Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five articles featuring candidates for Brookings City Council.
BROOKINGS – Patty Bacon is running for Brookings City Council because she wants to finish the work she’s started and use her experience, especially from Habitat for Humanity, to help the community.
“I am running this time to preserve the work we have done, to maintain a civil mindset within our city council. And for me personally, it’s to continue my work with affordable housing,” Bacon said.
Two three-year council seats are up for grabs April 13. They are currently held by Bacon and Nick Wendell. Both are seeking re-election and will be joined on the ballot by Dr. Isaiah Crevier, Nate Holden and Nick Schmeichel.
Bacon grew up in Redfield and came to Brookings in 1970 to attend South Dakota State University.
“My major was speech communications and theater, both as a bachelor’s degree and as a master’s,” she said.
“Left a couple of times, just for short periods, but have been back since 1990,” Bacon said.
Married to Richard Larson, an analytical chemist with SGS Labs, Bacon has two adult children.
“I ended up in a 30-year unintentional nonprofit career,” Bacon said. “My first nonprofit job was producing the Easter Seals Telethon back in the day. The last 20 years of that was with Habitat for Humanity.”
She served as the state director of Habitat for 10 years.
“Theoretically, I’m retired, although city council work doesn’t let you be very retired,” said Bacon, who is wrapping up her second term on the Brookings City Council.
She ran the first time after moving into town from the country.
“I became interested in several issues that were hot button at the time,” Bacon said. “I always knew I would run for public office. … Moved to town and realized that city council would be an opportunity for me to serve in a public capacity.”
Bacon brought with her “the knowledge and understanding of what it takes for a board to work with paid staff. I was on the reverse end of that for that 30 years where I was the staff person for and with the board of directors, and now I must respect the staff who keep our city running and listen to what their needs are and what they identify as issues within the community,” she said.
“I’m good at all of those things: listening and then sitting down and having a conversation on how best do we move forward to address those issues,” Bacon said.
Her work experience gave her other skills: preparing budgets and justifying the need “for every item on that budget.”
“I was asked questions by my board members and (that) gives me a great base for looking at our current budgets,” Bacon said.
“I now have six years of actual council experience, so I’m not coming into it blind. It does require us to be good listeners, (hearing) from citizens and from staff. We have to be able to listen to both sides of each issue, from both staff standpoint and a citizens’ standpoint,” Bacon said.
“I’ve learned that it isn’t about what I want personally. I have to step back and look at what is best for our community and is it something our community can afford?” she said.
Bacon sees COVID-19 as a multi-pronged priority.
“We are at a point in our community where COVID has created a number of situations from both a health standpoint and a political standpoint that has made it challenging for elected officials, but also for our city staff, to keep our community as safe as possible,” Bacon said.
“To me, our No. 1 issue is getting us through COVID as safely as we possibly can,” Bacon said.
She hopes that the majority of the community will get vaccinated and, after time for the vaccines to take effect, “that COVID won’t be as pressing an issue, but it hasn’t gone away yet and we haven’t cured it yet, so it is going to remain a priority in our world for some time yet,” Bacon said.
She said the community has, for the most part, been very responsible and very supportive “of the measures we’ve felt necessary to take. It wasn’t measures that we wanted to take, but given the advice we’ve been given from experts in the medical field and the health care field, we did what we felt was necessary and will continue to do so as long as this is an issue,” Bacon said.
There are other issues the council is facing.
“We are becoming landlocked. We are running out of developable, contiguous land; we are surrounded by water and we must be very, very careful,” Bacon said.
Land, workforce and affordable housing are all tied together. She’s used her Habitat experience to promote affordable housing – there’s a couple of affordable housing developments in the works – and wants to oversee that.
“I’m already very concerned about the developments in the south end of town. And I know that our staff has worked very hard on very strong drainage plans, especially for that area of town,” Bacon said.
“I do believe we have saturated most of our workforce within a 60-mile commuter radius, as far as our major manufacturers are concerned,” Bacon said. “With the limitation of land, drawing more new employees to Brookings is going to be challenging at best.”
“If we do plan on continuing to grow our population, we’re gonna have to learn to live with higher density. We’re gonna have to learn to build up and not out,” Bacon said.
“At the point that we use up all that land, are we going to try to annex somewhere that isn’t connected to Brookings? I don’t know,” Bacon said.
She sees guiding the community into the future as the council’s responsibility, starting with the Strategic Plan and council retreats to go in depth on issues.
But planning the city’s future is not just up to the council. She wants to see people at council meetings regularly and hear from them.
“We always must listen to the community. We are nothing without the members of our community and they have to take a serious interest in it by going to vote,” Bacon said.
“We have a very low voter turnout, especially for spring elections, and my philosophy has always been ‘you want to have a point of view, then you need to vote.’ Then you are entitled to share in that decision-making, and we would love it if a larger percentage of our community got actively engaged in that,” Bacon said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]