Hot Springs Ward 4 City Council, School Board candidates profiled

HOT SPRINGS – The primary election is slated to take place on Tuesday, June 2, which is when area registered voters will decide a number of races, including a two-year term as the Ward 4 representative on the Hot Springs City Council as well as a three-term on Hot Springs School Board.

As a way to help educate Fall River County voters about their voting options on the primary ballot in all of the races, the Fall River County Herald-Star will be featuring profiles of each candidate over the next few weeks.

This week, the two Ward 4 candidates for the Hot Springs City Council and the two candidates for Hot Springs School board are featured.

Next week, on May 7, profiles for each of the nine candidates for the Fall River County Commission will be printed. Featured the following week, on May 14, will be the two candidates for the District 30 State Senate, and the three candidates for the District 30 House of Representatives.

All four city council and school board candidates were recently sent questionnaires.

The candidates were first asked to tell a little about themselves, and then answer the following two questions:

1) What skills or talents would you bring to the School Board/City Council?

2) What are the top two issues that concern you regarding the Hot Springs School District / Hot Springs City Council and how do you plan to address them if elected?

Following are their responses:


Caitlin Turner (incumbent)

Age: 24

Occupation: Fall River County Assessor

6-plus years as resident of the City of Hot Springs (outside of town resident prior)

Contact info: 605-891-1963, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I’m originally from West Virginia but moved to the area when I was in 1st grade. I’m a Hot Springs High School Graduate and have an associates of applied science degree in accounting from Western Dakota Tech. I enjoy spending my free time with my family, reading or working with plants. I’m a current member and secretary of the Hot Springs High School Alumni, serve on the Board of Directors for Evergreen Cemetery and I am currently a Ward 4 City Councilwoman. I attribute and give thanks for the things I’ve accomplished to my parents and God.

1) I believe my accounting background combined with my experience at the assessor’s office provides me with a unique perspective of the tax system. I understand exactly where and how tax dollars come into being and how important it is to be good stewards of our City’s finances. Having a balanced budget and being incredibly watchful of City finances is especially important as we look at projects moving forward such as the sidewalk project.

2) Two issues, or rather chances to improve, that most concern me currently would be 1) Our situation with enforcement of ordinance/code violations. I feel there is great room for improvement. One thing I have witnessed this past year, is how many issues brought to us could be resolved with or lessened if we would have had adequate enforcement occurring. I feel that discussion with city personnel needs to occur to create a plan on who handles these issues and how to tackle these issues moving forward.  2) A current popular topic- the highway/sidewalk project. Many of our citizens have legitimate concerns regarding how this unfolds and how we correctly watch our spending. With the Covid-19 crisis happening at the same time, any member or future member of council will need to be proactive in gaining/relaying information, listening to our citizens and making the right choices for our citizens.

Debra Johnston (challenger)

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired Critical Care Registered Nurse (40 years), Currently practicing as a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner (23 years).

52-year resident of Hot Springs

Contact info: 605-745-5201, healing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

My family moved to Hot Springs when I was 9 months old in 1958.  My father, Fred Walgren, built and operated the radio station KOBH (Kall Of the Black Hills, presently KZMX) and helped install Cable Television throughout the Hills,  managing Hot Springs, Edgemont and Custer until his retirement.  After attending all 13 years in the Hot Springs School system, I left Hot Springs to attend Nursing School, practicing in local hospitals in Sundance, Wyoming, Silverton and Grants Pass, Oregon.  I returned to Hot Springs in 1985 and spent the rest of my career taking care of our Veterans in the ICU and Urgent Care units at the local VA.  

My husband of 26 years passed away 17 years ago from a service connected illness.  He was also a Registered Nurse at the VA.  We raised our daughter, Brianna, here in HS, who now has a private practice as a Couples and Family Therapist in Lafayette, Indiana.  I have been involved with the SHEDCO Community Initiative in the Health and Wellness Committee, creating the Wholistic Health Directory.  I am also a member of the Friends of the Theater, Keep Hot Springs Beautiful and the Save Our Sandstone groups.

1) I believe that I can bring my multi-faceted experiences as a long-time citizen of the area, my own and my daughter’s experiences in the school system and my understanding of the history of the VA situation to the City Council.  I have built 2 homes and renovated/flipped 2 homes here in town and Fall River County.  I understand that a lot of research will be necessary for this position.  I am not a politician, by any means, but I have spent my life caring for people, aspiring to take into consideration what is in the highest good for their mental, physical and emotional well-being with the best information at hand.  I would like to do that for Hot Springs.

2) If elected to the City Council, I feel it would be important to continue to improve the housing needs of the community by extending tax incentives for improving existing houses and utilizing empty lots for development.  

I also would encourage the revitalization of our downtown by protecting our historic sandstone buildings from further deterioration and support new and innovative ideas to bring more businesses, tourism and tax revenue to the city.  I am open-minded and willing to consider well thought out opinions and ideas.  I can see the potential of something, formulate a plan of action and follow through to the end of a project.



Petra Wilson (incumbent)

Age: 44

Occupation: Hot Air Balloon Pilot and Flight Instructor at Western Horizons Hot Air Balloons52-year resident of Hot Springs

5-year resident of the Hot Springs School District

Contact info: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I was born in Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the United States when I was 8 years old.  After graduating high school in Minnesota, I joined the Navy where I served as a Plane Captain on FA-18 Hornets and later became an Aviation Administrator (AZ3/E-4) in Lemoore, CA.  Upon completion of my military commitment, I moved back to Minnesota to finish college and graduated from Saint Cloud State University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology.  I met my husband, Brian while attending college and we were married in 2001. After completing my degree, I worked as a Quality Assurance (Q.A.) and Microbiology Lab Technician for Cargill, a Q.A. Supervisor at Gold’n Plump Poultry, and a Q.A. Manager for John Morrell and Smithfield Foods. I then worked as a District Manager for ALDI Foods until our son was born.

My family and I moved to Hot Springs almost 5 years ago from Yankton, where I was involved in the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and was President of the Yankton Regional Aviation Association.   Since moving to Hot Springs, I have been active in our community through our church, the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, 4-H with our children, PEO, and currently I am the Vice President of the K-12 PTA.  I am also an FAA certified Commercial Hot Air Balloon Pilot and Flight Instructor as well as a small business owner of Western Horizons Hot Air Balloons in Hot Springs. My husband, Brian is a physician at Fall River Health Services and we have two children, Zachary (13 yrs. old) and Reina (11 yrs. old) in the Hot Springs Elementary and Middle School systems. 

1) I am proud to be serving as a Hot Springs School board member and I hope to be re-elected so I can continue to be a part of the team that is in the process of improving our school district.   I enjoy working with people in a collaborative effort to achieve a common goal.  An example of this is my working with the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce to create the Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival.

2) The top two issues that concern me about our school district are the low academic performance ratings as compared to other districts in South Dakota and the communication gap in our school system.  I look forward to the opportunity to be a part of the team that will help create the right atmosphere in our school which will encourage and promote a strong learning environment, leading to greater testing proficiency as well as improving communication throughout our school district between parents, teachers, and administrators.

Malisa Niles (challenger)

Age: 45

Occupation: Fall River Conservation District Manager and Hot Springs Librarian 5-year resident of the Hot Springs School District

Contact info: 341 S 14th Street, Hot Springs SD This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I was born and raised near Rapid City. After graduating from SDSU in 1997, I taught agriculture education and MS science in Woonsocket SD for 14 yrs. I married Rick Niles in 2000 and have 3 daughters; Banion (16), Bethany (13) and Emma (12).  From 2014 to 2017, we traveled as a family with my husband’s job; visiting 49 states, Canada and Mexico. We came to Hot Springs in 2017 to be closer to family. I am an active member of Southern Hills Evangelical Church, the Civil Air Patrol and a SDSU Master Gardener. I enjoy spending time with my family, and outdoor activities.

1) I have been active in education for 25 years and hold a Masters in Education in School Administration as well as Bachelors in Agricultural Education. I have 14 years of classroom experience and 6 years of homeschool education experience. I have served as a guidance counselor and state testing coordinator in education. I have homeschooled my children at home since 2013 and while we traveled. I am active in several homeschool organizations. I believe education happens everywhere and in many fashions.

2) Two issues I would like to assist with are school funding and serving all students in the Hot Springs School District. The school has been tackling the funding issues for several years. I have taken school funding classes as part of my master program. I served as a grant writer for the Woonsocket School District and was successful in securing alternative funds for the school district. I would like to help the Hot Springs School District find funds and wisely use all funds. 

While I support public education, we are a homeschool family and support school choice. Hot Springs School District consists of approximately 50+ homeschool students in a normal year. I would like to help the school district work cooperatively with the families of alternative education; working together to provide the best educational opportunities for all children. 

Fall River County Herald Star

EDGEMONT OFFICE: 410 2nd Avenue   Edgemont, SD 57735-0660 | 605.662.7201
HOT SPRINGS OFFICE: 334 S. Chicago St.  Hot Springs, SD 57747 | 605.745.3930
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