Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three articles featuring candidates for mayor of Brookings.
BROOKINGS – Jeff Miller wants to serve and be a good steward, so he’s running for Brookings Mayor.
“I want to stress I’m not running against anyone; I don’t have any particular agenda other than I just want to be a good steward and do a good job for the city of Brookings and just appreciate the opportunity to serve,” Miller said.
The election is set for April 13. The mayor’s seat and two council seats are up for grabs. Mayor Keith Corbett is not running; candidates for the mayor’s seat are Miller, current councilor Ope Niemeyer, and Bradley Walker.
After graduating from high school in Castlewood in 1973, Miller came to Brookings to attend South Dakota State University. Taking a break from school, he worked in the Brookings County Sheriff’s Office for three years, then moved to the University Police Department and went back to school, all while farming with his dad back in Castlewood.
He earned a degree in geography “and my technical background, believe it or not, was urban planning,” Miller said.
He worked at EROS Data Center for a bit, then was hired by the Brookings Police Department in 1985. He was a patrol officer, then sergeant, and transferred to investigations, where he stayed for 17 years.
He was a polygrapher, and took executive training at the FBI Academy in 2001, right after 9/11. Police officers take “hundreds and hundreds of hours” of training to keep their skills updated, “hence my inquisitive mind,” Miller said.
He made lieutenant, then captain. Miller moved up to police chief in 2009, a position he held for eight years, retiring in 2017.
He was heavily involved in the Special Olympics Torch Run, serving on the Special Olympics board and was Torch Run director for six years. He served for many years on the board of the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter.
Miller has a daughter and a step-son; and describes himself as a “single grandparent.”
“I have two grandkids that are living with me and have been for a little over a year,” Miller said, adding the kids attend Brookings High School.
“I’m running because I want to continue in public service. This was always an ambition of mine once I had left the police department,” Miller said, and feels the time is right.
“We’ve really lived through some tough times in our community” in the past year, “but I think better days are not that far ahead of us,” Miller said. “I think Brookings needs strong leadership to lead us through that and I feel that I am well-fitted for that job.”
His professional experience qualifies him to be mayor, Miller thinks.
“I ran the largest operating budget and staff in the city,” he said, adding that having worked with the city manager and council gives him “an insight as to how our city works.”
As police chief, “hardly a day went by when there weren’t major decisions that had to be made that could affect the lives of our citizens,” Miller said.
“I’ve had experience in planning and looking towards the future,” Miller said, like strategic planning and buying equipment, “from patrol cars to office equipment to … guns.”
When he was police chief, the city was on a five-year Capital Improvement Plan, now it’s a 10-year plan, which he thinks is “even better because it really gives, I think, a council and the mayor a good idea from staff what the needs are and what the issues are, and gives them the opportunity to work with the city manager to plan ahead.”
Officials need to be good listeners, he said, adding he’s handled his share of complaints, too.
“You always have to listen to citizenry as well as council members that may have a question or a concern,” he said.
He hopes the COVID crisis will be over soon with more people being vaccinated but feels the recovery phase is going to take a while.
“It’s not just been a health pandemic, it’s been an economic pandemic,” Miller said.
“Fear has been the biggest antagonist to our economy and our way of life,” he said. “This is something that was told to me time and time again, that it’s just a general fear that all of this has created and has really hampered business.”
He hopes that as the number of vaccinated people rises, the need for the ordinances and mandates will decrease.
“I was never a big fan of those – I’m not an anti-masker – but I certainly can appreciate how people have felt in this time,” Miller said.
“As a city, we have a responsibility, not just to protect the citizenry, you know, from a pandemic, but we also have to protect our health service system and that they don’t get overloaded,” Miller said.
“I visited with (Brookings Health System CEO) Jason Merkley on that … we were at a critical time there for a while, and I don’t know that the people realize that. They look at what our numbers are now and think, ‘This is great, we should be able to return to normal’ and hopefully we will – but there was a time there where it was touch-and-go and I can say that from (listening to) folks that tried to get into the hospital and they didn’t have a place for them. We don’t want to face (that) again, so I think that sometimes is often overlooked,” Miller said.
He knows the council deals with other issues, like being “critically short” of land.
“We’re literally surrounded by low-lying areas that will inhibit our ability to develop, you know, residential and business,” he said.
Each development will put an increased load on the storm drainage system, and the city needs to “carefully consider the impacts that those new developments create,” Miller said.
He wants to focus on infrastructure and what the city needs to take care of now.
“I just don’t see, in the next year, any large-scale projects going forward, just because of the uncertainty, and I think once things can kind of get back to some normalcy in the economy, then we can again start looking at expansion,” Miller said.
He thinks businesses will need to repurpose old neighborhoods, “but I think we can face those challenges,” Miller said.
Homeownership improves the quality of life, he said.
“About 56% of our population lives in rental property … but I think that people tend to take more pride when they have home ownership,” Miller said.
He wants to take a new look at the Marketplace land and try something new.
“Maybe try to sell that property out there in increments rather than the whole piece because it just hasn’t happened, and that’s been frustrating for a lot of people,” Miller said.
“I don’t think that the city should be involved in land development. I think that should be up to private enterprise. We’re there to regulate and oversee it and to support it,” Miller said.
He’s keeping an eye on the 20th Street South interchange.
“The development of that area on 20th Street South will continue. I know that there’s ownership out there that’s looking forward to that, so I’m certain we’ll have a hand in that, as well,” Miller said.
He’s looking forward to contributing as mayor.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Miller said. “I just simply want to do the best for the people of Brookings.”
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]