Entries Tagged 'Open Meetings' ↓

Interesting Video about Islam

Video the country was never supposed to see…. SOS John Kerry introduces Admiral Ace Lyons to speak at a private meeting. He probably regrets doing so. This video probably won’t be around long..

 

The Sun may shine a lot in Sioux Falls, but dark clouds loom over our government offices

dark-sky-wallpaper

It’s Sunshine Week, or at least that’s what our local newspaper is telling us. They have been having fun setting up ‘scenarios’ when it comes to closed government in our state and city, but scenarios are not necessary, our closed government is all around us and not something to pretend about;

City of Sioux Falls

– The city council and public still have not received a contractor list of who built the Events Center. The council has been asking directors and the mayor for this list for almost two years.

– The Event Center siding consultant report has still not been released to the public or the council. In fact we have been told very little with the year deadline for a resolution looming in August. Officials with SMG and the city building department have said that the building is ‘water tight’ and the bent up siding makes the building look ‘interesting’. What will be ‘interesting’ is to see who will pay to fix the mess.

– Nobody is quite sure how many developers have been denied TIF applications (by the mayor’s office) over the past 27 months. Speaking of TIF’s one wonders if the mayor is picking winners and losers based on his personal investments with developers? Good luck finding out, the mayor doesn’t have to disclose his development investments with the public.

-The city council was asked to vote on the ambulance contract without seeing the scoring procedures or criteria and essentially created a monopoly in the city limits with little transparency in the process.

-We have NO idea what is going on with the RR relocation project, a project that will potentially cost Federal taxpayers $30 million dollars.

-While a proposed indoor aquatic center gets smaller and gets more expensive there has been no word as to why and where all the amentities promised before the election disappeared to AND we still don’t have and MOU on the Quit Claim deed from the VA, but the city attorney says he is ‘working on it’.

Minnehaha County Commission

-Besides the fact the appointment process for John Pekas’ replacement was behind closed doors, the appointee comes into question, Jean Bender, wife of major Sioux Falls developer, Michael Bender, and conflicts of interest. Especially after the joint city council and commission recently denied a CUP for a solar development farm that Mr. Bender and his group were appealing. Jean was not in attendance to the meeting, but one wonders about future zoning issues concerning her husband’s business? This isn’t like a county sheriff’s wife is running a city owned café, there is a heckuva a lot more at stake here then ice cream cones and turkey wraps.

Sioux Falls School Board

-Now that they have the future Superintendent list down to six finalists, the public still is not able to vet the finalists in a public forum. This coming from a school board that only listens to the public when a referendum is threatening them or if they are getting death threats. And even with the looming election they are skating on thin ice with state election law by promoting opposition to the late start date using teachers and administrative staff during business and school hours which is against state campaign laws.

As you can see from these ‘few’ examples, there is no reason to setup scenarios of the lack of transparency. It’s very dark in Sioux Falls, and the sun isn’t coming out anytime soon and neither is the truth.

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.

 

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.

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.

SF City Council Sh*tstorm!

“Not sure I did anything wrong or not. I’m too busy building sandcastles in Mexico for a month.”

I highly suggest you watch the discussion at the Informational meeting, which takes some very strange twists and turns, to say the least. My favorite part is when councilor Anderson chews Fiddle-Faddle’s ass, and tells him he is ‘out of order’ himself, after threatening Brown with a defamation suit;

The City Attorney stood by the advice given to the council and said the council was right to fire Owen.

“We certainly have more than sufficient grounds to not only justify the termination, but also it has been bolstered since she was gone,” Pfeifle said.

Pfeifle fired back at Brown, saying the councilman opened himself up for a defamation lawsuit by calling out Pfeifle, Human Resources Director Bill O’Toole and Assistant City Attorney Gail Eiesland by recommending they be fired.  Another council member came to Brown’s defense.

“Why are you stating that when that should be part of executive session?” Kenny Anderson, Jr. asked.

Pfeifle argued he did not release details about why Owen was fired; he just stated there was sufficient evidence to support that action.

“But you’re close to doing the same thing.  I think you’re very out of order with that comment!” Anderson, Jr. said.

Other parts of the informational that stand out is the apparent state of denial that councilors Erpenbach and Entenman showed during their comments. In fact, Entenman went so far to say that he didn’t think they did anything wrong. Uh, Okay. I suppose I could rant for awhile about how 4 out of 5 highly revered state’s attorneys think you were very wrong. But I won’t.

The worst part about this matter is that one of the city’s most valuable employees, Debra Owen, is still terminated (and according to Fiddle-Faddle is collecting unemployment – which I found interesting because I thought it was hard to collect unemployment when you are fired). Some may ask why Debra Owen was fired, as explained in the informational, it had to do with an employee dispute. I have always felt, that was the ‘excuse’.

Shortly after Huether took office, Owen and I had a discussion one night, the topic was about how she was researching contract approval by home rule councils. She knew at the time that the mayor was not to keen about her doing this research, and I still believe, wild speculation and all, that her termination was punishment for side stepping the mayor and giving the council that power. And how does the council show their gratitude (especially leadership, Erpenbach and Aguliar)? By participating in the mayor’s witch hunt.

What do I think the just punishment should be for the councilors? I think they should all be fined one year’s pay. If they are truly doing the ‘citizens work’ let them do it for FREE for a year.