State’s Open Meetings Commission hasn’t met for three years

Bill would open membership to deputy state’s attorneys in hopes of keeping positions filled

By: - January 19, 2024 3:00 pm
The state Capitol in Pierre. (Getty Images)

The state Capitol in Pierre. (Getty Images)

A state commission that hears complaints about transparency in government meetings has not met since December 2020, and the attorney general is taking steps to reactivate the group.

There have been six complaints forwarded to the commission in the meantime, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Three were dismissed as not deserving of a hearing, the office said, but another three are awaiting hearings before the commission. 

The Open Meetings Commission was established in 2004 to hear complaints about alleged violations of public meeting laws. The commission consists of five state’s attorneys appointed by the attorney general. The recent inactivity is partly due to unfilled positions on the commission, according to Attorney General Marty Jackley, who took office in January 2023.  

Jackley said he doesn’t know why the commission was inactive during the tenure of his predecessor, Jason Ravnsborg, who was impeached and removed from office for unrelated reasons. But Jackley said one of the recent challenges occurred when a commission member lost a state’s attorney election, and Jackley hired another two members to work in his own office, leaving three vacancies on the commission. 

“So, I literally took away the quorum,” Jackley explained to lawmakers on Friday. 

He announced the appointment of five new commissioners last week.

Jackley’s bill signals resurrection of Open Meetings Commission

Jackley is now proposing a bill that would allow deputy state’s attorneys to serve on the commission.

“We are trying to make government transparency a larger priority,” Jackley told the Senate State Affairs Committee, which endorsed the bill 6-0 on Friday, with three members excused.

One of the complaints awaiting a hearing is against the Bennett County Commission for an allegedly improper executive session. The others are against the Tea City Council for allegedly failing to provide public accommodations for a teleconference meeting, and against the Piedmont Board of Trustees for failing to post a meeting agenda on its website.

Jackley told legislators the three pending complaints will be addressed at the Open Meetings Commission’s next meeting, which is not currently scheduled on the state’s calendar of meetings. 

Jackley’s office, in partnership with the South Dakota NewsMedia Association, recently released an updated handout explaining the state’s open meeting laws. The guide had not been updated and released since 2017.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated since its original publication to clarify information about cases pending before the Open Meetings Commission.

 

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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

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