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Meeting about open gatherings closed

PIERRE – Nearly all of the Republican leaders in the Legislature want to require the South Dakota High School Activities Association to comply with state laws on open meetings and public records. The association’s board of directors responded Tuesday by meeting for 90 minutes behind closed doors to discuss the situation.
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 The board eventually voted 7-0 in open session to instruct the association’s lawyers to confer with sponsors of the legislation and to continue work on a resolution or a policy “to ensure transparency within our organization.” Board chairman Darren Paulson of Rapid City scheduled another special meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 11, at noon to review the resolution. Asked by another director whether the board would take action, Paulson replied, “Possible adoption, yes.”
 He said the directors didn’t take a formal position on the two pieces of legislation sponsored by Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, and Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka. “I think we need to be pro-active. We need to get something in place,” Paulson said. The motion Tuesday didn’t address the contents of what is being developed. “The resolution would simply state we have every intention to comply with open meeting laws and be as transparent as we can be,” said director Mike Miller of Aberdeen. The association isn’t a public entity, according to Lindsey Riter-Rapp, one of the board’s lawyers. She said it’s a voluntary organization. State law allows school boards to delegate their authority on interscholastic activities to an association that is voluntary and non-profit.
 The law further says any association that complies with that section “may exercise the control, supervision and regulation of interscholastic activities” and “promulgate reasonable uniform rules.” The vote to go into executive session was 5-2. Miller asked whether discussion of legislation met the legal requirements for an executive session. “My argument is we need to act like a public entity, even though we’re not,” Miller said. Riter-Rapp said attorney-client communications qualify. Miller replied, “I would respectfully disagree with that opinion.”  Her advice to the board that the association isn’t a public entity came just hours after a legislative committee endorsed changes in state laws that govern suspensions of high school students from participating in association events.
 Brown said he met with Riter-Rapp again recently. He said the executive session was added to the agenda after that discussion.
 The start of the board’s meeting Tuesday afternoon was delayed several minutes. Four of the directors waited at their seats. Three of the other directors along with executive director Wayne Carney and Riter-Rapp then came into the room. Back at the Capitol afterward Hoffman read the board’s motion calling work on a resolution or a policy to continue. “It’s a resolution. It doesn’t mandate anything. It needs to be in law, with teeth in it,” he said. The board’s actions Tuesday puzzled Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, one of the Legislature’s leaders on transparency. “A closed session to talk about open government?” he said when he heard about what happened. At the board’s regular meeting last month, audience members weren’t allowed to have copies of information that directors were using during their discussions. State open-meeting laws require that board materials – other than executive session information that is confidential – must be available to the public no later than 24 hours before the meeting and that a copy of board materials is available at the meeting. The agenda and copies of the Brown and Hoffman legislation were available for the audience at the meeting Tuesday. Several of the directors said after the executive session the board is trying to get out in front of the legislative discussion and get in a position to be more transparent. Dan Whalen of Pierre said there has been “a lot of misinformation” about the association. “I think clarification would be good,” Whalen said. Rick Weber of Flandreau said the board has always tried to be open. “Put it down in writing and try to follow the rules as best we can,” he said.