Jensen should consider resigning

Jensen should consider resigning
There's an element missing from our front page story headlined "Dialing it in."

It's something that's drilled into journalism students when they are learning the craft of how to properly write a news story.

You should always try to talk to a story's subject.

You'll notice there are no statements from County Commissioner Mary Jensen in the article that describes her current prolonged absence from South Dakota and her practice of participating in county commission meetings by calling the Clay County Courthouse.

So why was there no attempt by the Plain Talk to contact Jensen?

It's not because we lack a curiosity about how she feels about this issue. As we point out in our news story, she's not doing anything illegal.

South Dakota's open meetings law includes a provision that allows members of state and local government boards to participate in meetings via teleconference.

It would be interesting to know if Jensen feels she is depriving her constituents by being away from Clay County for so long.

And, to be frank, we'd like to know if Jensen's desire to serve in public office is as strong as it was when she was first elected.

One could easily assume that her devotion to public serving may be waning, especially when she spends approximately one-third of the year away from South Dakota.

Those questions remain unanswered in our news report. One could argue that we didn't do our job properly when we failed to at least get a quote or two from her.

The lack of any statements from Jensen in today's story, however, does serve an important purpose.

It helps to demonstrate just how inaccessible she is currently.

Hunting down sources for quotes is a regular part of the job for news reporters.

It shouldn't be a Herculean task, however, for a constituent who needs to talk to an elected official.

Here's the likely scenario a Clay County resident would encounter if she or he desired to speak to Jensen.

First, after calling the Jensen home and not getting any answer, they'd probably call the Clay County Courthouse.

Officials there might be able to provide Jensen's current phone number in Florida. We're hoping at least, that she did leave her phone number with county staff, along with instructions that the number may be shared with the public.

A citizen would then have to call long distance to Florida and hope that she is home.

And finally, after reaching her, the county resident would have to 1) try to explain his or her concern to her over the phone, and 2) hope that she could somehow provide assistance while being over 1,000 miles away.

This is, to say the least, a bit troubling. We elect people to public office with the assumption that they will do the job the office requires.

Jensen may not be doing anything wrong. But there is no way we can conclude that she is doing her job as a commissioner simply by participating in meetings over the phone.

Dave Bordewyk, through his years of experience as executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, has gained a high level of expertise in First Amendment and open meetings issues.

"There's a lot more that goes into participating in a public board or being an elected official than just participating in a meeting," he said. "You also have to be available and be responsive to those who you represent all of the time, outside of the meeting format itself."

We suggest that Jensen use her time down in Florida to reflect on how she would like to serve residents of Clay County in the future.

We believe she should not rule out resigning from the commission. Citizens would be better served by someone committed to giving a higher level of time and energy to the body than Jensen.

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