Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Washington, D.C. seems so very far away from South Dakota.

In fact, it seems like it's a whole different world upon itself. Especially when compared to places like Vermillion.

Except for one thing.

There is unprecedented court action (specifically, an impeachment trial) going on in the nation's capital right now.

At the same time, three members of the Vermillion City Council find themselves under scrutiny from the court system — scrutiny that could lead to new precedents in the way that local governments do business in South Dakota.

Our stand on the Clinton impeachment affair is no mystery. In this column, Plain Talk readers first read of speculations that Clinton could never be impeached because of the political consequences that would be suffered by House and Senate members, and the fact that Democrats could likely hold off such action.

As more details of the Clinton scandal began to unfold over the year (ironically, this column is being written on the one-year anniversary that major newspapers broke the news of the Lewinsky scandal) we called on Clinton to resign. We deemed him unfit for office. And our stand really hasn't changed much since then.

What we haven't commented on yet is what's been going on in our own back yard. The Vermillion City Council is, today, at best, a divided governing body. Two members of the council � Leo Powell, and Dick Burbach, who are both employed by Clay-Union Electric � were told last summer by the city attorney that there may be a conflict of interest if they voted on issues involving the electric cooperative.

At about the same time, the city and The University of South Dakota were putting the finishing touches on several cooperative arrangements. The city sold its old golf course to USD. And the university and the city agreed to work together to build new soccer fields and a softball diamond complex on property located in the vicinity of the DakotaDome, to be used by both the city and USD.

That caused Powell and Burbach to raise some questions. If they couldn't vote on matters relating to Clay-Union Electric, why could Frank Slagle, Barbara Yelverton and Roger Kozak, three aldermen employed by the university, vote on issues involving USD?

The question is a good one. We wonder, though, if it is necessary for the city council to go to such extremes to come up with an answer to it.

Slagle, Yelverton and Kozak today find themselves embroiled in court action specifically known as a declaratory judgement. They each have been issued a summons, and they each have responded to it.

Clay County State's Attorney Tami Bern will next be researching city records, and be filing legal briefs with Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rusch.

Slagle, Yelverton and Kozak, again, will have to respond.

It's a sorry situation. We needn't have begun a journey down this path to resolve this issue.

What the city of Vermillion needs to do is come to grips with reality. We aren't a big city governed by a full-time city council. Our government decision-makers are members of our general citizenry, juggling their part-time service to the city with their full-time jobs within the city limits.

Whether they be butchers, bakers, candlestick makers or college professors, there's nothing in our codified laws that says Vermillion residents who meet the proper age and citizenship requirements can't run for office, and if elected, can't serve. The point we can't forget is that anyone elected to the Vermillion City Council has a job to do. It's a job that, according to research by City Attorney Martin Weeks, council members can't even abstain from doing. Their job is to cast a vote on every issue that comes before the council.

The court action here has gone on long enough. Those in opposition to the service of Kozak, Yelverton and Slagle should call off their dogs.

It's time to realize that we live in a progressive time. It's an era in which a mingling of various government entities, or government and private interests, has taken place. We live in a world where federal, state, or local public entities and the private sector can best serve us by working together.

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