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Video: Milbrandt vs. Kaiser at Brown County Sheriff Candidates Forum

Brown County Sheriff Mark Milbrandt is running for reëlection. Aberdeen city policeman and State Representative Dan Kaiser is running to replace him. Milbrandt won the sheriff’s job in the 1994 election. No one has run against him until now.

Both men are Republicans. Since no other candidates filed, Republican voters alone will choose our sheriff. Nonetheless, the Brown County Republicans allowed Democratic rabble like me into their Reagan Lunch this noon to record the candidate forum they hosted for Milbrandt and Kaiser. I was one of about 130 people in the room. Here’s what Sheriff Milbrandt and Rep. Kaiser told us.

1. Dan Kaiser’s opening statement: Kaiser said Sunday that the sexual harassment his wife suffered while working with DCI in Milbrandt’s sheriff’s office was a reason but not the reason he’s running to replace Milbrandt. But it’s the first reason he got specific about in this forum, saying that Milbrandt has created an environment in which victims are not welcome in the sheriff’s office:

2. Mark Milbrandt’s opening statement: Milbrandt didn’t fire back right away. He stuck with his gentle, folksy personal history. He said when he became a deputy back in the day, the sheriff said, “Here’s your keys; go to work. That’s the training I had then.”

Moderator Randy Grismer then moved to questions, which were submitted (passive voice used deliberately by the host at the beginning of the show, so we don’t know who submitted or chose the items for discussion) before the forum.

3. What experience makes you the better candidate for sheriff? Kaiser spoke of his work at Walmart, in the military, in law enforcement for fifteen years, and in the Legislature for six. Milbrandt spoke of his 38 years in the sheriff’s office and emphasized all the things that the sheriff’s office does that the city police don’t:

4. How do sheriff’s duties differ from other law enforcement? Milbrandt reiterated and expanded on the duties he laid out in his previous response. Kaiser jumped on the duty of serving papers, which he says landlords and lawyers are complaining that private outfits can serve papers in a day or two while the sheriff’s office takes up to two weeks. Kaiser said improving that service could bring in money and ease the tax burden:

5. If elected, what changes would you make in operations or personnel? Kaiser said current sheriff’s office employees complain to him that departments in the office operate too separately; he promised more teamwork. Kaiser also denied a rumor he’s heard online that he plans to fire everybody. He acknowledged the numerous sheriff’s office employees who sat in black t-shirts toward the front of the hall on Milbrandt’s side, said a lot of them disagree with him on policy and direction, but said they’re good people with whom he looks forward to working.

Milbrandt struck back. He said his office already has teamwork: “We all work together.” Tying back to the previous question, Milbrandt said his office served 4,000 papers last year and brought in $500,000 in revenue through the jail and juvenile detention center. He then acknowledged his black-shirted staff in the hall:

They wanted to be here. I didn’t invite them. They wanted to be here because of things [Kaiser]’s been saying, and they’re absolutely upset. And they want you after this to come and talk to them, because what he’s saying is totally wrong. None of that stuff happens in the sheriff’s office [Mark Milbrandt, candidate forum, Aberdeen, SD, 2018.05.09].

6. What sets you apart from your opponent? “I’m a sheriff, he’s a politician,” said Milbrandt. (I can imagine some Republican audiences in which that line would end the debate.)

Not visibly rattled, Kaiser took his own three shots. Citing his “conservative ideology,” Kaiser accused Milbrandt of lobbying against Kaiser’s Second Amendment bills in Pierre. He said Milbrandt’s sheriff’s office had been investigated by the feds for sex discrimination. He accused Milbrandt of maintaining an illegal list of concealed weapons permit holders.

7. How would you ensure more diversity on staff? Kaiser said he’d be open and honest in the hiring process. He said he knows three qualified women who’ve applied to work for the Brown County Sheriff but were rejected because they are women. Milbrandt said the federal investigations and lawsuits to which Kaiser referred went nowhere. “He’s not telling the truth.” Milbrandt spoke of his officers being out in the community, but he didn’t say anything about ensuring diversity on staff.

8. “What community activities have you participated in that might help advance diversity, and what do you think of the current educational refugee meetings that have been held in Aberdeen, and have you ever attended?” This question stunk. It was poorly worded, because, I suspect, some right-wing extremist wanted to cloak the real question he wanted to ask: “Do you support our anti-Muslim Klan meetings or not?” That would have been too direct and damning, so the question appears to have been convoluted into some sham about diversity and education.

Neither candidate had the guts to reject the characterization of the visits from out-of-state propagandists as “educational.” Milbrandt at least said he hasn’t attended the hate rallies, but his chief deputy has… which makes me wonder why Chief Deputy Tom Schmitt is attending. Kaiser instead validated the hate rallies, saying he attends and learns a lot and that more community leaders should attend. He used the most recent out-of-state speaker to imply that Muslims are pedophiles.

Neither candidate accurately answered the first part of the question: each talked about community activities, but neither connected those activities to diversity.

9. What are your general plans for the sheriff’s office(Hey, I didn’t choose the order of these questions.) Milbrandt said statute dictates much of what his office does, and the status quo is working. Kaiser said he wants a sheriff’s office policy manual online, more “boots-on-the-ground leadership” shown by a sheriff out on patrol, and increasing use of technology like body cameras.

10. What’s working, and what needs improvementKaiser said the part of the sheriff’s office that’s working best is the staff… some of whom, he said, are out campaigning for him (but they sure as heck weren’t sitting with him at lunch today). He repeated his call for a specific policy manual.

Milbrandt fired back, “Well, he doesn’t have it quite correct on policy manuals, since I have four of them.” General county staff manual, jail manual, JDC manual, and as of last year a policy manual for the deputies. Milbrandt also ended with the cutest moment, saying his office works like a family, then pointed out a staffer who had brought her one-week-old baby to the forum.

11. Where might the sheriff’s office need more dollars or staff? Milbrandt said that his office is up to ten field deputies, allowing the office to have at least two deputies on patrol 24/7. He said the office is seeking another investigator. Milbrandt also said the jail has three deputies. Milbrandt said he prioritized using DHS grant money for cars rather than body cameras for officers; he said body mics are a cheaper, more manageable option. Kaiser said he thinks three deputies in the jail “might be a little bit heavy.” He said moving people around may meet the need for more courtroom security without raising costs.

12. What’s the biggest challenge facing the sheriff’s office? Meth.

13. Should Brown County legalize medical or recreational marijuana? If Marty Jackley had carpooled with Shantel Krebs, he could have stood up and put the kabosh on this question: “Flandreau can’t do it; neither can Aberdeen!” Milbrandt said no way to dangerous gateway pot… although Milbrandt left the door open for medical marijuana. Kaiser said he agrees with Milbrandt, has never pushed legalization in the Legislature, and reminded folks that the sheriff’s job is to enforce law, not advocate for changes.

14. What challenges does the sheriff face in juvenile justiceKaiser said the Legislature has tied the sheriff’s hands in dealing with juveniles by making it harder to detain kids who are getting in trouble. (Kaiser was one of seven nays on 2015 Senate Bill 73, the big juvenile justice reform bill.) Milbrandt elaborated on the rating process for determining whether a juvenile is detained or released to family.

15. Milbrandt’s closer: Milbrandt acknowledged that some would say 38 years working in the sheriff’s office is too long, but he said, “I love my job.”

16. Kaiser’s closer: Kaiser repeated his ideological points, calling himself “conservative” and “pro-Second Amendment” and Milbrandt not (I’ll editorialize more later, but political ideology doesn’t really matter when it comes to enforcing the speed limit up by Hecla). Kaiser piled in a few rebuttal points. He invited everyone to read the EEOC investigation into sex discrimination in the sheriff’s office. He said the sheriff testified in his wife’s workplace retaliation lawsuit last December that there was only one general policy. He closed with his main message of openness, transparency, and modernization.

Watch the videos, let me know what you think. I’ll turn a full analysis and tell you who gets my ballot in this debate tomorrow!

9 Comments

  1. Mrs. Nelson 2018-05-09 21:41

    I was really hoping for an answer to my diversity question that didn’t revolve around male/female. More like, those of different backgrounds and religions, etc that can relate to the growing demographic we’ve got here of non-US born people.

    But I guess that answer will do. *Shrug*

  2. Porter Lansing 2018-05-09 21:55

    Anti- religious hate symposiums are educational forums? The cop attends and the Sheriff sends his #2? Where are the decent people supposed to get justice?

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-10 06:09

    Mrs. Nelson, this is what happens when two Republicans are the only candidates in a closed-primary system. No one in this setting is going to talk sensitively and comprehensively about diversity, because Republican candidates and Republican voters in general don’t value diversity. They consider “diversity” just more of the political correctness that they are fighting.

    An open primary or a non-partisan election for sheriff would require the candidates to seriously address a wider array of concerns and community members.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-10 10:25

    I’m not inclined to run interference for either candidate. However, we should review the words used yesterday on the trial testimony carefully. Kaiser said, “When asked directly who makes the policy for the county, the answer is, it’s a general policy.” Those words alone, unclear and out of context, do not indicate that Milbrandt lied about anything. Without straining language or credulity, I can look at the situation Milbrandt described yesterday, having four policy manuals, then imagine fielding a question about a sexual harassment policy and referring to the governing lines in the general policy manual.

    Plus, in court, Milbrandt would likely have been responding to questions about policy as it stood in 2011, at the time that Deputy Erickson sexually harassed Agent Zylstra Kaiser. Yesterday Milbrandt indicated that three new policy manuals supplementing the general county manual have been created since then.

    We need to look at the trial transcript itself to be sure. But I don’t think we can in good conscience holler “perjury!” or “lies!” on the basis of what heard yesterday just yet.

  5. Liberty Dick 2018-05-10 10:49

    And look at when the other policies were actually established and what prompted them to be formed.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-10 13:41

    And that’s a valid point, LibD, in the way of which I will not stand. The dates Milbrandt gave yesterday totally support the contention that those policies were reactive, not proactive: Holy cow, that Zylstra Kaiser incident is getting us in hot water; we’d better write some policies to cover our backsides in future incidents!

    But that point is distinct from saying that Milbrandt lied, either under oath or at the forum.

  7. o 2018-05-10 14:48

    Sidetracking question: why are mayor elections non-partisan, but sheriff elections partisan? It seems to me enforcing laws should independent of party affiliation.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-10 18:30

    Good question, O. I don’t know the legislative history or intent, but statute has set the dividing line between counties and municipalities. All county offices are elected on partisan ballots.

    We have nonpartisan elections for the judiciary, with the idea, I would assume, that party affiliation should not influence courts. The same logic should apply to law enforcement… which means we should advocate nonpartisan election of sheriffs, state’s attorneys, and the attorney general!

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