Keep session open

Keep session open
South Dakota lawmakers are apparently having problems deciding whether an upcoming special session of the South Dakota Senate should be open to the public.

We have a quick, easy, one-word response.


Gov. Mike Rounds, in a response from both Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate, will call a special session Nov. 27 to investigate allegations of misconduct between a state senator and a teenage legislative page, the governor's office announced Tuesday.

The session was requested to investigate allegations that Sen. Dan Sutton, D-Flandreau, groped a page who was staying in his hotel room during the last legislative session.

According to news reports, on Oct. 11, the father of the page contacted Sen. Gary Moore (D-Yankton) and Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) and reported that his son had been groped by Sutton.

But there are other rumors floating about right now. If Internet bloggers can be trusted, all of this may have less to do with sexual impropriety and more to do with a failed attempt to bring a major industry to Flandreau.

"Hindsight suggests there could have been better ways for the Senate's leadership to handle this matter," Bob Mercer, a former press secretary to Gov. William Janklow, writes in his blog.

"Now that it's partially out in the open, this matter could vibrate far beyond what did or didn't happen in Sutton's motel room in Fort Pierre, where the page was staying with his parents' permission," according to Mercer. "Much more significantly, the matter might turn attention to the failed Ridgefield Farms beef-processing project, and the roles of key people involved in it, as efforts for its start-up failed first in Huron and then in Flandreau."

Mercer explains that Dennis Wiese, the former Farmers Union president, was the lead figure in bringing the Ridgefield idea to Flandreau and worked as a paid consultant for the firm. The Flandreau city council appropriated $750,000 to entice Ridgefield to Flandreau and the Flandreau Development Corp, of which Sutton was the president, gave the firm $100,000 to move its offices to Flandreau. As president of the Development Corp., Sutton sat on the board of directors of Ridgefield Farms. The Flandreau interests, led by Sutton, are trying to recoup the money provided to Ridgefield.

South Dakotans have a right to know if this special session truly will focus its investigation on Sutton's behavior with a page, or on his failed attempt to bring an industry to Flandreau.

That's why the proceedings must be kept open to the public.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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