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State Democrats near unanimous in party chair removal

South Dakota Democrats are removing the party chair after less than six months on the job.

Party officials accuse Jennifer Slaight-Hansen of violating the party constitution and creating a hostile work environment.

During an emergency meeting of the state central committee on Saturday, Democratic party members voted nearly unanimously to get rid of Slaight-Hansen as leader of the party.

None voted in favor of retaining her, and two abstained from voting.

Slaight-Hansen is accused of violating the party constitution by making decisions without the approval of the party’s executive board.

Some were concerned Slaight-Hansen hired and fired people without permission.

Annie Bachand, chair of the Pennington County Democrats, said Slaight-Hansen failed to communicate with the party’s executive board when she made decisions.

“The constitution specifically says that if you make a decision as a chair you must consult with the executive board. At a minimum communicate with them. That did not happen on several occasions,” Bachand said. “Staff were summarily fired, terminated, without any consultation with the executive board. Decisions were made on contracts without consultation with the executive board. This is not a personal matter; this is a leadership and management matter.”

Concerns about Slaight-Hansen came to light after a leaked email showed executive director Dan Ahlers was resigning after just a few months on the job, citing disagreements and a hostile work environment. Slaight-Hansen describes it as a misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, the party is giving Slaight-Hansen 7 days to appeal the move.

Slaight-Hansen did not attend the emergency meeting and did not immediately return requests for comment.

Vice-Chair Shane Merrill will serve as interim chair until the party holds an election in 20 days to elect a new chair on September 16 in Rapid City during the Buffalo Round-Up.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.