Turnout for the Flandreau city election has been strong before election day with nearly 400 registered voters filling out mail-in ballots.
“This COVID thing has really increased the voters. I think a lot of the candidates also are encouraging people to vote,” said Karen Gundvaldson, city finance officer. The election is June 9 with voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the William J. Janklow Community Center.
Flandreau has nearly 1,500 registered voters. The last city election, a 2012 race in one ward, generated only one absentee voter and fewer than 100 total voters at the polls, Gundvaldson said.
Because of the threat of COVID-19 being easily spread, the state mailed all active registered voters an application to request a mail-in ballot instead of going to the polls, if they opted to stay home because of the virus or simply chose to vote absentee. “That really made a huge difference,” she said.
Nearly all of those who applied for a ballot have turned them in, although two of the ballots were not signed on the back of the envelope so they will be invalid, she said. Voters have until election day to turn in their ballots.
Flandreau residents are voting for their next mayor in a race between Emily Firman Pieper and Dan Sutton. The winner will replace Mayor Mark Bonrud, who chose not to run for re-election but is running instead for a county commission seat.
Sutton is currently on the council and is a businessman involved in several community organizations, and Pieper has been a community member who has been active in the efforts to preserve the Crescent Street bridge and to promote the arts, including operating Studio 52 for that purpose. Both candidates grew up in Flandreau.
Voters in Ward 1 also will choose their alderman in a three-way race between incumbent Don Whitman and challengers Mark Ekern and Jeff Weigel. Whitman is the former city administrator, who was appointed to the position vacated by Bart Sample. Ekern is a retired businessman, and Weigel is self-employed.
Tuesday’s election was originally planned for April 15, but elections on that date were cancelled by the state, giving each community the choice of the election date in June.
The city will have sanitizing stations for voters, who are encouraged to wear masks if they wish, Gundvaldson said. Each voter also will be given their own pencil to use in voting and then take it with them, she said.
Election results will be canvassed, or made official, at a June 15 council meeting, and the new elected officials will be sworn in July 6.
During the additional days between the originally scheduled election and the rescheduled date, an additional issue came up for the city. Council members, including Sutton, supported city administrator Jeff Pederson’s efforts to apply for a grant to remove the Crescent Street bridge.
Sutton said he would like a comprehensive plan that could include a pedestrian bridge over the Big Sioux River. “It’s not just build a bridge. Let’s make it a destination, make it a jewel.”
Resources for the bridge also have to be balanced against other needs, including a new fire station, improvements and upkeep at the community center and replacing dilapidated curb and gutter, he said.
Pieper is an advocate of saving the bridge to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. She also would like the area connected to a bike path and improved for safer recreation, such as fishing.
But the city should wait to seek a grant until it has figured out a master plan, she said.
“It’s definitely on my agenda because it involves the people of Flandreau,” Pieper said. “To me, everything that has gone on with that bridge for years now has told a very different message of how our community wants to work with the people who live here.”
The bridge isn’t the only issue for Flandreau, she said. The people should decide what is most important for city officials to accomplish. “If it comes down to infrastructure, the roads and the utilities, those are the things that are on my list. I really just want to work with the people and let them have their say. I really feel the city agenda will write itself,” she said. “But it’s how we deal with those things that make it matter.”