In this case, it would require a majority of Yankton County voters and township voters approving the exit, as well as a majority of Turner County voters agreeing to take the townships in. Since one of the points of frustration for secession proponents is that most of the elective power in Yankton County is concentrated in Yankton — which, along with the lake area, has probably at least 75% of the county’s voters — a public vote might prove problematic. Even an attorney on hand Saturday to offer advice on the process admitted it may be an uphill effort.
Nevertheless, perhaps the effort doesn’t have to succeed in order to make a point.
Some Yankton residents may not understand the frustration that some people in other parts of the county have on these issues. Some in the county’s rural areas see Yankton as having little concern for the roads, bridges or welfare of people beyond Yankton’s city limits or lake area. While we don’t really believe that’s true, we can appreciate where that perspective may come from, especially when some rural roads take days to get cleared after a snowstorm, or new agricultural regulations seem to put even more restraints on farmers, for instance.
One speaker at Saturday’s meeting said he attended a forum in Yankton last fall and finally realized where all the power in this county resides.
“One of the (county) commissioners said that now that the city of Yankton understands that they can vote and win, we are in the minority as the ag district out here,” the speaker said. “And no matter what we do, from here on out, we will lose. That just kind of hit me like a sledgehammer that something’s got to be done.”
Let’s add two observations to that.
First, not everyone in Yankton is opposed to agricultural development or more restrictive conditional-use permitting provisions. In fact, there are people here who recognize the vital importance of agricultural growth to this county and everyone in it.
Also, not everyone outside Yankton — or, most likely, even in the townships considering secession — may support loosening the permitting rules. From our experience, a fair share of complaints about some farming practices often come from people in the immediate neighborhood of the operations, not from someplace on the other end of the county.
There’s legitimate frustration with the trajectory of agricultural policy here, in part because it has swung wildly in recent years. Five years ago, there was enough frustration with the apparent restrictive nature of the commission that four new commissioners came on board and began to open up development. But last year, the election swept out three of those commissioners and brought in new members who may consider a more stringent approach, which has upset some farmers and non-farmers alike.
Secession would be an extreme measure — on this page today, Commissioner Joe Healy calls it a “nuclear option” — and a costly one for all involved.
What’s needed first is better interaction between county government and those dissatisfied with the current climate. There needs to be a blunt airing of the concerns from the countryside as well as from the County Government Center. Ultimately, there are barriers that simply must come down to promote better empathy and cooperation for the good of all.
No, that doesn’t sound real exciting or dramatically visionary, but it does seem like a more practical approach. We need to get everyone at least on the same chapter — if not the same page — to address these longstanding, long-festering differences.