By David Lias
Wayne Carney, the executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, wasn’t treated roughly.
But he did face a barrage of questions from the South Dakota Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations last month.
Legislators raised points about the association being covered by the South Dakota Retirement System, which is for public employees, but not being subject to open-meeting and public-record laws.
Lawmakers also learned that Carney and other top members of his staff receive free automobiles to use, through a corporate sponsorship, and that he receives extra compensation through a variety of commissions ranging from 3 to 5 percent for corporate sponsorships he secures and renews.
Other things committee members learned include association also operates a foundation that was empty until last year, when the directors voted to put $55,000 into it from excess association revenue and $10,000 from a refund by the national association.
They learned about the SDHSAA’s vote last year to increase ticket prices.
One lawmaker, Sen. Deb Peters (R-Hartford) described the association as “a quasi-public organization” that operates through public funds and conducts activities at taxpayer-funded public facilities. She said its lack of openness contributed to a current controversy over soccer.
The association has legal authority under state law to exist on behalf of public and private schools that delegate to it some of their authority on athletics and other activities.
Carney said the board’s meetings are open and the agenda for each meeting is available on the association’s web site. He said the audits are now posted.
“We will do what we need to do to be better communicators in what we do,” Carney told the panel in his closing comment.
It became painfully clear during this committee meeting that the association has a communication problem.
We suggest that Carney and the SDHSAA Board cooperate with lawmakers who have introduced legislation that, if approved, will allow the Legislature and the public to more easily be aware of activity’s association business.
There are now two measures that attempt to change how SDHSAA conducts itself.
Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, has introduced HB 1141, which would require the association to comply with South Dakota’s open-meeting laws.
Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, has introduced SB 90, which requires SDHSAA compliance with open-meeting and public-records laws regarding its meetings, and it further requires SDHSAA to publish the annual Department of Legislative Audit report on the association’s website and DLA’s website.
This bill also adds some additional legislative oversight on the workings of the SDHSAA.
The SDHSAA, created by state law but organized as a private nonprofit, exists in a gray area between public body and private group. The SDHSAA board apparently doesn’t believe it is required to comply with open meeting laws. According to news reports, it voted unanimously Tuesday to draft a “resolution or policy to ensure transparency within our organization.”
Mike Miller, an SDHSAA board member and the president of the Aberdeen School Board, doesn’t think new laws are needed, according to a report in the Argus Leader.
“I think the resolution speaks to what this board is always wanting to do and wanting to be, and that’s open and transparent,” Miller said. “We don’t really feel that it’s necessary to legislate what we’re going to do. We can police our own house and do a very good job of it.”
We don’t believe that’s good enough. The SDHSAA board would be far better off to cooperate with lawmakers who have introduced legislation requires SDHSAA compliance with open-meeting and public-records laws.
We make this observation after fully taking in all of the actions of the SDHSAA board on Tuesday. Before passing its resolution promising to be more transparent, it met in a closed meeting, away from the public.
“That’s probably the ultimate irony, that (they) drafted a resolution on transparency in closed executive session,” Sen. Brown told the Argus Leader. “That would probably be of grave concern to me.”
Transparency is a way of protecting fairness and ensuring the common good. When citizens know what their government is up to, they have a better chance of ensuring that decisions treat everyone equally and protect the common conditions that are important to everyone’s welfare.
That holds true for organizations like the SDHSAA, too. We urge its board to cooperate with lawmakers, and recognize that in this case, “self-policing” offers very little assurance to the public.
The best way to protect fairness and ensure the common good is to make the board comply with the state’s open-meetings and public-records laws.