Brandon Taliaferro, who worked at the state's attorney's office for just more than three years and handled juvenile crime and child abuse and neglect cases, was fired last week. During Tuesday's county commission meeting, commissioners voted 4-1 to hire Aberdeen attorney Karly Winter to replace him. The vote came after a closed session to discuss personnel matters with State's Attorney Kimberly Dorsett.
Commission Chairman Duane Sutton voted against hiring Winter. He said he still has some unanswered questions and has heard from many people in recent days who were happy with the way Taliaferro did his job.
During the meeting, more than a dozen people spoke in support of Taliaferro, urging the commission to discuss the firing with Dorsett and, if possible, overturn the decision. Dorsett and commissioners visited during the closed session.
Dorsett said she could not talk in detail about why Taliaferro was released, but said there have been ongoing concerns. She said the decision was difficult and made in consultation with and with the support of the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. State law stipulates that the attorney general's office has discretion over who represents the local Department of Social Services office, she said.
Taliaferro, who was at the meeting, worked with the Department of Social Services as a deputy state's attorney. He said he was disappointed to lose his job but declined further comment.
Dorsett said that under state law elected officials such as state's attorneys have discretion over the deputies they hire.
But Sutton said Taliaferro might be considered a county employee just as somebody who works at, for instance, the highway department. If that's the case, there's a grievance process in place for people who believe they have been wrongly fired, he said.
Some of Taliaferro's supporters mentioned the potential of trying to recall Dorsett. Holly Hedge, a former Department of Social Services employee who was fired by the agency, said Tuesday evening that she was still trying to learn details about the process.
Taliaferro's backers were adamant about his work. They said that, while on the job, he addressed abuse and neglect concerns that the Department of Social Service would not. Nobody from the Department of Social Service spoke at the meeting.
"The abused children of Brown County will be the biggest losers in this deal if Brandon is not reinstated," said Marlys Mardian, an Aberdeen child advocate.
Francine Sippel, a licensed psychologist with Northern Plains Psychological Associates in Aberdeen, said she's had problems with the Department of Social Services but that Taliaferro has always been helpful and willing to properly handle cases.
"I have never seen a state's attorney who has more compassion for the children of Brown County, and I am so disheartened that he has been fired," Sippel said.
She also said local law enforcers are supportive of Taliaferro's work.
Several Aberdeen public school officials, including Superintendent Gary Harms, Central High School Principal Jason Uttermark, CHS Assistant Principal Dawn Seiler and CHS counselor Jill Stephenson, also talked about how good Taliaferro was at his job. He cared about kids and was an excellent communicator, they said.
"This is a good man who does an outstanding job," Harms said.
One parent who spoke during the commission meeting said he doesn't think his daughter would be alive if not for Taliaferro's work with juveniles.
Others said Taliaferro communicated well with police and school officials to make sure juvenile abuse and other juvenile concerns are properly addressed.
Dorsett promised that strong communication between her office and other agencies will continue. Winter is well qualified and comes with excellent references, Dorsett said.
"My office is dedicated to protecting all of the citizens of Brown County, and I take the job of state's attorney very seriously," Dorsett said.