open records

People raise their hands to signal their intent to speak in support of an ordinance that would restrict carbon pipelines at a Minnehaha County Commission meeting on May 23, 2023, in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Democracy demands less time behind closed doors for local governments

BY: - September 15, 2023

Hear about something called “Democracy Day” and it’s easy to imagine it refers to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the White House and the federal government. But democracy isn’t limited to the halls of Congress. Democracy plays just as big a role in the county courthouse and city hall. The most common display of […]

Lobbyists in the halls of the South Dakota Capitol building in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

South Dakota lacks transparency in lobbyist spending

BY: - July 8, 2023

Lobbying is one of the least transparent political activities in South Dakota, and an interest group’s inclusion of three legislators on a recent tour of the U.S.-Mexico border provides an example. The three legislators are Sen. Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, and Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls. I’m picking on their trip because […]

The Brown County Courthouse is located in Aberdeen and is connected to other county offices, such as the Auditor's Office and the Brown County Jail. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

State offers portal for local governments to post public information, but few use it

BY: - April 30, 2023

Jackson County government officials don’t post public information on the internet. The rural western South Dakota county, which serves roughly 2,800 residents spread over 1,871 square miles, doesn’t have a website. And it doesn’t intend to, County Auditor Vicki Wilson said. “It takes more time than we have staff,” she said. State government offers a […]

South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Janine Kern gestures as she participates in oral arguments with other justices on March 23, 2023, in Brookings. (David Bordewyk/South Dakota Newspaper Association)

Court documents outline cause of shuttered child porn investigation of T. Denny Sanford

BY: - April 27, 2023

Nearly four years ago, detectives in South Dakota launched an investigation to determine if the state’s richest man had shared or received child pornography through email. One year ago, then-Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg issued a statement declaring that T. Denny Sanford had committed “no prosecutable offenses within the district of South Dakota.” On Thursday, after […]

South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Janine Kern speaks during oral arguments March 22, 2023, in Brookings. Also pictured are Justice Scott Myren, left, and Chief Justice Steven Jensen. (Dave Bordewyk/South Dakota Newspaper Association)

Supreme Court: Release T. Denny Sanford court records

BY: - April 6, 2023

Court records ought to be released to the public that could finally shed light on why the property of South Dakota’s richest man was searched as part of a child pornography investigation, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. It’s the second loss in a row at the state’s high court for T. Denny […]

South Dakota Chief Justice Steven Jensen gestures as he participates in oral arguments with other state Supreme Court justices on March 23, 2023, in Brookings. (David Bordewyk/South Dakota Newspaper Association)

Sanford lawyer: Allow billionaire to review records in child porn investigation before release

BY: - March 23, 2023

BROOKINGS — Billionaire philanthropist T. Denny Sanford wants the South Dakota Supreme Court to let him review court documents expected to outline the reasons the state launched a child pornography investigation involving him, which ultimately drew no criminal charges. At the heart of the dispute is public access to the court records generated as part […]


Where the sun doesn’t shine in local government

BY: - March 12, 2023

Across the country, March 12 through March 18 is Sunshine Week, a time for shedding a light on open government. In South Dakota, the sun doesn’t shine through too clearly. Here it’s, at best, partly cloudy. Sunshine Week was started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. According to its website, the purpose […]

The Senate floor in the South Dakota Capitol at Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Bill on public comments at meetings doesn’t go far enough

BY: - February 5, 2023

Whenever the topic is citizens being mistreated by their local government, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “There oughta be a law.” Well, if you’ve been mistreated by a local government entity and your friend is a member of the state House of Representatives, a new law is what you’re going to get. That’s […]

The South Dakota Capitol Rotunda. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Senate panel advances bill to shield jail inmate records from open records requests

BY: - January 17, 2023

A bill that would close the disciplinary records of jail inmates from public view advanced out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-1 vote Tuesday morning.  Senate Bill 53 closes what its sponsor calls a “loophole” in South Dakota’s open records law. The current law closes disciplinary records for inmates, but defines “inmate” […]