BROOKINGS – Incumbents were the top vote-getters in Tuesday’s combined Brookings City Council/Brookings School Board election.
Wes Tschetter is staying on the school board, and Ope Niemeyer remains on the city council, joined by council newcomer Joey Collins.
The June 23 election was delayed from its original April 14 date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a majority of ballots (2,168 of the 2,623 total cast) were from absentee/early voters.
Brookings School Board
Tschetter claimed the one available three-year seat on the school board in a four-person race with 1,353 votes. Following in second was Kyle Dahl with 380 votes. Next was Jacqueline Johnson with 353 votes, followed by Tasiyagnunpa Barondeau with 348 votes.
“Kind of a long time coming. The filing was four months ago, so quite a while ago,” joked Tschetter.
Tschetter has been a member of the school board for Brookings for 14 years, and this will be his fourth full term on the board.
“In the short-run, we’ve got some serious challenges to get children ready for school this fall and implement a school semester and term without knowing all of the cards that are going to play out relative to COVID-19,” Tschetter said, “and how we’re going to deliver it. That’s the No. 1 priority that school leadership and the board is facing.”
“Then we’ve got ongoing financial challenges that the board is addressing so that we don’t end up in a box of sorts so that we can serve our students. We need to invest into all of our buildings … Hillcrest and Medary, we need to modernize those schools, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Tschetter said. “We don’t get this done without planning, so we’re going to get started on that and figuring out the resources we have.”
Tschetter said the school board will face ongoing challenges in determining how to best cater to students after a period of remote learning.
“Of course, we have our special-needs children who need to be served when they went literally the last 8 weeks without face-to-face services,” Tschetter said. “All of our children need to be attended to.”
Tschetter thanked the community and those who encouraged him to run in January.
Brookings City Council
Ope Niemeyer retained his seat on the Brookings City Council while Joey Collins won the second seat, beating out Cassie Juba.
There were two three-year seats up for grabs: Niemeyer’s and the one held by Dan Hansen, who chose to not seek re-election.
Niemeyer was the top vote-getter with 1,588; Collins took 1,261 votes and Juba took 1,042.
“That’s awesome; that’s awesome. I am very excited. Wow,” Collins said just after winning.
“I thank all the people. All those that voted for me; those that didn’t vote for me, I look forward to earning their trust. We got a lot of work to do. I’d really like to thank my team, Zeno Wicks, Jonathon Sundet and Jesse Lee,” he said.
Seeing the end of the election process was a relief for him.
“I’m just really ready to go to work. It was a longer than normal process, I guess, but well worth the wait,” Collins said.
Niemeyer was surprised by how many votes he received.
“You know what that tells me?” he said. “We had a long time for everybody to vote. If I remember right, the most I’ve ever gotten is 1,200 votes. So this is probably one of the biggest votes that we’ve seen in a long time.”
The win means that Niemeyer will be starting his fourth term.
“I’m humbled. I would say that I appreciate the people that voted for me. The ones that didn’t, I’d like to hear from them,” he said.
Niemeyer had one thing on his mind after the election: COVID-19 and how it will affect Brookings’ future.
“I think that this COVID-19 thing really threw everybody off and it threw our council off,” he said, adding none of them anticipated having to make the tough decisions they’ve had to make.
Niemeyer said some residents agreed with their decisions and others didn’t.
“We had some brutal emails sent to us. I think that we did the right thing,” he said about closing down businesses and social distancing.
“We still have to keep our due diligence and keep ourselves safe,” Niemeyer said.
COVID-19 will continue to loom large in the city’s planning, he said.
“Everything was put on hold,” he said. “Obviously we’ll have to look at our budget to see what we’ve got to work with for the rest of the year,” Niemeyer said.
He’s kept his eye on how other cities are handling these “uncharted waters.”
“I think we’re doing OK so far from the sales tax numbers that we’ve seen. They’re not as detrimental as we had expected,” Niemeyer said, “but that’s still gonna change our budget and our possibilities of what we had planned on doing this year.”
He plans to take a cautious approach. “So I think it’s steady as you go, I guess, for the moment and then figure out where we’re gonna go from here,” Niemeyer said.