South Dakota Supreme Court Ruling on Buffalo Chip City

For Immediate Release: Friday, January 26, 2018

CONTACT:  Jerry W. Derr, 605.720.1625

The following statement does not necessarily reflect the opinions of current Meade County Commissioners Doreen Creed and Ted Seaman, who were not elected to their respective positions until 2016, after all the brouhaha of the Buffalo Chip incorporation saga, except for when yesterday's Supreme Court decision, took place.

Sturgis, S.D. - The Meade County Commission learned yesterday that the South Dakota Supreme Court overturned Judge Jerome Eckrich’s decision that attempted to nullify the Commission’s decision to allow the election for the Buffalo Chip Campground to incorporate as a city.  It was a relief to finally come to the final destination on a long and winding - and very bumpy - road.  The Commission merely drove the vehicle driven to this destination, with two noisy back-seat drivers (Buffalo Chip attorneys and the City of Sturgis) constantly yammering along the way; one, that you have to turn this way; the other, no you have to turn that way.  Here are the facts.

State statute dictates that incorporation of a municipality has to go through the county commission.  Buffalo Chip owner Rod Woodruff presented petitions signed by people who had signed voter registration cards, swearing under penalty of perjury, that they resided at the Buffalo Chip, and wished to hold an election of incorporation.  The statute ordered that if the Commission is satisfied that there are “100 residents or 30 voters” the Commission shall set an election.  It was determined, after conferring with the Secretary of State’s office, that the people were duly registered voters.  (It is incredibly easy to become a legally registered voter in South Dakota; all you need is a post office box number.  Just ask the 800-plus people who “reside” at Mailbox USA in Box Elder, many of whom never set foot in the state, but are allowed to vote in every election.)  The Commission voted to allow the election to be held on a 3-2 vote, with Alan Aker, Linda Rausch, and Robert Heidgerken voting to hold the election, and Bob Bertolotto and Galen Niederwerder voting against.  The City of Sturgis subsequently sued Meade County and Buffalo Chip LLC to nullify the election results, which were in favor of incorporation.

The Supreme Court reversed Eckrich’s decision, ruling that the City, along with some private individuals who joined the lawsuit, had no standing to bring suit.  They ruled that only the State can bring suit to overturn an election.  Some contend that the Supreme Court ruling was based on a technicality, when in fact the Court actually ruled that Eckrich should have made the same finding at the Circuit Court level, and should not have ruled to overturn the election.  They also contend that the City was actually correct on merit, since the Court did not rule on the 103 Findings of Fact  (FOF) that Eckrich signed off on.  (Eckrich did not actually write the FOF; attorneys for the City and others actually wrote the document - Eckrich merely signed it, not even correcting spelling and grammatical errors.)  The Commission contends that once the Court ruled on the issue of the City’s standing, they were not obligated to look for more Eckrich errors.

The County is gratified that as far as it is concerned, this matter is over.  Individually, the Commissioners at the time cared not whether the Chip became an incorporated municipality.  Their objective, individually and collectively, was to diligently follow the statutes.  The split vote noted above highlights the poorly-written, out-dated statute that allowed a shrewd attorney/businessman to even bring the petitions before them.  The Commission believes it is not widely known that they led a successful effort in the next legislative session after the whole mess took place to change the law; it now reads that there must be 100 residents and 45 registered voters, and they must physically reside there for at least 90 days per year.

The County is hopeful that the relentless media outrage, social, print, and radio, will also be in the rear-view mirror.  The Commission wishes to work with both the City of Sturgis and Buffalo Chip City, to find solutions to mutual issues before them, with fair and balanced media coverage.”

Commissioners:  Galen Niederwerder  / Linda Rausch / Robert Heidgerken