Entries Tagged 'Open Meetings' ↓

Why does Sioux Falls struggle so much with open government?

Many in the media are wondering why Mayor Paul doesn’t hold regular press conferences where the media can ask questions. Sorry folks, have to head to my kid’s soccer game.

I have often argued that this should be one of the easiest things our local government officials do – open the books! We already have the laws in place that allow government in South Dakota to open the books as much as they want to, with only a handful of things that are not allowable (and are clearly defined).

It often baffles me when I watch the video above or hear a local official say this (Sioux Falls City Councilor Erickson is referring to a conversation she had on Wednesday with Mayor TenHaken about communication);

“Help me understand this. Where was the communication breakdown, and how can we do better for you guys (city councilors)?”

I mean, if you have to ask, you are apparently either NOT fit to lead, or acting naive on purpose to hide things. I think it is a little of both.

When leaders fail at the simplest of tasks, it clearly shows they are NOT prepared for the job and should resign.

I drive past the Mayor’s office every weekday going to work (about 7:45 AM) and again going home (about 4:45 PM) and it is always dark. Why do we need city hall security for a mayor that doesn’t show up to his office?

UPDATE: This should happen more often in SD, especially in Sioux Falls

I’m sure you saw this in the news this week. I asked myself, ‘Why hasn’t this happened more often in South Dakota?’;

The Walworth County auditor faces charges of violating South Dakota law after she was arrested and charged with failing to follow state public meeting laws.

Walworth County Auditor Rebecca Krein is accused of violating a law that requires government entities to make documents available to the public when they are used during official meetings. Walworth County State’s Attorney James Hare issued a warrant for her arrest last week after he received a complaint that Krein failed to make documents available for an Aug. 6 meeting.

Cory touches on the topic;

Did I miss the memo declaring that public officials should no longer experience shame for breaking the law? Publicly shaming elected officials for breaking the law is moral, necessary, and effective, even, sometimes, against the most shameless and corrupt of elected officials. We don’t hesitate to arrest and shame run-of-the-mill hoodlums on the street who wave shotguns and vandal murals. Why should elected officials not face cuffs and guff for violating the public trust?

I can’t speak for the rest of the state, but I can tell you that this happens quite often in Sioux Falls. In fact Cameraman Bruce and myself and several other citizens have complained about this multiple times. Some examples that have happened quite often in Sioux Falls at public meetings are starting meetings early (before posted time) and not handing out paper copies of the agenda at the meetings. The city council usually has this handled, but there have been several occasions in other city board and commission meetings where it has NOT happened. I would even dare to say that I could come up with over a dozen instances every year. So I find it a bit ironic that the state arrested this person in lowly Walworth County but NOT in Sioux Falls.

You know my soapbox by now. No local government agency (that I know of) in SD has ever gotten in trouble for being too open. In fact, state law is pretty clear about open meetings, they leave it up to the local agencies. The state legislature has essentially said, you can tell the public as much as you want to, but too often they choose not to. I was glad to see this arrest, but I would like to see a lot more of it. Putting these public officials in handcuffs may be the ultimate solution to opening up our books. As I have said before, not only is open government good for governing, it saves taxpayers money. Dictatorships only occur when the people in power have taken away our access to information, once that happens the dominos fall, really, really fast.

Sioux Falls Parks board August meeting minutes and video absent

I asked a city official yesterday why it takes over a week to post the minutes and video of the Parks Board meetings. We were promised more transparency of the meetings by recording not only audio but visual, yet it takes over a week to post it. What is even more troubling is that it takes that long to produce minutes from the meeting. Why?

Maybe the person in charge of the minutes is also in charge of the NO MOW list and they have conveniently lost them, until they conveniently found them. I suspect they will magically show up by the end of the day.

UPDATE: Using Entertainment taxes for private entity setting a bad precedent

I first want to say I support finishing the State Theatre, I have actually helped with some charity fundraisers for the facility through ZombieWalk and SF Roller Dollz. I think it is a worthy cause and I applaud Denny Sanford for giving money to the goal of completion. But I think that is still the direction the theatre should move in, private donations for a private facility.

Using entertainment taxes sets a bad precedent, as I pointed out yesterday, and I will tell you why.

Seven years ago, former city clerk Debra Owen won an open meetings case over how her termination was handled. During the proceedings, City Attorney David Fiddle-Faddle argued his case based on the opinion of a former attorney general. 4 of the 5 attorneys who sat on the Open Meetings Commission contended that an ‘opinion’ of an AG is NOT case law, so it did not apply. When Fiddle continued to argue based on the AG’s opinion, one of the panelists asked David cynically, “You do understand that the opinion of a AG is not the same as case law? Don’t you?” The crowd in attendance let out an audible giggle. The commission determined that you have to base your arguments on tried case law, not opinions.

The City of Sioux Falls is trying to say they can spend the entertainment money on a private entity in the form of promoting the city based on a opinion of the AG in 1984. But there is NO case law. In other words, the city could be sued if they try to set this precedent. Even if I supported giving the State Theatre MORE tax money, which I don’t, it should come out of the CIP not the entertainment tax.

Listen to Allison Weiland talk about the State on Jon Michael’s Forum

In other news, Cameraman Bruce attended a luncheon today talking about open meeting laws, 3 of the panelists were former State Legislator Dave Knudson, Argus reporter Jonathan Ellis and Jon Arneson (Argus attorney). They all contended that the most recent open meeting laws that Knudson helped write, said that if text messaging or emails during a public open meeting are being used, that correspondence can be used in a court case. So council, if you were smart, you would put the phones and email chatting away during the meetings.

Should ‘ALL’ Sioux Falls City Councilor emails be considered confidential?

I have been of the opinion that city correspondence should be public record unless it is addressing legal counsel, personnel or discussing possible legislation.

City councilors have been sharing discussion emails with the media and this blog for well over a decade. Since the council’s email and use of it is taxpayer owned property, there really isn’t any harm in sharing discussion emails with the public, I would even argue it is our right to see it.

Lately there has been some internal discussions on the council whether or not sharing discussion emails is appropriate. Not only is it OK it is essential to open government and seeing what our council is doing. This is also a reason why texting during the meetings should not be allowed. Any correspondence during these meetings, whether through a text or email should either not be allowed by ordinance or shared with the public since it seems to be a part of the public hearing.

It’s hard to ‘Leak’ confidential information to the public if it’s NOT confidential to begin with.

Events Center Campus Survey is government overreach, but that’s just one example

There is nothing wrong with online surveys. If you are willing to give up some form of security to help marketing companies make a little extra money, that is your bizzo. But when government hires a private company to do a survey that requires a name, address and phone number, then we have issues;

Today, Mayor Paul TenHaken’s Events Campus Study Group launched a public survey to gather input from the community on the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center Campus.

Available at siouxfalls.org/ec-survey, the short survey asks for input on the current status of the campus and looks for feedback on potential improvements. Survey respondents will be entered into a drawing to win one of many $25 gift cards.

One of the other key questions is if you are a registered voter. None of this information is pertinent unless the city and the marketing company (Lawrence & Schiller) needs to collect data on you as a registered voter. Remember, Mayor TenHaken is serving his first term in elected office of any position, he has a long political life ahead of him (I hope not). L & S also does political consulting for a wide range of candidates across the state. This kind of voter data would be very valuable to both PTH and L & S. It is also not needed. Simply marking a box saying your are a SF resident should be good enough for this survey.

But this isn’t the only place the city is gathering data on you. They are also doing it with the phone app for reporting potholes and other issues. They are also doing it HERE on the city website and HERE on the GIS website.

They have also gotten away from posting really any video on the city’s main website and very few in YouTube. They have been basically using FB as their main source to getting out information. Besides the fact that some people don’t use FB, it goes back to not having to have a ‘login’ to access public information. They can also track you via FB.

The Brexit campaign to leave the EU used FB to manipulate the vote. It is under a massive investigation because of complicated UK laws that deal with voter protections. Using FB to collect voter and citizen data isn’t some fairytale.

There is absolutely NO reason a citizen should have to have a login to get public information. Public information should be available for FREE and without sharing your identity.

While I could go into several constitutional reasons why what they are doing is wrong, the bigger question I have is ‘WHY’ collect the data? Why does the administration and certain people within city government, and now apparently private companies, think they need our home addresses, names, phone numbers, age, email, voter registration? What does that have to do with a dying ball field?

This is a ploy to collect as much data as possible on us to manipulate future elections. It’s very Karl Rovian and certainly in PTH’s ‘wheelhouse’.

DON’T sign up to receive data. Don’t fill out these surveys. And if the government comes knocking on your door, tell them they need a warrant.

Sioux Falls City Council continues to chip away at open government through little battles

I was reminded of proposing a total transparency ordinance a year ago after talking to a city councilor yesterday. I was trying to tell them that while the little battles over open government have been slowly chipping a way at transparency, it is much more like going two steps forward and three steps back. I suggested that they propose a total transparency ordinance, and if it fails, keep bringing it back with tweaks until it does. Let’s face it, the city council has had over a year to come up with a permanent solution. I think they should ALL work on this together, first in a working session, operations committee and city council informational.

Right now all we have seen the past year is a back and forth game of what should be transparent and what should not. I have said in the past that there has never been a government body in SD who has gotten in trouble for being too transparent, so open it up and put it in writing (in the charter).

I guess we can continue to have the school yard fights over registration fees and book club meetings, but the council should really be looking for a semi-permanent solution to fixing transparency and communication, because until that happens, I’m not going to listen to the whining anymore.

Is the Events Center Campus Book Club skirting transparency?

The first two meetings were several hours long with Bruce’s camera present. A foot soldier attended the 3rd meeting yesterday, it was a whopping 25 minutes long. This person got the feeling that the group is now meeting in sub-committees privately to avoid being transparent in the bigger picture. It will be interesting to see their final decisions come out of nowhere with no prior discussion (at least one out in open).

It seems the more we scream for transparency, the more they go underground.

UPDATE: California city has 4 public hearings on 5G before telling city council ‘Hold for now’

UPDATE: Notice Sioux Falls isn’t on this list? Hmm?

Hey, Paul, TJ and Erica, this is what transparent government looks like when the Feds have a cattle prod up your rear;

Amid concerns that federal mandates usurp local authority, the fight for control over the hardware that transmits wireless Internet has reached an impasse in Fairfax.

After the fourth public hearing before the Town Council this week — this one lasting more than three hours — council members said they need more time before adopting new regulations for the installation of wireless antennas used for the high-speed network called 5G.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Mayor Barbara Coler said after the Tuesday special meeting. “After we released our draft ordinance last week, we received a lot of public comment [Tuesday] that we needed to consider and review.”

How many public hearings did we have (that were NOT official readings in official meetings) before we let 5G roam free in Sioux Falls? ZERO.

I will say it again, you can only have open and transparent government by actually practicing open and transparent government.

If you have to tell us how you are being transparent, you likely are missing the a mark

I have often argued if you want to be transparent in government, OPEN up everything except what is not allowable by law like personnel issues and pending litigation and let the public tell you if they are getting too much information – which is highly unlikely.

While Mayor PTH has made some strides in transparency, most of it happened because of pressure from the public or the city council, but let’s review;

A few weeks into my tenure, I directed that all available audio from the Parks and Recreation Board meetings be posted on the city’s website. This had been opposed in the past. Beginning in 2019, we also began recording video of these meetings.

I commend the mayor on this decision, but this ball was already rolling when councilor Stehly pushed for this in the last administration.

I initiated changes to the Council’s consent agenda — the list of contracts for goods and services the city enters into that require Council notification and approval.

This was also something the council (and public) requested. And I will agree, it is much better.

I am also easy to reach by the public. I hold regular office hours for the public and meet with community stakeholders and citizens on a daily basis.

While this may be the case, having a security officer at city hall because someone stole a can of Coke out of the mayor’s reefer isn’t exactly a show of transparency. If the mayor is concerned about his security, he should talk to the State Legislature about banning firearms in public government buildings. I also think having ONE main phone number for the city with a switchboard will be helpful, something the mayor says he is working on. This is WAY overdue.

And why do the bureaucrats always have to split community stakeholders and citizens? As in “I hold regular office hours for the public and meet with community stakeholders and citizens on a daily basis.” Aren’t we are all citizens or at least all stakeholders?

This week my administration launched a Community Dashboard to provide the public and media with key performance indicators that are easy to access and simple to understand.

The data or Community Dashboard is worthless if you do not know the cryptic file naming scheme, in other words, it needs work. I have never understood why Sioux Falls doesn’t have a simple website like the City of Omaha. Notice the department tabs on the left hand side of the home page. When you click on them they give you more contact information and a search engine that assists you in what you are looking for. It seems the city’s IT department is making things more complicated by creating a portal that doesn’t really work. Break it up into departments and let people search from those tabs.

While PTH has made some strides in transparency, it has been from the pressure of the council and public, for example the Event Center Campus Book Club meetings. Those meetings would have never been open unless there was pressure from councilors Starr and Stehly.

I challenge Paul to open everything up and then deal with the criticism from too much transparency, I can pretty much guarantee he will hear NO complaints from the public, the REAL stakeholders in this government.