SD Democrats call for Jennifer Slaight-Hansen to resign

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.(Argus Leader)- Jennifer Slaight-Hansen, who has led the South Dakota Democratic Party for four months, is facing the possibility of a recall election after she failed to resign from her position, following allegations that she created a toxic work environment and violated the state Democratic Party constitution, according to a letter sent Thursday by a group of SDDP leadership. Slaight-Hansen was elected chair of the Democratic party in February and took office in April, after the death of former chairman Randy Seiler.

Originally, Slaight-Hansen had been asked to resign by Monday. Only days before, on Friday, did SDDP executive director Dan Ahlers resign from his position.

“The Executive Committee of the State Party, the joint legislative caucuses of the South Dakota Democratic Party (SDDP), along with leadership of county Democratic parties statewide, have been made aware of your misconduct,” according to the letter reviewed by the Argus Leader. “These have taken the form of repeated violations of the South Dakota Democratic Party Constitution and directives given to staff that would have led to unethical or illegal behavior if not for appropriate responses of SDDP staff and advisers. Your actions are unacceptable and unbefitting of the office they hold. We asked you to resign. You refused.

“Despite significant efforts made by Party leaders statewide to engage in conversations and communicate the severity of your actions you refuse to take responsibility for your misconduct,” the letter continues. “Yesterday, our legal counsel resigned because of the split in our party caused by you, yet you failed to communicate this to our executive board. For all the above reasons, we are unified in upholding the South Dakota Democratic Party Constitution and recalling you as our SDDP Chair. We are deeply disappointed in your actions and regret that your actions and intransigence have made this action necessary,” according to the letter.

Asked by the Argus Leader on Thursday why it took four days for the Democratic Party to move on the recall process, Shane Merrill, the vice chair of SDDP, did not answer the question.

“My goal as vice chair is to help move the party forward as unified as we can be, and I have no other comment than that at this point,” he said.

Slaight-Hansen told the Argus Leader on Thursday there had been a difference in understanding about her and Ahlers’ roles. She also said of the four violations laid out in a letter sent to her on July 22 by the Democratic Legislative Caucus, she felt she had made a mistake by not getting approval to hire two summer interns.

“Based on the allegations made in the letter, I don’t believe that hiring two interns without the approval of the E-Board is of such significance that I should resign,” she said.

The Democratic Legislative caucuses, the Minnehaha County Democratic Party, the Lincoln County Democratic Party and the Pennington County Democratic Party all requested Slaight-Hansen resign at the end of July.

The Pennington County Democratic Party adopted a formal resolution July 20 stating that Slaight-Hansen had violated the party constitution by not informing the Democratic Executive Board and State Central Committee about the “hiring and termination of all personnel and related actions,” according to an email sent by the party reviewed by the Argus Leader.

Two days later on July 22, Minority Leader Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, and Minority Leader Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, sent a letter to Slaight-Hansen alleging she had violated four parts of the state Democratic Party constitution.

They alleged she had fired two staffers when it is the role of the executive director to hire and fire employees, not the chair; that she had hired two interns without the approval of the executive board; that she was preparing to create a new job position outside the approved budget and without the approval of the executive board; and that she had failed to effectively communicate with the 11 Democrats who represent their districts in the state legislature.

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