Weeks will become observer as conflict of interest case continues by David Lias The Vermillion City Council, in the hopes of keeping costs down as it deals with a conflict of issue dilemma that has been ongoing for over a year, decided Monday to instruct City Attorney Martin Weeks to take a less active role in the case.
Weeks will continue to observe the case�s progress, but will, for the time being, cut down on the amount of time and effort he�s spent in the past year doing research and writing briefs on behalf of the council.
Last summer, at least two members of the council raised questions over whether three of their colleagues: Frank Slagle, Roger Kozak and Barbara Yelverton, who are associated with The University of South Dakota, are involved in a conflict of interest whenever they vote on an issue that involves or benefits the university.
Those questions led to court action. The state of South Dakota served a summons to Kozak, Slagle and Yelverton on Nov. 5. All three responded to the legal complaints.
Last summer, the city council unanimously voted to direct City Attorney Martin Weeks to intervene on behalf of the city and to assert the rights of Kozak, Slagle and Yelverton.
And earlier this year, there was an attempt to pass a bill in the state Legislature that could have led to a solution to this problem. The legislation was vetoed by Gov. Bill Janklow, however.
The complaint was an action for declaratory judgement. It was filed with hopes to decide whether Kozak, Slagle and Yelverton were disqualified from voting as a result of their employment with the university.
The conflict of interest issue was raised last year by Councilman Leo Powell, an employee of Clay-Union Electric, who was elected in May 1998. He told the Plain Talk in July 1998 that he and Councilman Dick Burbach, who also is employed by Clay-Union Electric, were told that there may be a conflict of interest if they voted on issues involving the electric cooperative. Powell said he and Burbach then abstained from voting on such matters.
�At that time, I wondered why university employees could vote on city matters relating to USD, but Clay-Union employees couldn�t,� Powell said in July 1998. He eventually took his concerns to Clay County State�s Attorney Tami Bern, who requested the declaratory judgement from Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rusch.
Mayor Bill Radigan told the council that it appears that the Board of Regents, the state Legislature, the attorney general and perhaps even the South Dakota Supreme Court may become involved in this issue.
�It seems to me like what we�ve been doing through your efforts has been kind of paralleling what the defense has been doing,� Councilman Leo Powell said to Weeks at Monday�s meeting, �and I don�t know that we need to have the double expense.�
Weeks explained that in order for the city council to prevail in its situation, �we have to be supportive of the right of those people to vote because that�s the only game in town at the present time. I�m attempting to broaden the scope so that it will apply to everybody who�s employed by someone who might want to contract with the city.
�I would like this decision to apply to everybody who is involved,� he added.
It was determined Monday that many of the contracts dealing with city � USD projects no longer are problems because the statute of limitations has run its course.
�It appears that the only problem is the joint use contract,� Councilman Richard Burbach said, �and we can always draw up another one of those.�
�I�m still in agreement with the state�s attorney that this is something that the city needs to get resolved,� Weeks said.
Burbach noted that he originally supported the activity of pursuing a declaratory judgement to settle the question of whether there was a conflict of interest on the council.
He said that since many of those concerns have become null and void because of the statute of limitations, �my question becomes why would we continue to intervene on behalf of the city?�
�The only reason that I can see,� Weeks said, �is this is a problem that has plagued us for years. It does seem desirable that we get a resolution of it. I�m in hope that the court is going to do that. The court is going to have to resolve this; it doesn�t matter what I think.�