Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of five articles featuring candidates for Brookings City Council.
BROOKINGS – Nick Wendell believes Brookings is coming through COVID-19 well, and thoughtful planning will take the town into the future. That’s why he’s running for Brookings City Council.
“We’ve got to be really thoughtful about what we do next,” Wendell said. “As many challenges as we have faced in the last year, I think the coming year and (those following it) are filled with opportunity.”
Two three-year council seats are up for election April 13. They are currently held by Wendell and Patty Bacon. Joining them on the ballot are Dr. Isaiah Crevier, Nate Holden and Nick Schmeichel.
Wendell grew up in Gregory and came to Brookings in the fall of 2000 to attend South Dakota State University. While there, he served as the Hobo Day Grand Pooba and led the Hobo Day Committee, “a really neat opportunity,” Wendell said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in advertising and then a master’s degree in higher education administration.
“Right out of college, I worked at an advertising agency (in Sioux Falls) and then had an opportunity to come back to South Dakota State and work in the division of student affairs … from 2006 to 2017,” Wendell said.
“I serve as the first-ever executive director of the South Dakota Board of Technical Education. I’ve been in that role since November 2017,” Wendell said.
He has a teenage daughter.
Wendell was a founding member and first president of Connect 2140, a young professionals’ network, an active volunteer with Downtown Brookings Inc., and an active member of First United Methodist Church. He founded Big Blue Birthday Box and still manages the program, which delivers birthday boxes to children in need.
After Scott Meyer resigned from the council to move to Minnesota, Wendell was elected in 2016 to fill out the remaining two years of the term, then re-elected in 2018 to a full term.
“I really love serving in Brookings and serving on the council,” Wendell said of running again. “Even in very challenging times, it’s work that I enjoy, it’s work that I find rewarding.”
“I really believe in the work we do together on the council. We’ve got a growing city and a city with tremendous opportunity,” he added.
“I’m somebody who really tries to dig in with both hands,” Wendell said.
He’s served as the city liaison to the Brookings Municipal Utilities Board, council representative on the Joint Powers Board with Brookings County, and the city representative on the Brookings Economic Development Corporation board of directors. He’s supported the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan, the Bicycle Master Plan, and the Comprehensive Master Plan.
“One of my chief priorities in my role as executive director of the Board of Technical Education is workforce development, access to education and training throughout the state of South Dakota, working with community leaders,” Wendell said, and he works with elected officials in Pierre.
As a councilor, he works with city departments and staff as they continue to evolve and modernize. He works with volunteer boards, committees and commissions to understand their work.
As far as budget, “I have a great deal of experience with that in every part of my life, professionally and as a public servant,” Wendell said.
Knowing where the money’s going and being transparent about it is important “in terms of constituents’ ability to understand how we make budgetary decisions,” Wendell said.
The last year has been challenging in many ways, he said.
“We’ve had to really, really rely on guidance, expertise, information from local experts to make good decisions, but also to communicate those decisions. I’d like to think one of the skill sets that I bring to the council is an ability to communicate ideas, even very complex ideas,” Wendell said.
He feels it’s important councilors not just make decisions, but “talk through those decisions in a public environment … invite feedback (and) justify those decisions, articulate them clearly to the public and be willing to evolve or pivot if we need to.”
His priorities are planning and development, especially because Brookings is land-locked due to water issues.
“Both from a residential planning perspective, but also commercial and industrial planning,” Wendell said. “Not just looking at open land right now, but also considering how we re-invest in existing properties and existing neighborhoods.”
Keeping affordable housing in mind, Wendell wants to rehabilitate existing properties that are already linked to infrastructure and make them more livable and help the city stretch the land it has.
Another priority is investing in infrastructure, like streets, sidewalks and bicycle paths and being careful of the impact that has on drainage.
“As a council, we can never take our eye off the infrastructure ball, it’s really always present,” Wendell said.
He thinks the city has come through the COVID crisis well.
“To think that we’ve been tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century on a local level has meant a lot of challenges for all of us, but I am proud of the way we have responded. I think the very reasonable actions that we took in partnership with our school district, our businesses community, the local university, our health system, has had a positive impact,” Wendell said.
“We never thought that we would bring the number of cases down to zero in Brookings; that was never a realistic goal. The goal really was to slow the spread and minimize the number of cases. Ultimately our hope was then that we would decrease the number of cases that turned into hospitalizations or worse. And I do think we have done that,” Wendell said.
As the cases decrease and the number of people being vaccinated increase, he thinks it’s appropriate to ease restrictions, but keep the mask mandate in place, “for a bit longer.”
Wendell sees opportunity ahead for Brookings because of a thriving downtown district and small and locally owned businesses, SDSU and all the local manufacturing plants.
“I think we’ll just continue to grow in those areas,” Wendell said.
To move into the future, the council needs to concentrate on affordable housing and workforce “in terms of matching the folks who live in Brookings now with the kind of training they need to fill the positions we have in our community,” Wendell said.
He wants the council to continue to invest in relationships with the Brookings School District, SDSU, the health system, and the business community.
“This year has taught us something we all already knew, but it has re-affirmed just how interconnected we all are,” Wendell said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]