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Pennington County Conservatives Turn Down Money to Study Mental Illness

On Tuesday, August 7, Pennington County Director of Health and Human Services Barry Tice brought before his county commissioners the following proposal to apply for a grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to study needs for mental health care in Pennington County:

Barry Tice, Pennington County Health and Human Services, proposal to Pennington County Commissioner, agenda packet, 2018.08.07.
Barry Tice, Pennington County Health and Human Services, proposal to Pennington County Commissioner, agenda packet, 2018.08.07.

The Helmsley Trust supported our state’s Task Force on Community Justice and Mental Illness Early Intervention, an effort that resulted in 2017 House Bill 1183, which appropriated $655,343 to develop a program to identify inmates with mental illness and expand crisis response services.

Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) was one of a minority of conservative Republicans to vote against this legislation. Last Tuesday, her husband, Pennington County Commissioner Mark DiSanto, helped kill Tice’s effort to seek Helmsley Trust money to support that work to identify and treat mental illness with further local study. Strangely, Commissioner DiSanto, who usually shares his wife’s arch-conservative opposition to big government, seemed to defend his vote a challenge to his wife’s own naysaying in Pierre and a call for more state action on mental illness:

In a back-and-forth discussion, the commissioners who voted against the motion argued that studying mental health and behavioral health needs is a state issue, not a county issue. Buskerud also speculated whether a study would lead to expensive recommendations in the future.

“I don’t think the taxpayers of Pennington County should be paying to heal everybody in western South Dakota,” he said.

Commissioners Ferebee and DiSanto agreed, saying as long as the county continues to bear the workload for the state, the Legislature will continue to avoid the issue.

“They will continue to allow us to take the weight off of their shoulders, until we quit taking the weight off of their shoulders,” DiSanto said.

He suggested taking the idea of the study and proposal to the South Dakota Legislature [Candy DenOuden, “County Decides Not to Apply for Mental Health Grant,” Rapid City Journal, updated 2018.08.09].

Commissioner DiSanto is talking nonsense. The Helmsley Trust asked Pennington County to submit the grant proposal. The Helmsley Trust wants to spend its money in Pennington County, and the proposed study would cost Pennington County nothing. The study would not require the county to take any action, and as the Rapid City Journal editorial board points out, it would provide more data that Pennington County could use to lobby the Legislature to take further action… if the DiSantos really wanted the Legislature to take further action to tackle mental illness. But in classic right-wing denialism, Commissioner DiSanto refuses to even look at the problem, to let a private party foot the bill for gathering data to better understand the scope of the problem that both DiSantos prefer to ignore.

District 35 Republicans have a chance to oust Rep. DiSanto from the Legislature this fall, but they’re stuck with Commissioner DiSanto for a while longer. Luckily, Mark DiSanto’s fellow ostriches are leaving the commission:

Maybe the county will get another chance, however. Ron Rossknecht and Gary Drewes will replace Ferebee and Buskerud in 2019. If the county is again asked to apply for a Helmsley grant, they could join Deb Hadcock and Lloyd LaCroix to vote for a study that just might open the eyes of a Legislature that too often looks the other way when it comes to mental health care in this state [editorial, “Mental Health Study Would Benefit the County,” Rapid City Journal, 2018.08.12].

Responding to the 3–2 vote against free money and data, Rossknecht expressed his support for applying for the Helmsley grant. If the Helmsley Trust will renew its offer next year, Rossknecht’s is the only flipped vote Pennington County needs to study its mental health treatment needs.


  1. Donald Pay 2018-08-13 06:27

    The first study topic should address the mental state of the Pennington County Commission.

  2. Jenny 2018-08-13 09:42

    This is not surprising at all, generally speaking, Republicans don’t care about the well-being of the people they represent. With SD having one of the highest rates of suicide in the Nation, and this money coming from a grant, makes it all the more sickening.
    When will the good people left in SD step up?

  3. Porter Lansing 2018-08-13 10:57

    “Dakota Contrary” aka “There’s nothing we can do about it (it’s too big a problem) so why even begin?” attitude.

  4. cathy 2018-08-13 20:42


    Hey, a county commission as short-sighted as Yankton’s. I was gonna say “as stupid”, but that would be rude.

  5. Debbo 2018-08-14 00:09

    That’s just totally asinine and cruel. Evidently that describes the DiSantos and the other no voters. Shame on them. Shame, shame.

  6. Jason 2018-08-14 00:30


    Mental illness awareness starts at the home and school level. There is nothing a city or county can do.

    Dealing with that mental health issue takes professionals.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-08-16 19:39

    …and it often takes the city and county to hire those professionals instead of more jailers to take care of those folks with mental health issues.

  8. grudznick 2018-08-16 20:14

    Ms. cathy, as a resident of the County of Pennington, let me assure you that our commissioners are the insanest of all counties in the Great State of South Dakota. And apparently they do not want treatment.

  9. grudznick 2018-08-16 21:58

    Ms. Geelsdottir, you are indeed The Shame Nun.

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