PIERRE - Larry Stearns said he plans to step down next year as director for the state Brand Board.
He has been at the helm throughout a major and often contentious change for the board, which in 2008 took full responsibility for livestock ownership inspections and theft prevention.
The duties previously had been under private management by the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association on a contract basis since 1943.
That was the year when the ownership inspection laws were first passed by the Legislature at the request of Stockgrowers leaders.
In the past decade, however, a deepening dispute saw the board and then-Gov. Mike Rounds gradually break from the relationship with the Stockgrowers.
The programs now are operated as an arm of the state Department of Agriculture.
The board is advertising for a successor to Stearns, who replaced Julie Kongslien in 2007.
Officially, Stearns is retiring from the $55,730 job as director, although that doesn't seem to mean he will stop working at something else.
I have a couple things on the back burner I want to try before I get too old, he said.
His plan is to step down in the spring.
I will be assisting in a transition to make it as smooth as possible. I think that I will be part of the selection, although it is a board decision as to who is hired, he said.
The board hired Wray Shouldis of White River in 2008 to be the new chief inspector after the Stockgrowers contract wasn't renewed.
In recent months, Shouldis has been working more often in the Pierre office.
This year, the board also formalized brand inspection policies and a salary schedule for inspectors.
In another recent change, the board's two brand investigators now work under supervision of the state Division of Criminal Investigation. Board members have praised the increased effectiveness.
For approximately 60 years, the Brand Board operated as an extension of the Stockgrowers. But a split came in the first term of Gov. Mike Rounds' administration, amid the Stockgrowers' request for an inspection fee increase.
Rounds dismissed four of the five board members, appointed replacements and received an investigation report from state attorney general about the Stockgrowers' inspection practices.
Then Stockgrowers and auction market leaders rallied against Rounds, including a rally at the Fort Pierre sale barn.
The fight spilled into the Legislature during the final days of the 2004 session and required a last-hour peace deal brokered by legislators.
The sides couldn't seem to permanently reconcile. Financial changes began to be inserted into the contract, such as shifting control of the funds to the state board from the Stockgrowers. Eventually, the state board decided to go its own way effective July 1, 2008.
The hard feelings didn't dissipate after the break.
Ken Knuppe ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. He was president of the Stockgrowers when the dispute with Rounds first blew up. He placed fifth of five candidates in the Republican primary election, which was won by Rounds' lieutenant governor, Dennis Daugaard.
In the past two years, Gov. Daugaard has injected members of his staff at times into the relationship between the board and the Stockgrowers, auction markets and other organizations. One of those interventions helped deliver a compromise on a fee increase that took effect in September.