SD panel rejects plan to record closed meetingsDaily Republic editor comments on proposal.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE — A task force seeking ways to make South Dakota government more open on Wednesday rejected a proposal that would have required state and local boards and commissions to record closed meetings.
However, the Open Government Task Force endorsed other proposals to clarify the open meetings law and make some government documents public. One recommendation would make police mug shots of accused criminals public.
The task force’s recommendations now go to Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley, who appointed the panel to propose changes in laws dealing with open meetings and the availability of documents.
Daugaard and Jackley will decide whether to introduce the panel’s recommendations as bills in the next legislative session, which opens in January. Proposals rejected by the panel are also likely to be introduced by individual lawmakers, said Tony Venhuizen, chairman of the task force and the governor’s communications director.
“I think we’ve done some good work,” Venhuizen told the panel as it wrapped up its work.
Task force member Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said the panel made good progress in opening up government, but more remains to be done in opening government documents and making sure boards and commissions do not close meetings for illegal reasons.
“One of the things from my perspective that came out of this is we have a long way to go in many areas,” Bordewyk said after the meeting.
The 33-member task force included representatives of news organizations, state officials, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and officials from cities, counties and school districts.
News organizations had sought to require government boards and commissions to record closed meetings. The recordings would have been sealed unless someone complained that a meeting had been illegally closed. A judge would then review the recording and determine if it could be made public.
South Dakota’s open meetings law requires state and local boards and commissions to give notice of a meeting and its agenda at least 24 hours in advance.
Those meetings can be closed to the public only if the discussions are about personnel issues, student performance, litigation or contracts, employee contract negotiations, pricing strategies by public owned businesses, and certain economic development matters.
The panel decided to abandon the proposal to record closed sessions after it became clear members were split on the issue.
Supporters said recordings would provide the best evidence of whether a board or commission met in a closed session to discuss issues that should have been handled in public.
But representatives of local governments said some boards and commissions would have trouble making such recordings, which would also discourage free-wheeling discussion.
“To have that recording there really hampers their discussions,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.
Seth Tupper, editor of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, said boards and commissions could easily record closed meetings by buying a $50 digital recorder and switching it on.
One significant measure endorsed by the panel would make criminal mug shots public records. Such mug shots now are usually released only when someone escapes from custody. The proposal also clarifies that police logs of calls for service can be released to reveal the date, time and general location and subject of the call, a practice already followed by many law enforcement agencies.
Another proposal supported by the panel would make more committees, subcommittees and task forces subject to the open meetings law.
In addition, three-member boards of townships, road districts and small towns would not violate the open meetings law if two or more members met to do work previously approved in a public meeting. In most townships, the elected supervisors also are the ones who actually fix roads or bridges.
The task force also recommended that government agencies be required to consider the ease and affordability of public access to information when they set up electronic record-keeping systems.
Those agencies also would have to tell people what information they hold to help people understand what they can request.
The panel rejected a proposal that would have required government agencies to disclose settlement agreements.
Supporters said agencies should reveal such settlements because they involve the spending of government funds, but state officials said disclosing settlements would encourage other people to seek similar payments in similar situations.