Between The Lines

Couple things on my mind …

When the USDA updates its estimate for this year's corn crop, that number is expected to be near 165 bushels an acre. As the corn harvest draws near in the southeast South Dakota, weather east of the Mississippi River is hotter and drier, and yields have not been as strong as expected so far. This problem is pushing corn prices to heights not seen in almost two years.

The price of corn also is impacted by Russia's ban on grain exports starting next week after that country suffered a brutal drought. Russia's wheat export normally competes with American corn because both are used as animal feed.

So, I'm wondering … if Russia has suffered a drought so severe that it has stopped exporting wheat, it appears farmers have a golden opportunity to market this year's corn crop overseas. And likely get a pretty good per bushel price, too.

But if Russia's drought creates a demand for American corn, will we still have enough of it here domestically to do all of the things we now ask of corn? Like feed our livestock, and create ethanol and sweeten a lot of our processed foods?

And, that higher demand for corn, I'm assuming, will push up its price. So, does that mean we'll be seeing higher prices for the ethanol we use to fuel our cars, and for the corn-fed beef we buy at our local grocery stores?

Just wondering…

When the Vermillion School Board or the district's administration is faced with a legal question, it turns to School Attorney James McCullough for sound advice.

Evidently, the administration and board of the Stanley County School Board in Fort Pierre either doesn't have a reliable school attorney, or it thinks it can figure out legal stuff on its own.

According to a news story in the Pierre Capital Journal this week, the Stanley County School Board, "faced with a new legal requirement to publish agendas and give advance notice for the board's subcommittees, decided on Monday to disband those subcommittees altogether."

In what can only be perceived as a not-so-clever attempt to try to circumvent state law, Superintendent Don Hotalling will now appoint advisory councils – councils that will be identical to the current subcommittees except with regards to open meeting laws.

"Since this is an informal activity, if you want to increase it to a formal level so you have all the rules of a formal board meeting (you can)," Hotalling told the board. "If you want to keep it more informal, it would be a superintendent's advisory council."

According to the Capital Journal story, the board's subcommittees have addressed areas such as buildings and grounds and curriculum. Because each one contained fewer than three board members, they weren't subject to open meetings laws.

But Hotalling said recent changes to the law require subcommittees appointed by the board to follow open meetings laws even if they have fewer than three board members.

Bodies appointed by the superintendent are not subject to that restriction, Hotalling said.

"Nothing was being hidden or kept from anyone in the past," Hotalling said. "It was more informal and that allowed us more flexibility."

The board approved a motion abolishing the subcommittees by a 4-0 vote. Board member John Duffy was not present.

"As long as communication is open and continues to be open, I don't have a problem with that," board member Tina Titze said.

Dave Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association (who apparently wasn't consulted by anyone in the Stanley County School District, either) notes this change in law by the state Legislature that went into effect in July:

1-27-1.18. Recommendations, findings, and reports of appointed working groups to be reported in open meeting — Action by governing body. Any final recommendations, findings, or reports that result from a meeting of a committee, subcommittee, task force, or other working group which does not meet the definition of a political subdivision or public body pursuant to § 1-25-1, but was appointed by the governing body, shall be reported in open meeting to the governing body which appointed the committee, subcommittee, task force, or other working group. The governing body shall delay taking any official action on the recommendations, findings, or reports until the next meeting of the governing body.
Read anything about these groups being subject to open meetings laws, as Hotalling claims? No. You don't. Because they (committees, subcommittees, task forces, etc.) aren't.

I'm assuming the purpose of the change in the law, stated above, is to try to avoid confusion on how small subgroups and their governing bodies — and I would assume Stanley County's new advisory councils fall under the category of subgroup — should work to make sure the public is always aware of what's going on. Simply put, a committees findings, reports, etc. are required to be reported in an open meeting to the governing body. And the governing body, after receiving a report from a committee or task force, needs to wait a week before taking action on it.

That's all. But, I'm not an attorney, and as just as Hotalling apparently did, I haven't talked to legal counsel about this.

But I'm pretty sure that changing the name of a committee to an "advisory council" really isn't going to change anything for the Stanley County School District.

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