Entries Tagged 'Open Government' ↓

Appalling Lack of Transparency in Local Government lately

I know what you are thinking, not any more than usual in South Dakota, which really doesn’t have that many laws protecting the citizen’s right to information, heck, and even if government is found doing something wrong our recourse with ethics law is non-existent.

So that best I CAN do is point out the latest assault on South Dakota Democracy and lack of transparency;

STATE LEGISLATURE

SB166 was ‘tabled’ after Sen. Corey Brown ‘claimed’ people were cursing at pages. I guess my question is “Why were they answering your phone anyway?” But the worst part about the situation was that several people showed up last Friday and sat through hours of pointless testimony so they could speak about the bill. But Senator Brown didn’t allow it, he felt there wouldn’t be an ‘intellectual’ conversation about it. Yeah, the two main opponents of the bill who showed up to testify were former state legislator and current Minnehaha County Treasurer Pam Nelson and Sioux Falls Petition Queen, Theresa Stehly. I have a feeling Brown feared an ‘intellectual’ conversation. (Bob Mercer wrote and interesting article about the I & R process: I&R History – Bob Mercer

SF SCHOOL BOARD

I really think they strive at looking more ridiculous by the day. For years parents and teachers have tried to work with administration and school board members on a school start date and have been IGNORED. Now all of sudden after thousands of signatures have been collected and the measure being put on the ballot, the school board wants to ‘compromise’.

This isn’t the first time the school board has pulled this (sick leave graduation, pledge of allegiance and substitute teacher pay come to mind).

You look foolish, childish, hypocritical, out of touch and quite ignorant. Morrison’s comment today in the Argus Leader says it all when he exclaims, “It isn’t transparent enough, apparently.” You think? DUUUUUHHHHHG?!

Let voters decide in April because after wasting 5 years of their time trying to work with your body they have decided it is easier to collect 6,000 signatures and have an election.

MINNEHAHA COUNTY COMMISSION

After 29 applicants come forward to apply for the empty commission seat to be appointed, the county administrators (non-elected) picked the five finalists (for the commission) and shred the applications. Then the county commission picks (in private) the appointee and votes for them in a poorly publicized public meeting where no questions from the public were asked. It was the worst display of closed government I have seen with the county in years. If I was Commissioner Bender I would be embarrassed of how I was chosen.

SIOUX FALLS CITY COUNCIL & MAYOR

I know, where to begin on this one? So I will narrow down to three;

-We have no idea what is going on with the EC siding. Who will pay to fix it? Will it get fixed? Nothing. In fact every time they do release a little information about the project, they go back on the promises made.

-Ambulance service provider contract. This has been handled so poorly I think the whole process should be scrapped and start from the beginning. If you have a little free time before the meeting tonight to approve the contract I suggest googling some names involved with the selection committee, Paramedics Plus, Fitch, etc. etc. It is so insidious you would think we chose a Hueterrite colony to run our ambulance service.

-The indoor swimming pool cost overruns. Besides being lied to over and over again about the project, starting before the election, there are a ton of unsolved mysteries here. Has the VA given the city an MOU about using the park for indoor aquatics? How do we plan to pay the levee bonds back in a few years since we are using the Federal repayment for the ‘cash’? If I was a city councilor I would vote against the cost overrun based solely on the lack of transparency. Why vote for a budget that you have been lied to about?

As a citizen and a blogger I will continue to watch my local government, but with them all misbehaving, it is getting harder every day to keep up with the secrets and rumors.

UPDATE: If you were following the live tweets from Huether’s YPN luncheon today, he makes some interesting statements about people who question the transparency of the city (click to enlarge) he also talks about the Super Walmart that WILL be built on the Southside of town.

mayortweets

When transparency is not applied

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Not quite the Mexican Hat Dance, but close
Recently we have seen major issues across our city, county and state when it comes to the correlation between the lack of transparency and corruption, and still many unanswered questions. Heck, as I mentioned in the last post, the mayor of Sioux Falls said at Rotary today he wants to dispel those rumors. Well the first step to recovery Mike, is admitting you have a problem, oh and finding a higher power (check your sleeve).
In just a short period of time we have had these issues;
• Failure to release Benda’s death report putting a cloud of suspician over EB-5. I have often felt this is the linchpin to the EB-5 scandal. While they constantly are blaming the dead guy, they are not letting us see how he became dead.
• The Events Center siding, lack of reports to the public and the temporary occupancy permit. This is a quagmire. Why has the contractor accused of wrongdoing freely came forward to tell their side of the story while the city has remained silent?
• Minnehaha County Commission NOT releasing the names of the 29 commission applicants and planning to interview the 5 finalists in private, two of which have blatant conflicts of interest. While there are qualified people on this list, it would be nice to see who all applied, or at least make the interviews of the finalists VERY public, and better yet, let the public ask questions.
• MED-Star not being chosen as an ambulance service provider as a result of a questionable consultant’s bias report to a committee that met behind closed doors. The selection process should have been open to the public. And while ambulance service doesn’t cost taxpayers, we should be concerned with who is providing us this important service, and if favors are being handed out.
• Lack of audio, visual, testimonial, officer identification or forensic evidence in the Tuthill shooting incident. The public has not been told one single thing. Are we in danger? Would be nice to know.
• Tribal money missing. I can’t even wrap my head around one of the poorest area’s of the country missing millions of dollars in aid money.
• The Sioux Falls School board interviewing future superintendent applicants behind closed doors. This of course is no surprise. Propaganda Queen Homan and her staff have always made a great effort to remain non-transparent throughout her tenure. I can guarantee she had a hand in this. What amazes me is that not one single school board member has an issue with it. While I can understand keeping most of the applicants secret, I do think the public should be able to vet the finalists in a very open and public interview. But of course, this is coming from the same school board that would only reverse a decision after having death threats issued against them.
Now let’s all say the pledge of allegiance, while wearing blind-folds.

 

Open Government in SD? LOL! (Guest Poster)

Just got done rereading Randall Beck’s open government committee article under Ellis’ byline in the Argue Endorser and it made me chuckle. We at South Dacola have been real interested in the open.sd.gov website lately. Who wrote this? Under whose guidance? With the results we see, why bother? It kind of reminds us of putting lipstick on a pig.

Was it worth it?

The reporting / contracting agency is responsible for up-loading their contracts and expenditures when and if they want to.  Just go look for a company, law firm, or medical firm you know is doing business with the state.

Try to find the contract and the terms.

How do these outfits get paid? And how many of these companies (individual owners) are donating to the same old yahoos getting elected to run our state every year?

Look for contracts – payments the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, Governor or any other office out of Pierre. You will be hard pressed to find anything out there.  So much for the phoniness of ‘open’ SD government.  With all the legislative hearings without contract questions, no-bid contracts, hidden contracts, Governor’s club arrangements and other special deals reported out of Pierre we at South Dacola want to be able to trust something out of Pierre. But you know what they say, “You can only get the shit so shiny when you polish a turd (Pierre).”

What is missing from the Governor’s open government task force? Private citizens.

This list is a joke.

While there are some members that will be strong advocates of open government, they will be drowned out by other members. And like I said above, where are the private citizens? I guess we are not important enough to be concerned about open government.

I underlined the members that are truly laughable. One of them, the SF city attorney, was even reprimanded for violations of open government;

  • Diane Best, assistant attorney general, Office of the Attorney General
  • Dale Blegen, publisher, De Smet News
  • Jim Bolin, state Representative, Canton
  • Dave Bordewyk, general manager, South Dakota Newspaper Association
  • Pat Butler, managing editor, Rapid City Journal
  • Jonathan Ellis, journalist, Sioux Falls Argus Leader
  • Jason Gant, Secretary of State
  • Tena Haraldson, director of communications and media relations, University of South Dakota
  • Joe Kafka, press secretary, Office of the Governor
  • Maricarrol Kueter, executive editor, Argus Leader
  • Shawn Lyons, executive director, South Dakota Retailers Association
  • Jack Marsh, president and chief operating officer, Al Neuharth Media Center, University of South Dakota
  • Al Novstrup, state Senator, Aberdeen
  • Bob O’Keefe, deputy state’s attorney, Davison County
  • David Owen, president, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry
  • Dave Pfeifle, city attorney, Sioux Falls
  • Wade Pogany, executive director, Associated School Boards of South Dakota
  • Sara Rabern, public information officer, Office of the Attorney General
  • Bobbi Rank, assistant attorney general, state Department of Education
  • Mark Roby, publisher, Watertown Public Opinion
  • Lisa Rothschadl, chair, South Dakota Open Meeting Commission
  • Greg Sattizahn, director of policy and legal services, Unified Judicial System
  • Yvonne Taylor, executive director, South Dakota Municipal League
  • Kevin Thom, sheriff, Pennington County
  • Seth Tupper, editor, The Daily Republic, Mitchell
  • Tony Venhuizen, director of policy and communications, Office of the Governor
  • Waltner, Tim, publisher, Freeman Courier
  • David Wiest, deputy secretary, state Department of Revenue
  • Bob Wilcox, executive director, South Dakota Association of County Commissioners
  • Steve Willard, president, South Dakota Broadcasters Association
  • Susan Wismer, state Representative, Britton
  • Diane Worrall, executive director, South Dakota Association of Towns and Townships
  • Terry Woster, public information officer, state Department of Public Safety

 

Misc.

I have a few tidbits I wanted to share, so I thought I would just throw it all into one post.

MUSICAL PRECINCTS

I sent this email out today to the entire SF school board, Minnehaha county commission, SF City Council, city clerk, county auditor and mayor. I have already gotten two responses that are very positive;

Normally I do not email my elected officials, especially the entire city council, the county commission, the school board, the mayor, the city clerk and the county auditor all at once, but I did a recent post about the ‘musical precincts’ this city continues to play with elections and the mass confusion it has on voters. It’s time you all sat down in a room and figured out a standard already, this has gone on long enough!

As soon as most of them get back to me about it, I will do an indepth post about it.

LATE FILINGS

Ellis blogged about the supposed investigations the SOS’ office is going to conduct AFTER the election (yeah, that makes a lot of sense);

Secretary of State Jason Gant said his office will begin investigating a number of campaign finance violations as soon as Tuesday’s primary is concluded.

“We will begin investigating Wednesday morning,” he said while touring a polling place at Hawthorne Elementary in Sioux Falls.

Some groups have not filed required campaign finance reports, even though they’ve sent out flyers. Other committees have sent out illegal mailings that do not include the appropriate disclaimers.

“Tomorrow we are full steam ahead on working out those issues,” he said. “If they are not filing, we’re going to find out.”

I have often thought instead of fining late filings (of candidates) they should just leave their names off of the ballot. If you file late, you lose your opportunity to run. To heck with silly fines, if you can’t follow the rules you don’t get to play the game. As for the PAC’s I think you should revoke their status.

ARE EMAIL’S OF PUBLIC OFFICIALS PUBLIC RECORD

Ellis also blogged today about his battle with city hall over public records from an administration of ‘one of the most transparent’ mayor’s ever :)

“The law includes data, data fields and e-mail in its definition of public records, and it lets citizens bring their own devices to a government agency to make electronic copies. Georgia thus joins a growing number of states that explicitly open electronic communication to and from government officials to the public.”

I’ve written before about how backward South Dakota’s open record laws are. Many states make emails among government officials public records. South Dakota is also the rare state in which police reports aren’t available to the public. Oh, and mugshots.

As for data fields, I’ve been fighting to get the names of data fields used by the city of Sioux Falls in a database since December.

Ellis makes a good point. Why can’t we see emails? It would put rumors to rest about how involved the mayor is in local politics and his supposed quest for higher office. As for the data fields, I know what this is about, but I will let Ellis break this story, that is if he gets the data.

 

 

 

 

Why the rule change? Just follow the open meeting laws to begin with.

(IMAGE: KELO-TV screenshot)

So let’s add another layer of rules that the city attorney can find a way to wiggle out of;

In the future, the City Council will have to name an employee and the action being taken against the employee. Pfeifle says going forward, city leaders intend to be as open as possible.

Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do to begin with?

Open Meetings Commission member, Brenner, loses in the SD Supreme Court

(Image: KELO-TV screenshot)

If Glenn Brenner’s name doesn’t sound familiar, it should. He is a member of the SD Open Meetings Commission;

Douglas Rumpca of Rapid City sued Pennington County State’s Attorney Glenn Brenner, saying Brenner stole the affections of his former wife, Kellie Rumpca.

Not only is he for open meetings, apparently he is for open marriages :) To be honest with you, I think this law is silly. If your wife leaves you, that is her decision.

As for Brenner, it is important to note that he is the only member of the OMC to vote against the rest of the commission on the recent decision about the SF City Council in reference to the Debra Owen issue.

SD rates 49th in lawmaker integrity (H/T – Big ‘B’)

Hey, we at least beat Georgia!

Rightly or wrongly, though, the numbers say otherwise, and there are a number of reasons why. For one thing, South Dakota is one of only nine states that lack ethics commissions. Such bodies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “represent the public’s interest and have a similar purpose: to ensure that groups under their jurisdiction follow state ethics laws.”

Chalk up another awesome rating for our state. We do have an open meetings commission, but according to our city attorney they are wrong. Go figure.

And the Black Hole award goes to . . .

(Image: KELO-TV) This is a picture of a sinkhole that erupted overnight in SF.

It seems our city council gathered another prestigious award (SD Newspaper Association);

And the “Black Hole” Award goes to…

Since this is Sunshine Week, a national observance about the importance of openness and transparency in government, I think it is a good time to give what I call the “Black Hole” Award. Webster’s in part defines a black hole as a space that light cannot escape. Certainly true in the case of the Sioux Falls City Council, which last week was reprimanded by the Open Meetings Commission for violating state law. The complaint that went to the open meetings panel was initiated by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Last year in a special meeting executive session the Sioux Falls City Council decided to fire the city clerk. The problem: the official action related to the decision to fire the clerk was never conveyed to the public in the official minutes of the Sept. 14 special meeting.

Rather, Sioux Falls councilors decided, apparently based on advice from their attorney, to approve this motion following the executive session: “to authorize Councilors Erpenbach, Anderson Jr., and Entenman to take the personnel action that was discussed in Executive Session.”

Huh?

The city attorney said the council needed to be non-specific in its motion in order to “protect” city clerk Debra Owen and afford her the same rights as if she was a private employee.

Yea, right. Benevolent-sounding, but it appears to be more about city councilors wanting to protect themselves rather than Debra Owen.

At any rate, the open meetings commission was right to reprimand the council, and the subsequent media attention has helped put some bite in the reprimand.

The Sioux Falls mayor has since said the open meetings laws are “confusing.” The Sioux Falls city attorney has said the reprimand is no big deal and he would welcome the opportunity to work with legislators to “clarify” the open meetings law.

Really? Confusing? Clarification needed?

South Dakota’s open meetings laws are pretty clear cut when it comes to taking any official action related to executive session discussions. Public boards in South Dakota generally have operated well under those provisions of the law for 25 years. The law allows public boards to keep discussions and rationales regarding personnel actions in secret. The law is clear that any official action regarding those discussions must be made in public. It also must be clear exactly what those official actions are.

Why Sioux Falls city officials suddenly find it confusing is rather amusing. And sad.

Nevertheless, the 2012 Sunshine Week “Black Hole” Award is no laughing matter. It’s a serious reminder that open government in South Dakota is always a work in progress.

The Mitchell Daily Republic decided to chime in;

It seems that many boards do not take great offense when they are reprimanded by the Open Meetings Commission, a panel that hears public complaints about possible violations of procedure by elected boards.

That Brown is so offended shows he cares, and it shows that he truly wants to conduct the people’s business appropriately.

We don’t care that his scolding of the city attorney caused offense. If the attorney’s advice was bad and caused embarrassment to the board, so be it. The attorney works for the people; so does the City Council, for that matter.

And further, Brown maintains that his role on the board does not trump his First Amendment rights to state his true feelings about this issue.

Hear, hear.

Good job, Vernon.

Public Input stays as is, for now

During the working session today, the city attorney backed off in changing public input to the end of the meeting. The only change will be a more complex timer.