Martin City Council cleared on one complaint, reprimanded on another by Council

The South Dakota Open Meetings Commission unanimously cleared the Martin City Council of one alleged complaint while reprimanding the council on a second complaint during an Aug. 21 meeting in Sioux Falls.

The Open Meetings Commission, a panel of five state's attorneys from around the state, is responsible for hearing and ruling on complaints about possible violations of the state's open meetings law.

Former Martin City Councilman Robert Fogg Jr. filed two complaints against fellow council members. Fogg charged that the Martin City Council failed to state the purpose for an executive session at a Jan. 14 meeting. He filed a second complaint against the council for failing to provide proper public notice of a Dec. 29, 2008, meeting.

Fogg was a member of the council at the time of the both incidents.

The commission cleared the Martin City Council of any wrongdoing regarding the Jan. 14 meeting. Although state law says that public boards must state a reason for closed-door meetings, commission members believed the minutes and discussion prior to the Martin council's Jan. 14 executive session spell out the rationale for the executive session.

"I don't think anybody was fooled why they (Martin City Council) were going into executive session," said commission member Mark Reedstrom, state's attorney for Grant County.

He and other commission members concurred that the Martin council's discussion with attorney Sara Frankenstein regarding an ongoing lawsuit prior to the executive session gave ample proof of the purpose of the closed-door session, even though the motion to enter executive session did not state the reason.

However, the commission reprimanded the Martin City Council for failure to post an agenda at least 24 hours in advance of its Dec. 29 meeting. The commission also reprimanded the council for a late addition of an item to the Dec. 29 meeting agenda.

Sandy Steffen, an attorney representing Martin, told the commission that the Dec. 29 meeting was not a regularly scheduled meeting and therefore the council did not need to comply with state law requiring that agendas be posted at least 24 hours in advance.

The commission also voted to reprimand the Roberts County Commission for holding a July 18, 2005, meeting without providing notice as required by law. Three members of the five-member county commission were invited to what they said they believed was an informational tour of a new hotel at the Dakota Sioux Casino. However, their meeting with Sisseton Wahpeton tribal officials at the casino led to a discussion of county business.

"I believe they went there with good intentions," Commissioner Reedstrom said. He called the reprimand decision a "close call" because he did not believe the three Roberts County Commissioners intended to violate the law.

The complaint against the Roberts County Commission was filed in March 2006 by Jerry Steinley, former editor of the Watertown Public Opinion.

In other business, Deputy Attorney General Diane Best updated the commission regarding recent judicial activity involving open meetings laws in both South Dakota and Texas.

She said that following the decisions made at the Aug. 21 meeting, the commission has no pending open meetings complaints before it.

Besides Reedstrom, members of the commission include Chairman Glenn Brenner, Pennington County state's attorney; Aurora County State's Attorney John Steele; Bon Homme County State's Attorney Lisa Rothschadl and Sully County State's Attorney Emily Sovell.

More information about the commission and a history of its decisions can be found on the South Dakota Attorney General's Web site (http://www.state.sd.us/attorney).

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