Our View: Welcome to reality in S. Dakota
State Sen. Gene Abdallah recently uncovered a new and frustrating update in state policy. When Abdallah, a Republican from Sioux Falls, asked the Legislative Research Council how many aircraft the state owns, he ran into a roadblock. LRC workers ...
State Sen. Gene Abdallah recently uncovered a new and frustrating update in state policy.
When Abdallah, a Republican from Sioux Falls, asked the Legislative Research Council how many aircraft the state owns, he ran into a roadblock. LRC workers couldn't say, and when those LRC workers asked Gov. Mike Rounds' administration for information, the following question came back to Abdallah:
Welcome, senator, to the real world here in South Dakota.
We in the media couldn't script this stuff any better. After all, we have for years been struggling with the same hurdles, the same kinds of questions and the same vague excuses for denying access to public information.
So the new policy is that officials in the executive branch of South Dakota's state government will not release "budget related" information to the LRC unless they know the names of the lawmakers who seek it.
Yes, lawmakers. The very people who should have unlimited access to information suddenly are finding they must go through this new morass just to find basic information that should be public to each and every one of us.
In some states, it's against the law for a public official to ask the identity of people asking for a record, or even why they seek such information.
In South Dakota, anyone is legally able to walk up to a county auditor and ask him what his salary is. Same goes for anyone wishing to see the school budget book. Or the local police log.
Once again for emphasis: Anyone is allowed, by law, to see any of those items -- and much more -- without question.
Still, it isn't always that easy, and when newspapers complain -- on behalf of the public -- we are told by so many in government that there isn't a problem.
Our argument always has been that for people in government, there rarely is a problem to access information. It's not always easy for the average person who walks in off the street.
Abdallah seems to understand there is a problem.
"It's the public's business to know everything about government," he said, while noting a few exceptions. "If the government doesn't have anything to hide, why shouldn't it be transparent?"
Well put. Of course, this isn't new to those of us who have pushed for transparency for years now, and who witness first-hand the efforts to make it difficult to access even the most basic public records.
Maybe Abdallah's failed attempt to instantly see those airplane records will help the cause.
And once again, we extend to the senator a warm welcome to the reality of openness in South Dakota.
It's frustrating, isn't it?