Thunem hired as next Stevens County Attorney

The final action in a nearly five hour County Commissioner meeting on July 18 was to offer the county attorney position to Carl Thunem. This was after interviewing two candidates for the position. The second candidate was Allison Whalen who has been working as the assistant county attorney for Stevens County for several years.

Former County Attorney Aaron Jordan submitted his resignation as the Stevens County Attorney earlier in the year and his final day was July 1. Jordan has accepted the position of Assistant County Attorney for McLeod County. He was re-elected the County Attorney for a four year term in November of 2022. The new county attorney would complete that term with re-election possible in 2026. 

The interview process included County Administrator Rebecca Young and Human Resources Director Jan Gomer asking a set of questions of each candidate separately. The County Commissioners were present and able to weigh in on the candidates at the end of the interviews. The interviews were also open to the public. Each candidate was asked the same questions which included why they were applying for the position and some of the abilities they could offer.

Thunem is currently working at the United States Attorney Office of South Dakota. He stated that he and his wife have visited Morris and liked the community. He was looking for an opportunity to use his skill set. He has experience as a county attorney working for five years as the county attorney in Wilkin County.He worked in Stevens County as the Assistant County Attorney between May 2012 and April 2016. He felt that Stevens and Wilkin counties have very similar needs. 

Whalen moved to Morris seven years ago and stated that her family built a home here. She said that she has always felt a call to public service and worked in public entities through law school. She added that this community is “near and dear” to her family. She previously worked in Swift County and then came to work for Jordan in Stevens County. She explained that she has enjoyed working with Jordan and his staff and with all the Stevens County employees. She would like to build on what Jordan has accomplished.

Following the interviews, the commissioners weighed in on their thoughts and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. In the end it was decided to enter into negotiations with Thunem for the position. 

There were several other items discussed in the earlier portion of the meeting. These included tax forfeited properties, new hires, food shelf presentation, and a public hearing on the proposed body cameras for the sheriff’s office. 

Stevens County Auditor/Treasurer Stephanie Buss reported that the county received two letters on the tax forfeited property in Hancock and no letters for the property in Alberta. She stated that the initial market value for the Alberta property was listed at $30,000 however after looking at the property she recommended lowering it to $20,000. The visit found racoons living in the attic, which were removed, and extensive damage throughout the home. The commissioners approved lowering the price and this property will go on a public auction on Wednesday, August 16 at the courthouse at 10 a.m.

The second property forfeited was in Hancock and two letters of interest were received from public entities. This property is a home located next to the school bus garage in Hancock. The letters received were from the school and the City of Hancock. Buss said that per statute if there is a public entity interested in the property it must be withheld from public sale for 6 months. However, the commissioners could also select one of the entities and set a price to sell it without waiting the 6 months.

Buss stated that the City of Hancock only expressed interest to prevent the property from being sold to someone who might just let it sit as is. She did not feel that the city council would be upset if the school was allowed to purchase the property. The school had indicated that they would use the property in the future to build a new or expand the current, bus garage.

The commissioners decided to sell it to the school for $10,000, which is less than market value to correct blight. With the waiting process, the bus garage would have to meet the criteria of being a transit facility for buses. By selling it directly, the commissioners would avoid these state stipulations.

Jan Gomer told the commissioners that Deputy Sheriff Kyle Zierke was promoted to the new position of Patrol Sergeant for the Sheriff’s Office. Also introduced at the meeting was Kaitlyn Silver who will be a new Child Protection Worker in the Human Services department.

The commissioners heard a report from Brenda Boever and Jan Hagen about the Stevens County Food Shelf and Food Distribution. Boever distributed the numbers which showed an increase in use at the Food Shelf over the last three years. The Food Shelf is so appreciative of the many people, organizations and businesses who generously donate to them. They were able to install a new walk-in freezer which will help them keep more food on hand to meet the demand.

Hagen works with the summer food drop and winter backpack projects. She explained that the summer food drop started after children asked at the end of the school year if they could still come to get food. They have been doing this for eight years and it has been growing. At the last food drop in July, they ran out of food after providing for 391 families. The next food drop is on August 15. They are desperately in need of volunteers to help the day before and day of the food drop.

County Commissioner Donny Wohlers, District 4, thanked them for all the work they do and thanked the volunteers. “Kids can’t learn if they are hungry,” he noted. “Thank you for your efforts.”

There was no one present for the public hearing on the new body cameras proposed to be purchased for the Sheriff’s Office. The hearing was held to allow the public to give feedback on the purchase of the cameras. The next step will be to meet in a joint council with members of the Morris City Council about the funding. The county and city each received a one time Public Safety State Aid amount that can be used for this. The county received $182,000 and the city received $212,000. Once the funding is approved Sheriff Jason Dingman will place the order. He will follow up with the commissioners at the August 1 meeting.

Many other items were discussed including the second quarter budget, the Opioid settlement funds and needed purchases for the County garage. Nick Young, Facilities Manager, recommended removing the asbestos from the old county garage and then sealing it up and allowing it to stand empty. The commissioners approved this and spending the $9,800 to remove the asbestos.

The commissioners approved the appointment of Jessica Kirwin to the Stevens County HRA Board and thanked Don Goracke for his years of service on the board.