OUR VIEW: Sunshine Week is over, but work remains
Slowly but surely, government transparency continues its march forward in South Dakota.
In the wake of Sunshine Week, a week set aside each year to encourage public access to information, we looked back at the 2017 South Dakota legislative session and saw two bills that caught our eyes: Senate bills 25 and 116.
Both measures became law and had powerful backers in Attorney General Marty Jackley and Gov. Dennis Daugaard, respectively, and we're proud to see two of our state's elected officials promoting transparency.
Through SB 25, South Dakota joins a list of 48 other states to publicly release mug shot photographs when a criminal suspect is booked. Along with Jackley, South Dakota Newspaper Association General Manager Dave Bordewyk supported the bill, which he said could serve as a useful public safety tool.
Daugaard also hopped on the transparency train with SB 116, a measure requiring state boards and committees to provide public notice and agendas for public meetings.
These are small, but necessary steps toward improved government transparency efforts, and we hope local boards and commissions follow suit.
While 2017 has been a fantastic year for openness from the state's perspective, it's a tale of two wildly different approaches to transparency at home in Mitchell. We've seen the city of Mitchell produce robust agenda packets giving residents a great early look at what will be discussed at Mitchell City Council meetings, while the Davison County Commission agendas continue to provide a cursory and nonspecific agenda that leaves citizens with more questions than answers.
We commend both the city and county, along with various local school districts and other committees, for improving access to agendas via the internet, but more work could be done.
The area with the most work left to do is in law enforcement.
As the state's top law enforcement official helped push for access to mug shots, local authorities often delay the release of information in a way that could slow the apprehension of suspects or could be perceived as hiding information from the public.
Take last week's press release from the Mitchell Area Crime Stoppers asking for the public's help locating suspects in five burglaries that occurred one to two weeks prior. Had the Davison County Sheriff's Office released this information sooner, perhaps when The Daily Republic calls each weekday afternoon, possible criminals wouldn't be on the prowl for so long. We understand some information must be kept confidential due to ongoing investigations, but why not release as much information as possible?
Both government and law enforcement work best when they have the public's trust, and initiatives like Jackley's and Daugaard's are great examples to follow. We only hope local governmental organizations and law enforcement agencies take note. And maybe by Sunshine Week 2018, South Dakota will see even more improvements in transparency and openness.