(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.”
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.
Good job, Vernon.