BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council interviewed candidates for the vacant seat on the council during Tuesday’s study session.
Applying for the seat were Bradley Walker, Nate Holden, Julie Erickson, Brianna Doran and Wayne Avery. All were present except Erickson, who sent a statement read by City Clerk Bonnie Foster.
The candidates were given five minutes to explain why they would like to serve and what they can bring to the council. Then the council members asked questions.
The council will vote on who to appoint at the meeting next Tuesday.
“This is not an easy position; it never has been,” Mayor Ope Niemeyer said. There is only one position open, and the council members can only pick one person. “I know that we will deliberate this,” he added.
Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne asked for public input after the interviews.
“If you do have thoughts on who should be appointed, I would definitely encourage the public to reach out to us,” Tilton Byrne said, noting the council email address [email protected] goes out to all council members.
“I’m applying for this position to give the people of Brookings a voice on council decisions. It seems to me that Brookings’ citizens’ interests need to be put above those of SDSU. I’m also here to stop the division created by the council in the community,” Walker said.
“I would like to put more emphasis on essential services for all citizens, like street maintenance, above the amenities that benefit only a few, like the bike trails … and the electric vehicle charging station,” Walker said.
He didn’t think bike trails as a mode of transportation was feasible, “given the climate that we live in.” He added the bike trails are mostly for SDSU, “not the regular citizens of Brookings.”
“I would like to see an end to the endless hypocrisy that has been going on lately in the city council,” Walker said.
He listed a litany of things the council has done in the past year during COVID-19, like allowing the Justice for Black Lives protest, the closing of the city pool last summer, and “multiple violations of the mask mandates by council members.”
He claimed inequity in the council approving alcohol and video lottery licenses.
He criticized the council for the mask mandate and for its time limit on speakers.
“You seem to continue to want people to wear masks whether the CDC advises it or not,” Walker said.
“It’s obvious that none of you are going to want me to be sitting on the city council with you,” Walker said.
“What in your comments told us how you are qualified to serve on city council and why you are interested in serving on city council?” Councilor Patty Bacon asked Walker.
“I thought I just said that,” Walker replied.
“No, you complained a lot about what we do, but you didn’t tell us what you would do if you were a council member,” Bacon said.
“I would try to work to get these, the community back together again. It seems to me that what you have done is you have pitted citizens against one another,” Walker said. “You have created quite a division.”
He said Councilor Leah Brink offered compromises, but the rest of the council “didn’t allow it. You continued to push and push and push; it was your way or no way. So I would work, hopefully, to add another voice to that side of the equation.”
Holden has been a resident of Brookings for 26 years.
“Came up here for college, fell in love with the town,” he said. “Want to make this my forever home.”
The town has given him a lot and he wanted to run to “give back to this community.”
He has varied job experiences: retail and sales, among them, which have helped him communicate with many people “and see things from different points of view.”
He wants to help the community “grow, be better, expand; learned so much on this campaign trail.”
“Would love to sit with you guys and talk and see where things have gone and where things might go and how we can do things to create a better environment for Brookings,” Holden said.
“Got lots of ideas” and experiences that would benefit the council, Holden said.
Councilor Nick Wendell asked him how his job skills would translate into work on the council.
A lot of different managerial and supervisory roles, as well as sales and service, have taught him how to deal with people and different branches of government, read people and how to communicate with them and show that you care, Holden said.
“I think I have a very strong ability to relate to people and help and maybe even bridge gaps,” Holden said.
Tilton Byrne asked what the No. 1 thing was that he learned on the campaign trail.
“A lot of different aspects of what the city council does,” Holden said, including overseeing departments and interacting with different groups. He mentioned one of his jobs in Brookings was at Edgebrook Golf Course.
“I’m always learning,” Holden said. “I could be a new set of eyes.”
Councilor Joey Collins asked Holden what his top priorities are.
“I want to kinda dive into the books,” Holden said of being fiscally responsible. “Maybe there are ways we can do things better.”
He wants to find out how we can better spend money, better save money, better uses for the money. He wondered if they could get private donations for an indoor rec center or have it privately owned to save the city money.
“I don’t want to overspend for something that might be good for our community but it’s gonna put us in a hurt in the long run,” Holden said.
Erickson said, through her statement read by Foster, that she was at a retreat that had been planned long before the meeting.
“I feel I would represent a large and diverse segment of the Brookings population,” Erickson wrote of her desire to be on the council. “I am a Christian. I am conservative. I have no ties to SDSU or Brookings schools. I homeschooled my children through high school. I have no degree. I’m a blue-collar worker.”
“There are so many people in our community who fit into one or more of these categories that I fit into and feel they do not have representation at the city level,” Erickson wrote.
“I talk to all walks of life every day at my job,” Erickson wrote. She’s built friendships with a diverse number of people and feels this shows her ability to listen and learn from others.
“Unity is a popular word these days,” Erickson wrote. “What is unity? It is not one side pushing an agenda on the other. It is both sides, and maybe more, coming together, listening, and learning about each other … and finding areas of compromise which means a little give and take on both sides. This is an ability our country and community seems to have lost and that was truly highlighted this last year.”
If she’s appointed to the council, Erickson wrote that she would “truly hear others and work toward resolutions that benefit all citizens in our community. If the city council truly wants to serve the whole community of Brookings, we need to have a diverse council from many different walks of life and many different experiences to truly make it representative of our community.”
Her experiences, she wrote, “make me a well-suited person for this position to help our community move beyond the struggles of the last year and toward a bright future.”
Doran said she can bring “enthusiasm, connections and creativity to Brookings City Council.”
She came to Brookings in 2014 as an SDSU student.
“I work in the nonprofit field, actively creating holistic, sustainable solutions to some of our community’s most pressing social issues,” Doran said, listing youth development, food insecurity, housing and mental health as examples.
She works in a downtown retail store, recently started her own business and volunteers with several groups, including the Disability Awareness Committee, Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program, Brookings Area Crime Stoppers, Council of Nonprofits, and Mental Health Coalition.
“As a council member, I would meet the community where they are,” Doran said, adding she wants to “give all voices a platform.”
She wants a safe place for families and “where dreams stay accessible.”
From her connections, she’s gathered two personal focuses: increasing diverse public engagement and having a discussion about affordable living. She wants Brookings to be “deliberately inclusive” in decisions, which will be critical to the city’s recovery post-COVID-19.
She knows affordable housing is a piece in the overall puzzle that includes food security, education, health and sustainability.
Doran is involved with Habitat for Humanity; she’s a young professional working several jobs and is spending more than 30% of her income on housing.
If people weren’t so worried about the cost of housing, they could focus on the community more, Doran said.
Collins asked what Doran has done in the mental health field.
“My role has typically been with my work in facilitating conversations and supporting,” Doran said, listing funding, grant writing and having “community conversations” with various groups, finding gaps and finding out how to get individuals connected to services.
Bacon pointed out Doran seems to be very busy, and being a city councilor is time consuming, and asked how Doran would find the time to be on council.
“I have planned out transition plans with all the organizations that I’m currently volunteering with,” Doran said. She intends to retain her full-time job but pull back from the organizations so she could focus on council “and not have any conflict of interest with anything.”
Tilton Byrne asked Doran what inspired her to apply for the seat.
Doran said she’s running because she feels she can do the job well now.
“My philosophy has always been to be where the work is,” Doran said. “That is where I can make the greatest impact.”
Avery has lived in Brookings for 43 years.
“I believe I have the past city government-related experience, work experience, record of volunteer service and education to be an effective member of the Brookings City Council,” Avery said.
He’s served on the Brookings Planning and Zoning Commission for five years with one year as chairman, saying he was always prepared and ready to discuss the issues.
He read the 31-page Governance Policy and realized that was his job description.
“All those kind of things where you have to work with a team and you have to study the issues and you have to get the facts, that’s what I did in my banking career,” Avery said.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from SDSU “and went right into a banking job.”
He had a lot of different jobs in banking.
“I really think I understand a lot about economic development,” Avery said, adding he worked within a system with policies and procedures, like the council operates, “it’s a forward-looking body. You make policies for the future.”
He acknowledges there are challenges for the council to grapple with, like setting policy for medicinal marijuana.
Avery’s been in volunteer organizations over the years, including chair of the Advance Foundation for 14 years and is still a board member; treasurer of Pheasants Forever for 25 or 30 years; and chair of United Way 20 years ago when it was a challenge to raise funds after 9/11, he said.
“I would like to serve on the Brookings City Council. I have a long history of city government experience, work experience and volunteer service. I have a history of getting things done in the community,” Avery said.
Brink asked how his perspective is different from those already on the council.
His expertise is in fiscal responsibility where you “have to work with what you have to work with,” Avery said, and has the ability to figure out how to do things. “I’ve seen a lot of different situations in the Brookings community; I’ve been involved in some fairly major projects.”
Tilton Byrne asked why he applied now.
“I’ve always been interested in this,” he said, but it didn’t work for him to be on city council while he was in banking. “Now retired, I have more time and I don’t have any restrictions that way.”
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]