Baltic draws political spotlight over rare recall, development dispute

A political action committee is attempting to unseat Baltic Mayor Deborah McIsaac over several charges, many of which stem from a dispute between the city and a local developer.

Mayor Deborah McIsaac is at the center of a dramatic recall effort in Baltic, which kicked off April 3, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

BALTIC — Baltic is an unlikely candidate for the center of the South Dakota political world.

But the town of just over 1,200 people on the northern outskirts of Sioux Falls has been thrust into the spotlight over a signature drive looking to recall the mayor, Deborah McIsaac.

Her main transgression in the eyes of petitioners appears to include holding up two housing developments on the eastern edge of town, though the committee behind the recall attempt also referenced “bad and biased behavior” in an April 3 press release.

The release promised “witnesses, statements, evidence, and actions” to substantiate these claims over the ensuing weeks, some of which has already been shared with the public.

Jamie Ingemansen, the head of South Dakotans for Transparent Government, the committee backing the recall effort, said “under 50%” of this evidence has been made public so far.


McIsaac, a political newcomer who took office last May, has denied claims of acting beyond the law, saying the disputes between the city and real estate developer Grant Park Capital stemmed from the developer’s poor erosion control and drainage.

“Frankly, I wonder what the motivation is. Do you know what I think it is? I think it's money,” McIsaac said about the recall during an April 4 press conference. “I think we have a million-dollar development on the line.”

McIsaac's comments speculate Grant Park Capital is influencing the recall effort against her due to the suspension of building permits on lots for the housing development.

Ingemansen had no comment on any connection, including financial contributions, between the group and Brian Hefty, the founder of Grant Park Capital, which is looking to sell more than 100 lots on the southeastern edge of town.

Development dispute appears central to recall effort

While South Dakotans for Transparent Government references other alleged misconduct, much of the evidence thus far made public — compiled on a website dedicated to the recall — is related to the fallout from the legal back-and-forth between the city and developer.

Furthermore, McIsaac spent much of her press conference focusing on the city’s handling of the development.

In one instance, tensions between the parties boiled over on July 6, 2022, when a rainstorm “flooded into the streets of the developments and was coming down into our city at a mudslide rate,” McIsaac said.

The mayor later that day confronted Hefty, who was in the car with his daughter and the family dog, about the damage.


“It probably wasn't pleasant. You heard me yelling in the clip [posted to the recall website],” McIsaac said. “I was absolutely yelling, but I didn't call him any names.”

Several documents from the commission and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources indicate that the development was not meeting some requirements related to stormwater pollution prevention and other erosion control.

On July 27, the Planning and Zoning Commission suspended the issuance of building permits over a lack of compliance with soil, erosion and stormwater flow mitigation measures.

Grant Park Capital, LLC, is looking to sell some 120 lots in Baltic, ranging from $40,000 to $100,000.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

A lawsuit by Grant Park Capital to attempt to overturn the decision by the commission — one piece of evidence on the recall website — was tossed out by a judge earlier this year.

In oral arguments, City Attorney John Hughes argued that the developer had not followed through with the legal pathway of appeal to the Board of Adjustment for a reconsideration of the commission’s decision.

He further argued that the regulatory authority of municipalities over growth and development, including residential subdivisions, is well spelled out in South Dakota law.

Mike Wendland, a former mayor of Baltic and one of two employees listed on the Grant Park Capital website, did not respond to a request for comment by Forum News Service.

It’s unclear whether the development has made improvements to its stormwater pollution prevention systems or attempted to meet the municipal ordinances referenced by the commission.


Recall effort focused on claims of ‘misconduct;’ mayor says claims are ‘half-truths’

Though available to every municipality in the state, a recall of a mayor or a number of other city officials is a rare occurrence. A successful recall is even more infrequent.

In the past 15 years, nine attempts at recalls have been made, according to Ballotpedia and a variety of local news sources, none of which were successful.

Finding a successful recall effort requires going back to 2007 and a saga in Yankton, which ended with the ouster of Mayor Curt Bernard and Commissioner Dan Rupiper.

Baltic Mayor Deborah McIsaac speaks during an April 4, 2023, press conference.
Contributed: City of Baltic

Yet South Dakotans for Transparent Government, thinks it has McIsaac pinned on “misconduct in office, gross incompetence, and gross partiality,” three of the 10 grounds allowed under South Dakota law for a successful recall.

Outside of evidence stemming from the feud with Grant Park Capital, specific grounds on the circulating petition and website include supposed harassment of city employees and a conflict of interest in giving a city contract to her husband’s construction company.

During the April 4 press conference — which became the latest grounds for recall as an “improper use of public resources” that the political action committee reported to the Minnehaha County state’s attorney — McIsaac denied each of these claims. For example, she noted that her husband’s construction company was the only bid to expand city hall.

“These affidavits are just character assassinations with half-truths,” she said. “It’s appalling.”

Daniel Haggar, the state’s attorney in the county, was not immediately available for comment on whether he had initiated an investigation into the alleged misuse of public resources.


McIsaac also pointed out that the mayor has few unilateral powers beyond certain appointments, meaning many of the wrongdoings pinned on her in the petition language, such as her apparent role in property valuations increasing by 13%, two points short of an estimate of 15%, are largely out of her control.

South Dakotans for Transparent Government ties that shortfall to McIsaac’s treatment of Grant Park Capital.

Assuming the committee is able to garner the required 180 or so signatures within a period of 60 days, the allegations will likely face scrutiny in circuit court, as state law allows a challenge to the “specific statements of the grounds of the recall petition” within five days of the petition’s filing.

“We have to think about what our priorities are, especially considering the threats we face around the world,” South Dakota U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds said.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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