SPEARFISH — Dave Dutton, Spearfish city finance officer, used the word “blessed” several times to describe his life and career, looking ahead to his upcoming retirement.
“The city is an amazing place to work. I believe in public service,” he said. “It’s a great honor to be able to serve citizens … you can make a difference that way.”
Dutton retires Friday after 22 years of working for the city, though he lived and served in many places before making it back to the Black Hills.
Dutton grew up on a cattle ranch 100 miles northeast of Spearfish, 50 miles from the nearest town, so when his older brother decided to go to Black Hills State, instead of boarding in Faith for high school, Dutton boarded in Spearfish, attending Spearfish High School — which turned out quite well, he said, as it was there that he began dating his future wife, Bonnie Halsey, in October 1976, when he was a senior and she a junior.
Initially, Dutton attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT), where he “majored in football,” he joked. Dutton is a 2005 SDSMT Football Hall of Fame inductee; he played for the team from 1977-1980, starting as a freshman and playing in all 38 games during his college career.
Halsey was studying at Black Hills State, and after Dutton’s third year of college, the couple wed. They spent another semester at the School of Mines before moving in January 1981 to finish their college degrees at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, where Halsey-Dutton studied art, minoring in business, and Dutton switched majors from civil engineering to business administration.
He was hired by Hormel Foods Corporation as an industrial engineer and worked over the next 13 years in a variety of capacities, working at plants in Austin, Minn., Atlanta, Ga., and Philadelphia. After seven years in Philadelphia, the Duttons decided they wanted to move home to raise their children. Halsey-Dutton found a job teaching in Spearfish, and about a year later, in April 1997, Dutton started as the utility billing clerk for the city and eventually moved into an accounting position. In December 2002, he was promoted to assistant finance officer; in December 2009, he was appointed as acting finance officer; and in March 2011, he was promoted to finance officer.
Those were not his only titles, however. Dutton served for nearly three decades in the United States Army Reserve, earning the rank of lieutenant colonel. After his retirement, he received the Legion of Merit, a military decoration of the United States armed forces that is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements, in 2011 in recognition of his 28 years of service.
After being commissioned in 1981, Dutton served as maintenance officer, platoon leader, ammo supply officer, company/detachment commander, operations officer, battalion S-4, battalion S-1, training officer, and battalion commander.
He was deployed as battalion commander of the 1041st Engineer Battalion, located in Sioux Falls, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He left Spearfish in January 2007 for Fort Riley and was in Iraq from March 2007 to April 2008, serving as the chief of the Material Management Center for the Joint Staff-Logistics, which supported the branch of the Multi-National Force - Iraq, responsible for developing, organizing, training, equipping, and sustaining the Iraqi Security Ministries of Defense and Interior and associated Iraqi Security Forces (MNSTC-I). During his deployment, Dutton procured more than $2.8 billion, distributed $3.9 billion, and accounted for more than $6 billion in equipment for the Iraqi Security Forces in this role.
His return from deployment was delayed. As Dutton describes it, a rocket “got too close to me” a week before he was scheduled to return from Iraq, so he spent an additional three months at Ft. Riley getting medical treatment prior to coming home, and then because of medical hold, was not able to return to work at the city until November 2008.
“I was very blessed that they were gracious enough to hold my assistant finance officer job open, and Beth Benning (former city finance officer) extended her retirement until I got back,” Dutton described, adding, “I couldn’t have had a better mentor than having worked for Beth all those years prior to her retirement.”
Dutton kept in his office mementos his staff in Iraq presented to him during his deployment.
“I’m quite proud of my military career,” he said, adding, “I have collected military memorabilia since I was a child and have an extensive collection.”
Dutton’s family tree contains a long and storied military history. An ancestor rode across the Delaware with Gen. George Washington and was wounded by the Hessians during the Revolutionary War; he had many relatives who fought — on both sides — of the Civil War, including one family of five sons who all fell in one battle for the Confederacy; his grandfather, a homesteader, was not called up during World War I because of his role in providing food to the nation; and his father, drafted as a senior in high school during World War II and initially dismissed for medical reasons, was then called up again prior to the invasion of Japan when the standards were lowered. On his way, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred, once again changing the standards — so he was never able to serve, though he desired to, and Dutton always told his father that he was able to serve for the family.
“It’s fun to have some of that knowledge of your military history,” Dutton said, describing that it is important to know the stories and sacrifices veterans have made through their service. He has accumulated an extensive military collection through the years, and in 2011, when the South Dakota World War II Memorial was dedicated in Pierre, then-Gov. Bill Janklow asked Dutton to set up a table of his collection at the National Guard recruiting tent. Dutton said it was immensely rewarding to witness the veterans come in and see items that brought memories, and many times, they were with a grandchild, so to hear them share and pass on their stories was amazing, as so often, veterans keep that part of their lives to themselves.
Dutton is looking forward to having time to focus on curating his military collection and hopes to do more with that, speaking at schools, doing the displays at the annual events, as he has at the American Legion Ball, etc., as well as do more research on some of the identified groupings of items to be able to tell the stories of the veterans. In our daily, busy lives, we don’t always think of those sacrifices, Dutton said, so the collection is one more way to remind people of the history and service of the veterans in their midst.
He is also looking forward to having more time to spend on the family ranch, which he and his three siblings own. The ranch met its “century” status in 2015, meaning that for more than 100 years, it has been owned by the same family — it’s the ranch the grandfather was homesteading during World War I — and Dutton enjoys springtime.
“I just love the South Dakota prairie when it’s in full bloom, with all the wildflowers,” he said, describing that the ranch has always been managed with conservation in mind and has won several conservation awards, and the goal is to take part of it, at a minimum, and put it into a preserve, so that their ancestors can enjoy it for many generations.
Looking back over his time at the city, much has changed since he started, and Dutton has many proud moments that come to mind, such as the development of a tool to forecast revenue as well as long-term capital and operating plan budgets to determine whether the funds support the plans. Through that tool, the city could evaluate the feasibility of its future plans.
“Our cash reserves, since I took over, have increased by over 75%, but that’s not just because of me. I developed a tool for the entire city to utilize, and it took a lot of planning and a lot of work by all the managers in the city, and of course the employees,” Dutton said. “I’m a firm believer that I didn’t do anything — It’s the people that work for me that did it. That’s been a key thing all throughout my career. I have been exceptionally blessed with the people that I’ve worked with in this office … because they are dedicated, loyal, proficient, and knowledgeable, and they do a great job.”
He added that the finance office is akin to the “gatekeeper” of the city.
“We’re the ones that keep track of all of the statutes we have to follow and manage the city’s money and make sure we’re budgeting properly and investing properly,” he said, adding, “It’s our citizen’s money, so we better safeguard it and use it wisely.”
Since he started, technology has revolutionized accounting software, e-billing, transactions, etc. When Dutton first started, the city sent out postcards for utility billing, and now, people can check their accounts and pay online, with no paper involved, if they choose.
Most of the city departments have grown in Dutton’s time in the finance office, and various fund accounts were added as new things were added to the city’s purview — such as the hydroelectric plant, Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field, rec center, additional rec paths, the acquisition of the Fassbender Photographic Collection with the communities of Deadwood and Lead in 2010 — all of which add to the quality of life in Spearfish, Dutton said.
“We’ve got such a wonderful staff here, and they do tremendous work with, contrary to what some people think, not very many people. We’ve got, in my opinion, the best city in the state,” he said, adding, “That’s what makes people want to visit here and that makes people want to move here. We just do it right, I think.”
Dutton said that his staff would describe him unique, with a goofy sense of humor, which he inherited from his father, and which he has used throughout his career to make work more enjoyable.
“First and foremost, I am going to miss my staff,” he said, explaining that he knows that he will continue to stay in touch with them after his retirement — but he will miss working with them and the “shenanigans” they played.
For example, Dutton once went on vacation, only to return to a dummy made of balloons sitting in his rearranged office. Another time, a colleague began removing the staples from his electric stapler before Dutton had to complete bill lists, which required a high volume of stapling. Dutton couldn’t figure out how he kept going through so many staples and never actually caught on to the joke until the colleague confessed. The staff also has various photos capturing their creative Halloween costumes, group costumes from past Northern Hills Polar Plunges, and more showcasing their fellowship and fun — not that they didn’t accomplish their work well, as the city’s annual audits, bond ratings, etc., would show, Dutton said.
He will miss working with the entire city staff, as well as elected officials.
“I’ve been blessed with great people to work for from the beginning to now,” Dutton said. “They’ve all had the community in mind.”
Dutton will also miss the relationships he established with S.D. Municipal League staff and other city finance officers. He served on the S.D. Governmental Finance Officer Association Board of Directors from 2011-15, serving as president, and then past president from 2015-16 and knows that he made lifetime friends through those connections.
Dutton said that it was an honor to serve the city for 22 years, and “once the dust settles” transitioning into his new role at the family business, Artifacts Antiques and Art on Main Street, spending time at the family ranch, getting used to not having to set an alarm, and generally just getting used to no longer working for the city, he plans to get more involved in the community. He is involved with the Kenadi Jean Weis Foundation and has committed to start calling bingo at the Spearfish VFW Post 5860.
He has also teased the finance office staff that they can expect to see him every month, when he brings in his water bill and a complaint about something!
But in all seriousness, he has no complaints.
“I can depart knowing there will be a seamless transition after my retirement,” Dutton said. “Michelle De Neui will take over and do a great job as the city’s next finance officer. The two new additions (Dory Hanson, assistant finance officer, Mary Burket, administrative assistant) to the finance office have already made their talents and work ethic known, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The rest of the staff (Jamie Hafner and Jennifer Powell) will continue to do the outstanding work that I have always depended upon them to do. They will miss Karla Weber, but only wish her well in her recent retirement. I am confident the finance office will be in excellent hands all around!”
At Dutton’s final city council meeting June 3, the mayor, city council, and staff thanked Dutton for his service, hosting a reception with cake prior to the meeting.
“We’re going to miss you very much,” Mayor Dana Boke said during the meeting. “Dave brings a certain personality to the room for sure, and (I’ve) really enjoyed working with you.”
She described that a lot of work goes on in the finance department and that the staff makes it look easy, though it’s not.
De Neui wished Dave the best on his new endeavor.
“... I am very grateful for the leadership he provided during his time as finance officer,” she said Monday.