Gov. Kristi Noem with members of the South Dakota National Guard in Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border in September 2023. (Courtesy of the Governor's Office)

Mum’s the word: When questioned, Noem administration stays quiet

BY: - October 16, 2023

It may be best if journalists in South Dakota took a three-year break from asking questions of Gov. Kristi Noem or anyone in her administration. It would be less frustrating for them and they would likely have just as much information as they would if they kept asking questions for the last 36 months of […]

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 […]

The South Dakota House of Representatives chamber at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Our Legislature is largely transparent, with one notable exception

BY: - April 10, 2023

During the legislative session, South Dakota newspapers have been known to publish columns from their local legislators. These columns often appear on the editorial or opinion page since lawmakers are usually of the opinion that they are all doing a pretty good job of tending to the people’s business. Late last month, those columns were […]

(Illustration by Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

When emails aren’t ‘writing,’ and other adventures in pursuit of pardon records

BY: - April 7, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary about public records is part of a special report on executive clemency. Additional stories explore pardons and commutations. — As a journalist with more than two decades of experience, I thought I’d experienced every way a bureaucrat could make a public records request difficult. That was until I asked for pardon […]

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 […]