PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Mark Barnett could continue serving as the trustee representing retirees on the South Dakota Retirement System board after he returns to state government employment work in January.

That’s according to SDRS executive director Travis Almond.

But Barnett, who’s coming back to be chief deputy in the state Office of Attorney General, told KELOLAND News on Tuesday he’ll soon step down from the retirement seat.

“I will not stay on the SDRS Board of Trustees. Although the state regulations would allow me to stay on the board, I need to devote my full attention to the new job. My term on the board will end as soon as they can get a replacement,” Barnett said in a statement through a spokesman.

He’s putting his new job first: “As chief deputy, my one and only duty is to law enforcement and victims of crime.” 

Almond said a rule the trustees adopted in 2005 would apply to Barnett’s unusual situation. It states that a “candidate seeking election to the board who simultaneously is both retired and a member of another employee represented group shall be deemed a retiree.”

Almond told KELOLAND News, “As a result, he will be able to continue to represent retirees on the Board of Trustees, should he choose to do so.”

Barnett has served on the SDRS board since July 2021. He won a contested election that spring to succeed James Hansen of Pierre, who chose not to run again. Hansen had served as a SDRS trustee representing retirees for 28 years.

“I am really going to miss serving on the SDRS board,” Barnett said. “They are nationally recognized as doing the best job anywhere. South Dakota is routinely one of the two fully funded retirement systems. SDRS has an impressive slate of employees who make board service so much easier, but even, so keeping up on all the business takes time.”

SDRS represents thousands of current or former employees of state government and public universities, as well as many school districts, municipal governments, county governments and special districts. The 2022 annual report showed 41,878 active contributing members, 23,604 inactive non-contributing members, and 32,348 benefit recipients.

Barnett, now 68, is a former three-term attorney general and a retired circuit judge. He left the bench in 2019 and was an instructor for Code 2 law enforcement training. He now plans to return to state government employment and be chief deputy to state Attorney General-elect Marty Jackley, who takes office January 7.

According to Almond, Barnett will continue to receive retirement benefits but at a reduced rate while he’s re-employed by state government.

“Per SDCL 3-12C-1405, a retired member may become re-employed with a participating employer of the system following a three consecutive calendar month break in service. Upon re-employment, the member’s benefit is reduced by 15 percent and the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) is eliminated during the re-employment period,” Almond said in an email.

He continued, “Additionally, the member’s contribution to the system goes to the Supplemental Retirement Plan (SRP) and the employer’s contribution remains with the SDRS trust fund. The member does not earn any additional benefits from the system associated with the period of reemployment.”

Almond added, “These provisions were designed to treat the re-employed retired member equitably. While not punitive, they prevent a windfall to the re-employed member compared to an active member with the same age, service, and compensation.”

Barnett, a Republican, won elections to the attorney general’s post in 1990, 1994 and 1998. Barred by term-limits from seeking re-election in 2002, he ran in a three-way primary for governor and placed second, behind state Senator Mike Rounds. In 2007, Governor Rounds appointed Barnett as a circuit judge.

There was speculation shortly after the judicial appointment that Barnett would be promoted next to a justice on the South Dakota Supreme Court. But the state’s high court declined to answer a request from Rounds for an advisory opinion because there wasn’t a current vacancy. Barnett withdrew his application.

The Supreme Court took up Governor Dennis Daugaard’s request for an advisory opinion in 2011 because Justice Judith Meierhenry’s seat was vacant. The court said a person nominated for a vacancy needed to have residency in the district only when taking the oath.

Chief Justice David Gilbertson wrote the majority opinion:

“Consequently, a person selected by the Governor to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court becomes a justice by qualifying for office by taking an oath or affirmation. SDCL 3-1-5. Prior to taking that oath, however, that person must fulfill the eligibility requirement to hold that office including establishing voting residency in the district from which he or she is appointed. By doing so, that person becomes a justice after taking the oath and complies with the constitutional directives of being a voting resident of the district from which he or she was

Justice Steven Zinter wanted a higher standard. In a dissent, Justice Zinter said that allowing the person to establish residency after the nomination and before taking the oath as justice rendered the constitution’s language “meaningless.” The justice warned it would lead to people outside a circuit running for judge and then establishing residency in that circuit only after winning.

After his retirement as a judge, Barnett frequently served got behind the steering wheel and drove Jackley to events during Jackley’s campaign for the 2022 Republican nomination, which Jackley narrowly won against David Natvig. Barnett was often at Jackley’s side as South Dakota Republican delegates made the decision in June at their statewide convention in Watertown. Jackley was unopposed in the November general election.

Jackley too has been attorney general before — and lost in a primary for governor before, too. Jackley served as U.S. attorney for the South Dakota district starting in 2006 and into 2009. He stepped down after President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won the White House in 2008.

Rounds appointed Jackley as attorney general in 2009, when Larry Long stepped aside to accept a state circuit judgeship in Sioux Falls. Jackley won election in 2010 and 2014. Term-limited in 2018, he sought the Republican nomination for governor but lost to then-U.S. Representative — and now two-term governor — Kristi Noem.

Barnett will replace Charlie McGuigan as chief deputy. McGuigan, who had been chief deputy during Jackley’s prior time in the office, will be part of Jackley’s staff overseeing the civil-litigation side.

“Both Mark and Charlie have been trusted advisors to me for many years.  They are both very respected within the Attorney General’s office and legal community, and they both have an excellent record serving as chief deputy in the office,” Jackley told KELOLAND News.

“With the upcoming challenges the Attorney General’s office faces, it makes sense to have another former attorney general serve as chief deputy, and equal sense with Charlie’s extensive experience on civil matters to have him serve as the deputy attorney general in charge of the civil division,” Jackley continued.

“That includes handling our legislation during session with his strong reputation with legislators.  The fact that Charlie is willing to forego retirement and Mark to come out of retirement to continue to serve in demanding leadership positions is a testament to their loyalty to our office and our state,” Jackley said.

Asked about what’s ahead, Jackley said, “Some of the challenges include addressing increases in violent crime and controlled substances such as methamphetamine.  While we have great people working in the Attorney General‘s office there were extensive vacancies over the last couple of years that need to be addressed including hiring and training numerous DCI (South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation) agents. We will also be focused on improving our relationships with local law enforcement including our (police) chiefs, (county) sheriffs and state’s attorneys.”

Jackley takes over from Mark Vargo, who’s been in an interim role since June. The governor appointed Vargo attorney general after the state House of Representatives voted to impeach Jason Ravnsborg in April and the state Senate removed him from office in June. Vargo will return to his previous role as Pennington County state’s attorney in January.

Along the way, Noem and Jackley endorsed each other’s candidacies. Vargo was one of two state’s attorneys who argued for Ravnsborg’s removal at the Senate trial. Vargo then got rid of two of Ravnsborg’s key people, chief of staff Tim Bormann and Natvig, shortly after receiving Noem’s appointment.

As for Barnett’s recent role, Jackley said, “Mark was a trusted advisor, always has been except for during his time on the bench.”

Jackley’s new DCI director will be Dan Satterlee. He previously served in several roles as DCI assistant directors and recently was with the South Dakota Fusion Center based from Sioux Falls.

The current interim DCI director, Chad Mosteller, will replace Cam Corey as assistant director for DCI field operations. Mosteller previously was assistant DCI director for administration since December 2021.

Brent Kempema will continue as deputy attorney general overseeing the criminal division. Sarah Thorne will stay as deputy attorney general overseeing appeals. Tiffany Stoeser will move up to be assistant DCI director for administration. Tony Mangan will move from the state Department of Public Safety to replace Stewart Huntington as communications director.

Jackley said Corey will remain in a supervisory role, overseeing DCI’s special operations unit out of Watertown. “As with so many of our team he’s taking on additional duties which include supervising the human trafficking and missing persons projects that we recently announced, both projects important to us and that we are keeping with the funding that we are provided,” Jackley said.

He continued, “Moving Chad (Mosteller) to field operations makes sense as he has been in charge of admin and it prepares him to be our next director. Tiffany has been in charge and has done an excellent job with our forensic lab and is ready to be in charge of all administration, which includes the lab which again she already operates. Not that it was a factor but I would point out she’s the highest ranking female member of the DCI in our history.”

Jackley’s hope is for a good fit throughout the office, including the return of Barnett. “As for inviting Mark, that occurred over numerous conversations over months, including during the transition,” he said. “It simply made sense for me, him and the office.”