Secretary of State Shantel Krebs continued her public relations tour around South Dakota with a speech at the Brown County Republicans’ Reagan Lunch yesterday here in Aberdeen. 53 people (BCGOP chair Char Cornelius made sure I got that count) came to hear what our Secretary of State is doing restore the public trust in her office so thoroughly trashed by her disgraced predecessor, Jason Gant.
Secretary Krebs offered her listeners a crushing indictment of the mess Team Gant left her. When she took office on January 2, 2015, her office was five to six weeks behind on processing business filings that state statute says must be processed within five days, 80 days behind on UCC filings, and 90 days behind on pistol permits. Secretary Krebs says her team didn’t get all of those filings up to date until two months ago. Her office is making future backlogs less likely by implementing a new searchable UCC system on Monday, November 16, that will allow her office to accept or reject filings within 24 hours. By next July, Secretary Krebs plans to have all business services online, while still accepting paper filings from South Dakotans who just don’t want to go all electronic.
Secretary Krebs outlined a plan to run her office more like a business. She said when she took over, she composed a zero-base budget. She ignored any budget numbers left by Gant and analyzed actual needs from scratch. She says her updates and efficiencies alone put $1.5 million back into the general fund in six months. She plans to ask the 2016 Legislature to allow her office to run entirely on the fees it collects instead of collecting fees, remitting most to the general fund, and then asking the state for a general fund appropriation.
That budget proposal could be overkill. Secretary Krebs says her office generates $5.9 million in fees. The FY2016 budget allocates $4.6 million to the Secretary of State’s office, 68% of which comes from federal funds.
Another task facing Team Krebs this year was simple organization. She said Team Gant appears not to have used any file cabinets. She found official documents simply stacked around the office in boxes. Petitions from the last two elections were just out, in no seeming order. Team Krebs thus spent a good portion of this year properly storing documents.
Secretary Krebs did not completely clean house. She says she kept about half of the staff who served under Gant, many of them from the venerable business services department, where she cited numerous employees with lots of seniority and (key word signaling management brains!) “institutional knowledge.” Secretary Krebs brought lots of institutional knowledge back to the elections division with people like her deputy Kea Warne, who served under Secretaries Chris Nelson and Joyce Hazeltine.
The institutional knowledge of another former staffer brought back by Krebs put us on the trail of the infamous stolen flag. When Deputy Teresa Bray returned to the office on January 2, she saw the flag base and plaque and asked, where’s the flag? Bray’s immediate question sparked the office-overturning search that led to the retrieval of the flag from Washington, D.C., and the arrest of former Gant staffer Garrett DeVries.
Secretary Krebs did not speak her predecessor’s name during yesterday’s event. But her description of the disarray Gant left and the efforts she has made toward rearray makes clear that she is determined to scrub any sign of his mess from the walls of the Secretary of State’s office.