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Review: SD spends least in nation on operations, staff for Legislature

By Bob Mercer

Capitol correspondent

PIERRE — South Dakota spends the least for the operations and staff of its Legislature, according to the audit of management and performance performed by three reviewers for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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The review, commissioned by the Legislature’s Executive Board, found that South Dakota’s $4.4 million spent in fiscal 2011 was approximately half of the next-lowest state, Wyoming, at about $8.7 million.

“The South Dakota Legislature is a very small, very part-time and relatively inexpensive operation.

This outcome is consistent with the ‘small government’ philosophy of the state, its citizens and its political leaders,” the report said.

The report made 12 specific recommendations. Eight were accepted Wednesday by the board.

Three others dealing with specific additional personnel were placed on hold until perhaps next summer or later, after a new permanent director for the Legislative Research Council is hired and has been on the job for a while.

“I think we see this as a sequential process,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City. He chaired the board’s operations subcommittee that reviewed the report behind closed doors for two hours Wednesday morning before its public release.

The issue of partisan staff was deemed by reviewers as something that isn’t needed and can wait.

The new director, Fred Schoenfeld, said he will begin working on the eight accepted recommendations. He succeeds Jim Fry who resigned Wednesday after 13 years in the post.

The recommendations include:

  • Placing the top two legislators, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem, as rotating chairmen of the Executive Board rather than having the chairman elected from the board members;
  • Changing state law to provide for the LRC director’s removal upon a two-thirds vote by the Executive Board or a majority vote in each of the Senate and the House of Representatives;
  • Starting an ongoing program for orientation and training of each newly chosen member of the Executive Board regarding the board’s responsibilities and the activities of the LRC staff;
  • Developing new strategies in the LRC for informing and educating legislators about LRC services, staff, policies and procedures;
  • Establishing procedures for setting performance goals and conducting annual performance appraisals for all LRC staff including the director;
  • Holding meetings on at least a quarterly basis for all LRC staff;
  • Developing official LRC personnel policies and procedures with formal adoption by the Executive Board; and
  • Creating a formal LRC management team whose members deliver reports in person every two years to the new Executive Board.