Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) says the abrupt departure of Lorraine Polak from her position as executive director of the South Dakota Housing Development Authority was no resignation. He says Governor Kristi Noem fired Polak to further delay a $200-million investment in housing infrastructure:
Several lawmakers say Polak’s resignation was not voluntary. They worry the move will delay getting infrastructure grants and loans out to communities.
State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, called Polak’s departure a firing and says it “absolutely” has to do with differences over the housing program lawmakers approved.
“Governor’s office held up rules being submitted to rules review. That should have happened already and they missed it by a month. So, they’re delaying the housing projects in every community in South Dakota,” Schoenbeck said.
“Now, the head of the program—who is extremely talented and would have been the perfect person to administer it—they fired her. So, it doesn’t matter who they put in there, it’s going to slow down creating housing in communities in South Dakota,” Schoenbeck added. “I have no ability to understand why a governor would do that kind of damage to our state” [Lee Strubinger, “Polak Resignation Comes as SDHDA Prepares $200 Million Fund,” SDPB, 2023.03.30].
Why would Noem kick up any kind of fuss over spending this money on a keen market need? Perhaps because Schoenbeck and his Senate pals took that money out of Noem’s cronies hands and put it under Polak’s direction:
Initially, the money was earmarked for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which is headed by former state lawmaker Steve Westra.
Westra is also the vice-president of Sioux Falls developer Hegg Companies.
Instead, Senate lawmakers heavily amended a companion bill to place that money within South Dakota Housing Authority.
“It has been simplified so that it is really clear that this is for housing infrastructure,” said Sen. Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, during a floor debate on March 7, 2022. “It’s not unusual for us to focus on an infrastructure project. We have done that in the past, including with rural access infrastructure funds as recently as last year.”
However, the governor opposed the move.
“The proposal that appropriators brought to us… puts all the money in Housing Authority, which is less accountable to taxpayers,” Noem said on March 8, 2022 [Strubinger, 2023.03.30].
GOED is more accountable to taxpayers? GOED, the agency that helped Joop Bollen get rich by selling EB-5 visas to Chinese investors and promoted Chinese Communist investment in South Dakota agricultural operations? Har-de-har-har.