MERCER: Leaders plan new panel for open governmentGov. Dennis Daugaard and state Attorney General Marty Jackley are taking the next step in South Dakota government’s increased emphasis on open government. They are forming a new panel this summer to look at where changes would be beneficial.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard and state Attorney General Marty Jackley are taking the next step in South Dakota government’s increased emphasis on open government. They are forming a new panel this summer to look at where changes would be beneficial.
This new effort builds on the major advances made during the past decade through the work of former Attorney General Larry Long, now a state circuit judge in Sioux Falls, and many others.
Gov. Daugaard has already shown willingness to be more open from his post as state government’s chief executive. He released the invitation lists for the annual governor’s pheasant hunt and buffalo roundup, and the names of the guests at Custer State Park’s Valhalla lodge, which is reserved for each governor’s use.
Other examples that have been cited by his staff are more information about the Governor’s Office of Economic Development on the Internet, allowing public tours of the governor’s mansion, and releasing the report about the slaying of state penitentiary guard Ronald Johnson.
Last year members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association asked the new governor whether he would consider appointing a new task force on open government. After getting a full year in office behind him, Daugaard now is carrying through on that request.
Attorney General Long convened the previous task force in 2001 and led its work. Among the improvements that resulted were establishment of the open meetings commission in 2004 and a new law that created a dispute resolution process regarding public records in 2008.
The dispute resolution process opened the way for the release of the first details of the businesses that sought permits to receive state construction-tax refunds for their large projects.
That previously secret information eventually led to the Legislature’s decision to repeal the refund program effective at the end of this year.
In 2009 the Legislature approved broad reforms of South Dakota’s open-records laws. There have been further refinements and changes made by the Legislature in the three years since then.
Since their respective elections in 2010 both Daugaard and Jackley have spoken to newspaper association members about putting together another open government commission.
The first step in the Daugaard-Jackley effort now under way is to survey news organizations. Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s director of communications, sent questionnaires to 179 news outlets and to additional news reporters.
As of mid-week, only 22 responses had been received, according to Venhuizen. In an email message he sent Thursday, Venhuizen issued a third call for responses.
“I’m concerned that there are so many who have not made their voices heard,” he said.
This reporter is one of those who hadn’t filled out the form yet. My reason is there won’t be much anonymity. There aren’t many reporters who cover state government in South Dakota, and there are very few reporters who cover the boards and commissions that I routinely follow.
I will file a report for the panel’s consideration. There are incidents that I’ve previously brought quietly to the attention of the attorney general’s office, such as certain boards that routinely dined together pre-meeting or post-meeting.
My main focus is improvement of the rule making process. State administrative rules carry the force of law in South Dakota. While the Legislature does an excellent job in most instances of making its law-making process open to the public, such as audio from the proceedings and placing on the Internet a highly detailed record of every piece of legislation, rules don’t receive the same treatment.
Each branch of state government can improve the public accessibility to the rule-making process. The Unified Judicial System for example issues rule-change notices through the South Dakota Bar’s newsletter but doesn’t publish information in the weekly register issued by the Legislative Research Council. Rule-making notices by agencies and constitutional offices in the executive branch are published in the LRC register. But the proposed rules never appear in the register or on the LRC web site.
Some of the agencies and offices publish their proposed rules on their web sites, but most don’t. They require a request to be made by calling or writing for a copy of the proposed rules.
The Legislature’s rules review committee, a panel of three senators and three representatives, does as its name suggests and has final say whether rules are approved or need to be returned to a prior step in the process. The committee can’t make changes in the rules. The LRC web site shows the agenda for the rules review meeting, but a citizen seeking to see the rules as proposed to the committee has to request a paper copy. The LRC rules review office handles only paper and doesn’t have electronic copies.
Reform of this area has been previously suggested. Venhuizen said that members of the staffs for the governor and the attorney general will read the news organizations’ responses to the survey and will produce a summary. The actual responses also will be available for review. He said the summary will be used to shape the direction of the panel’s work.
Venhuizen said the panel members will be appointed this month but a decision hasn’t been made yet on the number of members. He said they likely will be chosen from a cross-section of news organizations, various levels of government, civic organizations and businesses. The first meeting would be in late June or July, with three to four meetings likely, followed by a final report that would be delivered prior to the January start of the 2013 legislative session.
“The governor believes that, now that the new openness regime has been in place for a few years, it is time to take another look to find flaws or opportunities to improve,” Venhuizen said.