Governor affirms support for making open government improvements

Gov. Dennis Daugaard Saturday pledged to continue improving openness of government set in motion by the passage of several laws in recent years.

The governor told members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association at its annual meeting in Brookings April 9 that he intends to �make openness better still.�

�I hope to continue that movement� toward open government, the governor said, �to make openness better still.�

He called on the newspaper editors to provide their help in identifying what improvements should be made.

SDNA General Manager David Bordewyk replied that an open government task force created in 2001 by Attorney General Larry Long was the basis for many recent improvements and that a similar group should be appointed by the governor.

Bordewyk said improvements are needed in the comprehensive open records law passed in 2009 and stronger penalties are needed in the open meetings law.

Daugaard promised to create a task force or work group to work on those items and possibly other open government issues.

�I know there are improvements we can make,� he said.

He noted that Valhalla, the cabin that Gov. Peter Norbeck built and which has been used primarily as a governor's retreat, will be open for tours May 20-22, and thereafter available to groups for $200 per day, and for overnight use, with requests made through the governor.

Those who rent Valhalla will be on a list with their names released on request. Likewise, Daugaard said he would be releasing the guest lists of the Governor's Golf Classic in June, the Buffalo Roundup in September and the Governor's Pheasant Hunt in October.

The only exclusions to that, he said, would be the names of business prospects from other states included in those events. Some of those, he said, �are very sensitive,� and may not want it known publicly they are looking to move their business to South Dakota.

Daugaard outlined the open government process set in motion in 2008 when the Legislature created a procedure for requesting records, as well as a process to follow if the request was refused.

The next year, 2009, Daugaard called �a watershed year,� in which openness of records was �turned on its head.�

Up to that time, unless a state law said a government record was open to the public, it was not, he said.

Legislative action turned that around so that now, he said, �it is open, unless you can find a statute that says it is not open.�

Also, since a searchable website, www.opensd.com, was created by state government for government records and financial information, there have been more 1.2 million hits to it, with 800,000 relating to salaries of state government employees, according to the governor.

In 2010, Daugaard said, another law was enacted that professional services contracts of $10,000 or more be posted to the government website.

The governor said a law passed in 2010 requires printed materials related to a public board's meeting agenda be available to the public. And, any final recommendations or findings made by a subcommittee that was appointed by a governing body must be available in an open meeting. That body also must delay taking action until the next meeting to give time for the public to react.

Finally, said Daugaard, a law enacted this year applies a $50-per-day civil fine to any agency that in bad faith denies access to public records.

�This… makes it a little expensive to be cavalier,� the governor said.

The governor also fielded questions from the SDNA members, discussing the reasons for the state government budget shortfall, the need for education and those agencies receiving Medicaid to be cut, and his resistance to using one-time money to those ends.

Daugaard said he hoped that the steps taken will put the state in a position next year where it was in 2008, when the economy started to slide.

�I am hopeful,� Daugaard said, making no promises, but having �a realistic hope that we can then look at increases,� to education and other agencies, rather than decreases.

Asked to give himself a grade for his first three months in office, Daugaard said he would give his staff an �A� and himself a �B.�

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