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The Sacklings Were Hung by the Governor with Care…

…in hopes that competent advisors soon would be there!

Kristi Noem didn’t give her chief of staff and communications director one measly present for Christmas; she gave them the full sack:

Governor Kristi Noem today announced the addition of Maggie Seidel as Senior Advisor and Policy Director, as well as the departures of Joshua Shields, Chief of Staff to the Governor’s Office, and Emily Kiel, Communications Director [Office of the Governor, press release, 2019.12.23].

Noem org chart Oct 2019 w Xmas sackings
Noem Administration organizational chart, Oct. 2019, with Xmas sackings!

Kiel had been communicating from the Governor’s office since May. After lieutenanting off and on for Noem since her first campaign for Congress in 2010, Shields survived chiefing her staff for less than three months.

Gee, what on earth could the Governor’s staff have done so wrong as to warrant being sent home for the holidays?

Emily Kiel, Joshua Shields, and the new Noem Cabinet slogan
Emily Kiel, Joshua Shields, and the new Noem Cabinet slogan

Kassidy is busy and Booker hasn’t finished high school, so Governor Noem had to look outside her family and outside the state to bring revolving-door lobbyist Maggie Seidel back from the Beltway to tighten her ship. Before lobbying, Seidel worked for conservative New Jersey Congressman Scott Garrett, who joined Noem in voting for weakening the Clean Air Act in 2011 and voting against the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.

Noem at least had the sense to bring Tony Venhuizen back to help her manage the Legislative Session:

Tony Venhuizen, who is outside legal counsel to the Governor’s Office and previously served as Chief of Staff to Governor Dennis Daugaard, will take on additional duties, on a temporary basis, for the 2020 Legislative Session. Venhuizen will focus on legislative relations and administrative matters [Office of the Governor, 2019.12.23].

Whether Venhuizen can be said to be exercising good sense in returning to Pierre from Sioux Falls for another Session is open for debate. But with the Governor’s attention distracted by useless flights to the White House and Florida conferences, continual staff churn that is starting to rival Trump’s, and a chief of staff who knows nothing about South Dakota or our Legislative history, the Noem Administration clearly needs Venhuizen’s focus, intelligence, and experience to avoid a complete Executive debacle during the 2020 Session.


  1. paul harens 2019-12-24 12:49

    Just how many trips to WH and Florida has she made? More than one is too many but just curious?

  2. Donald Pay 2019-12-24 13:35

    Anyone else think that’s a bloated statff? I don’t recall it was that big an operation in the 1980s and 1990s. I rarely interacted with the Governor’s staff, so maybe I just didn’t understand how second floor operated.

    The people who actually know stuff reside at the lower levels and middle levels in the Departments. That’s where I’d go if I wanted actual information or an understanding of how things work and what can be done to improve state government. The people in the upper levels in the Departments tend to be more political, which means less forthcoming and less truthful. I would guess the Governor’s staff would be even worse in that regard.

    If I were Governor I would shift staffing out of second floor and put more at the Department level. I would rely more on the factual information and sound advise Department staff can provide.

  3. grudznick 2019-12-24 13:58

    I don’t think that’s enough staff. To be more effective a governor should delegate more things out and trust their staff, and the staff should be bigger to put their feet on the necks of the idiots out in the departments who don’t have a clue. The sackings should be spread far and wide, and the survivors should toe the line.

  4. JW 2019-12-24 14:07

    She sacked Wildlife Division Director Tony Leif too…………. Conservative arrogance has to control everything to include professional expertise that oftentimes contradicts political stupidity.

  5. Donald Pay 2019-12-24 14:21

    Grudz is an insider. Insiders believe that the Governor is or should be bought, and therefore ought to control everything in government.

    I’m an outsider. Outsiders believe in multiple centers, a more decentralized power and policy based on knowledge and inclusion.

    I always found staff at Departments much more knowledgeable and willing to work with outsiders. Generally, the Governor’s staff rarely does so.

  6. Ken 2019-12-24 14:37

    Sounds like Noem, like Trump, doesn’t like it when someone tells her ‘no.’ She’d rather have a bunch of sycophants and yes-men, much like the Orange Idiot stinking up the White House at the present time.

    It’s a safe bet that Noem’s well on her way to becoming the worst Governor these uneducated voters ever elected. When I sat in a restaurant during the election, there were two old geezers sitting behind me. One commented that he was going to vote for Noem because, “She’s kinda cute.” I knew then that this state was going stay in the direction it’s always been in, and that’s backwards. When the hemp fiasco came along, I knew I was right.

  7. mike from iowa 2019-12-24 14:54

    One commented that he was going to vote for Noem because, “She’s kinda cute.”

    Sounds considerable lot like Grudzilla. Grudz likes them young.

  8. Across the Aisle 2019-12-24 15:18

    Uneducated voters Ken? Also, good looks has never hurt any candidate from either side.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-12-24 16:40

    Paul, Kristi was at the White House last Monday, then in Florida on Saturday. That’s two big trips in one month when one would think she’d be busy checking her proposed budget for improvements and working on legislation for the Session that is less than a month away.

  10. Bob Newland 2019-12-24 19:31

    As always, look to FB for the real story.

  11. JW 2019-12-24 23:02

    CAH: First of all, he’s a political appointee……. Maybe you didn’t know that but most of the Division level directors of the agencies are political appointees thanks to Mickelson. Secondly, I worked with the man long enough to know that there is only so much political horse crap that a professional can put up with before he starts opposing things based largely on budget or actual science. 3rdly, Its what Secretaries and governors due when they want to send a message to everybody else that you toe the line or your gone. Realize this also; Leifs position has largely been figurehead and little else and it’s been that way since late Janklow. It’s a professional level position dominated by autocratic politics from the governor down. I’d almost guarantee that when Noem decided to spend the Sportsmans money on trap give aways and bounties, and upset the Commission, there was enough internal resistance and perhaps back channel communication with people that it didn’t set well with Noem. Leif was probably ready to retire anyway but…….. With over 30 years service to the State and it’s natural resource assets, that is no way to treat a dedicated professional. I’m not sure what is all there but there is something and it isn’t honorable and it isn’t noble. Like I said, there is only so much political BS that a well educated, trained and experienced professional can take before his principles require him to say something that offends the machinery or threatens it’s wisdom and in the case of republican authoritarianism in SD, the minimal wisdom is easily and quickly offended. Its no different than the Ambassador Yovanovitch BS that Trump and Giuliani pulled… Noem’s a cookie cutter clone of Trump and his style and if you even look like a potential short in the control switch, you’re gone before you can cause political embarrassment……. I’ve seen it happen any number of times. Its just tepid, unfair, sleezy, control politics. Another thing that comes to mind is the issue of Federal Aid diversion and expenditure of funds without Commission budget approval. I won’t discuss it here but via e-mail or phone.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-12-25 06:31

    I suspect top political appointees like Shields and Kiel won’t say a thing against their old boss; people like them in the revolving door can’t afford to be known to potential employers as someone who will rat out their old patrons. But if Noem is purging any source of resistance, perhaps the veteran officials whom she axes, like Leif, the folks who are close to retirement anyway, have more long-established relationships, and don’t have to worry about their next job, will speak up about punishment and corruption.

  13. Donald Pay 2019-12-25 09:09

    JW’s post indicates the problem with too much staffing in the Governor’s office. You get over-paid political piss ant Policy Analysts who barely have the ink dry on a BA degree thinking they know more than the 20 to 30 year professionals. Mostly the Governor’s Policy Analysts are running political errands for the Governor and her deep pocket supporters, not doing the work of the grassroots people of the state. The real work for the people gets done at the Department level. It’s time to whittle down the staffing on Second Floor and move it to the lower and middle levels at Departments.

  14. grudznick 2019-12-25 10:09

    Mr. Pay, you know darned well you can’t have the sailors before the mast running the ship, or you have what they call a “pirate bureaucracy” where the minions with the biggest swords lead the other one-eyed derelicts in plundering of the people ashore. You need to have one captain with muskets trained on the troops to keep them all rowing in the same direction.

  15. Donald Pay 2019-12-25 13:47

    See, Grudz, your idea of leadership is top-down command and control. It’s tyranny. Mine is consult, collaborate, conclude and consent. It’s democracy. People respect my kind of leadership, they fear yours. Getting people to agree with a leader because of fear ultimately backfires.

  16. JW 2019-12-26 09:59

    Don Pay makes a highly relevant and exact observation. Prior to Mickelson and the first Janklow administration, SD state government (and a lot of other state governments) were functioning as bottom up rather than top down management. Or, more appropriately “centralized” versus “de-centralized” management. In the latter strategy, the state-operated with a lot fewer employees, a broader chain of command, greater levels of professional responsibility and expertise at the lower levels and employee autonomy to execute the policies of the state and a much smaller budget. From experience, state government was more responsive, fiscally and administratively responsible. That all started to change when the republican party started to go off the rails with their control freakism and paranoia. Part of it was also FLSA related due to the Garcia decision that set up the debate and change over what positions were and weren’t wage and hour grade versus professional positions. From all that, state government began growing in size and political flatulence. Right now, it looks like it takes 3 people at mid and upper level positions to do the job that one did 25 years ago. (and did it a whole lot better) Rounds was a dandy for making crude observations about employee staffing and structure. He would look at mid- and ground level positions like machines that had too much to do and not enough time to do it and stripped the positions of their basic desireable and popular elements and either gave them to someone else or eliminated them entirely. That trend continues as conservative politics has no rear view mirror or incentive to save money and do business efficiently in the spirit of the public trust.

  17. Donald Pay 2019-12-26 10:21

    JW, I agree with you about what happened with the state workforce. I wonder, too, about the effect of the study on and effort to raise pay for the state workforce at that time. One way to justify raises to state workers was to make the hierarchy steeper and less broad. If a person “supervised” someone, then that resulted in a pay hike. So, if someone deserved a pay hike for good work, they would have to justify it, and the easiest way was to make someone a “Senior This or That” with a couple people to supervise.

  18. virginia kostanich 2019-12-26 13:02

    Mike from Iowa, your statement was Truer than you know. South Dakota, will always chose the “cute one” over one with any substance. Good Lord, what would it be like to have a person in power, who was a Rhodes Scholar, versus a cute farm woman? As I have said before, I live in Washington, where there are living wages, and everyone can get some form of healthcare. We are more progressive. This state of South Dakota will always be 10 to 20 years behind any other state, held by Democratic leadership. Why? because we try our darndest to figure out a way to care for ALL PEOPLE. On the day that you put your blinders on and vote for someone who makes sense for you, versus the one who hypnotizes you by her cuteness, you will continue to give your money to the elite.

  19. JW 2019-12-26 20:10

    Don Pay, Bottom line is, there are few if any political types that aren’t intimidated by highly educated, experienced, professional people that know their business. In terms of past governors there were only three in memory that had the sense to let their cabinet secretaries use their experience in their fields, education and training to manage their bureaus with some measure of autonomy and advise the governor on their needs and issues. All the rest of them had to surround themselves with political comfort and support.

    I think you referred to the Hay’s Study. Janklow always fought that after he Commissioned it but would usually end up complying with some of it’s recommendations. The issue of “span of control” was always a political football. Janklow insisted that there be some consistency in supervised numbers so some modest reorganization was always happening in order to equalize the number of supervisors and the employees they supervised. It worked OK until it got to the political class in the upper echelon. Now we have supervisors supervising supervisors and supervisors supervising their supervisors all at the ground level. The problem isn’t and wasn’t the number of supervisors and the diluted chain of command but the quality of the supervision and the actual amount of supervision that actually occurs… planning and accountability are issues. The second biggest problem is experience moving through the ranks. We’ve got mid and upper-level people in state government that haven’t spent a day on the ground. Movement from the ground level into management level is almost non-existent. Politicos think that meetings and “leadership workshops” are a good substitute….(what just transpired in SF for $40 grand) If you haven’t got leadership either appointed or hired within State Government to do those sorts of things on a regular basis, your personnel and appointment policies are third rate. Call me old fashioned but you can’t keep the machinery running efficiently and with enthusiasm and dedication if you don’t understand how gears in the drive train work or fit together and serve the mission and stewardship of government. Can you imagine Noem or any other previous governor doing a stint in “Undercover Boss” or watch a second of “Dirty Jobs”. Not hardly.

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