“[W]e might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union, should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them” [Thomas Jefferson to Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, 1802.04.01].

We're not that great at running elections (how'd your great-idea voting centers do on poll wait times in Sioux Falls yesterday, Secretary Gant?), but South Dakota gets good marks for online budget transparency. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has scored states on offering online access to government spending data. South Dakota gets a B+, tying with North Carolina in the "Advancing" category, and just missing joining eight "Leading" states. Our only neighbor in the Leading category is Iowa, scoring 90 compared to our 89.5 (so close!). Minnesota and North Dakota both get D's.

South Dakota was among the top ten improvers, boosting its public finance website score from 70 to 89.5 in just one year. The big improvement was adding searchable datat on "Tax Expenditures," the tax revenue that South Dakota could collect under uniform application of existing laws but which it gives up in the form of sales tax exemptions, preferential rates, and other special favors. (The total listed this morning for all tax expenditures: $632,450,622.00. That's enough money to raise our teachers' pay to the highest in the nation and still have $304 million left. Or we could pay the $510 million it would cost to send all 36,000+ plus students in our Regental universities for free.)

Of course, since our EB-5 program went private, I can't find the checks Joop Bollen, Richard Benda, and friends were able to cash under his contract with the state. Open.SD.Gov allows us to follow the money... just not all of it.

 

We also get special mention for auditing our state checkbook each year. The online checkbook is fun: it allows to discover fun information like the fact that so far in the current fiscal year, the state of South Dakota has paid Lawrence & Schiller, the ad firm founded by state GOP chair Craig Lawrence, $3,039,006.20. It also lets us itemize state payouts to Northern Beef Packers over its unproductive five years for a total of $2,327,815.47. What fun!

 

4 comments

Madison City Commission candidate Ashley Allen bristles at backrooms deals in local government. In a Facebook post this week, Allen cites a blog post by Madison Daily Leader correspondent Chuck Clement (wait: did I just use blog post and Chuck Clement in the same sentence?) pointing out the oddity of state open meeting laws that allows local governments to shut out the public when they discuss economic development.

Clement knows his open meeting law; he knows that SDCL 1-25 doesn't mention economic development as a topic our local leaders can keep secret. But he discovers cities and counties are granted secret-keeping authority over economic development schemes by SDCL 9-34-19, an open meeting exemption tucked away under municiapl trade regulations:

Right among the state laws -- for pool rooms and bowling alleys, junk stores, scalpers, employment agencies, public dances, skating rinks, and tattooing and body piercing -- were the rules for closing public meetings to discuss economic development.

Either our lawmakers have a really bizarre sense of humor or they really must not want South Dakotans or anyone else to know much about government involvement in economic development. I will continue to wonder why anyone wanted to hide 9-34-19 among the rules for "Municipal regulation of food sales."

Oh, but there is one set of rules in the same chapter that fits with hiding the regulations for executive sessions - it's 9-34-16, the state's rules for "Mindreaders and fortunetellers" [Chuck Clement, "Tattooing, Junk Stores... and Economic Development?" Madison Daily Leader, 2014.03.20].

Dang: unleash Clement from the formal reporter's beat, and he brandishes a singular statutory wit.

Allen says he would like to repeal SDCL 9-34-19. Repealing state law is a bit tough from City Hall, but opening economic development discussions could happen without a legislative change. Notice that SDCL 9-34-19 says, "Any discussion or consideration of such trade secrets or commercial or financial information by a municipal corporation or county may be done in executive session closed to the public." May. We find the same non-mandatory permission in SDCL 1-25-2: "Executive or closed meetings may be held...."

State law does not order city commissions to go into executive sessions. It gives them the option, upon a majority vote. If you want an open discussion of economic development issues on a five member board, you need to get two other people to agree with you, and that discussion remains open.

So does anyone among Allen's candidates and among the commissioners they will join in City Hall share Allen's zeal for openness on economic development?

9 comments

I wonder how you make a narcissist go into histrionics....

Pat Powers gives you one corn chip; I give you the whole enchilada. For your reading enjoyment, I offer Annette Bosworth's Republican U.S. Senate nominating petition, filed yesterday with the South Dakota Secretary of State:

Bosworth nominating petition sheet

Those seven signatures from the Lakeview Hutterite Colony out by Lake Andes are just page 9.1 out of 213 sheets submitted. Here's the link to the entire petition, all 122 megabytes, nicely numbered:

Annette Bosworth Nominating Petition: 213 sheets, 122 MB

That's an awful lot of petition to download all at once. If you don't want to give your Internet connection a hernia, here's the petition in nice ten-sheet (front and back) chunks:

  1. BosPet 000-009
  2. BosPet 010-019
  3. BosPet 020-029
  4. BosPet 030-039
  5. BosPet 040-049
  6. BosPet 050-059
  7. BosPet 060-069
  8. BosPet 070-079
  9. BosPet 080-089
  10. BosPet 090-099
  11. BosPet 100-109
  12. BosPet 110-119
  13. BosPet 120-129
  14. BosPet 130-139
  15. BosPet 140-149
  16. BosPet 150-159
  17. BosPet 160-169
  18. BosPet 170-179
  19. BosPet 180-189
  20. BosPet 190-199
  21. BosPet 200-209
  22. BosPet 210-213
  23. EXTRA! Added 2014.03.31! BosPet214-227 submitted by mail, received by Secretary of State after certifying the originally submitted 213 pages.

Look it over. If you notice any Democrats or Independents or non-voters or non-people, or if you want to point out anything else you find interesting about the petition, feel free to leave a comment below. Have fun, everybody!

104 comments

Jonathan Ellis shines a harsh light on the culture of secrecy with which state medical boards and hospitals shield doctors from facing the consequences of their malpractice. Focusing on the "trail of pain" left by surgeon Allen Sossan, Ellis shows that Nebraska and South Dakota boards that review doctors' performance seem more concerned about protecting doctors' privacy than protecting patients' lives.

Ellis's report includes stories of patients who were paralyzed or killed by Sossan's shoddy and unnecessary surgeries. Complaints to the Nebraska licensing board did not result in action against Sossan's license. When Sossan came to practice in Yankton, Avera Sacred Heart Hospital allowed him in, despite the grim stories that attached to his name:

They delayed granting him privileges, but after about a year, Sossan threatened to sue. Matt Michels, a lawyer for Avera Sacred Heart, told the executive committee that Sossan probably would prevail in court under laws that bar organizations from restraining trade. The problem for the executive committee was this: Nebraska’s licensing board had not taken action against Sossan’s license, and Faith Regional had not reported adverse activity, so Avera didn’t have grounds to reject his request for credentials [Jonathan Ellis, "Secrecy Protects Surgeon's Trail of Pain," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.03.23].

Yes, that Matt Michels. Now Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels.

But don't blame him; blame the licensing system and the medical culture that insulates doctors from punishment and bad press and ties the hands of administrators and institutions would try to protect patients from bad doctors.

*   *   *
By the way, one lawyer who successfully sued Sossan for killing a patient with unnecessary surgeries has managed to pierce the institutional veil of secrecy and discover that Sossan's entire career may be based on cheating on a test:

Tim James, a Yankton lawyer who represented Bockholt’s children and who is representing other clients against Sossan, uncovered records showing that Sossan — who then went by the name Alan Soosan — was arrested while in college in the early 1980s for felony grand theft and burglary. Sossan was arrested in Florida, according to a police report, for breaking into the biology department and stealing a test. “What made it really interesting was that it was a core requirement to get into medical school,” James said. “It’s not like he was stealing a French test” [Ellis, 2014.03.23].

As a French teacher, I object to the characterization of my work products as trivial.

17 comments

Hilarity is the Governor's office complaining about a lack of openness from government officials:

Daugaard’s budget chief, Jason Dilges, wasn’t too happy with this burst of optimism from the appropriators.

“It looks like to me there’s … a desire to try and have the revenue estimates be higher and spend money,” he said Monday evening.

Dilges also complained that “none of the legislators have been forthcoming with me” about some of their spending plans [David Montgomery, "Contra Daugaard, Legislators Set Optimistic Budget Projections," Political Smokeout, 2014.03.11].

You awful legislators! How dare you not inform Governor Daugaard of the full extent of your optimism! You should all immediately compile dossiers laying out your plans and submit them to the Governor... with a bill for $46.02 an hour.

4 comments

Out of 448 bills in the 2014 hopper, South Dakota's legislators have proposed 17 bills that do nothing. No, I'm not talking about the time-wasting karaoke-session resolutions that got Rep. Spence Hawley so cross yesterday. I'm talking about bills that, as written, take no concrete action whatsoever.

Some policies take time to craft. Since South Dakota's legislators try to cram all their work into eight four-day weeks followed by one five-day week, and since they are distracted by resolutions and crazy ideas from wingnuts, they don't always finish researching, negotiating, and writing the first drafts of their serious policy proposals before the bill submission deadline in Week 4.

Our legislators dodge a tardy slip with what we call, in South Dakota parliamentary parlance, hoghouse vehicles, empty carcasses into which lawmakers plan to stuff their legislative sausage later... once they figure out the recipe.

The Legislative Research Council usefully tags and lists this session's 17 hoghouse vehicles:

Bill Title Status
HB 1109 provide for the enhancement of economic development. killed in House State Affairs 2/24
HB 1145 accommodate legislation on medical services. passed House 2/25
HB 1146 accommodate legislation relating to education in South Dakota. passed House 2/25
HB 1147 accommodate legislation on the state aid to education formula and to make an appropriation therefor. tabled HSA 2/24
HB 1191 accommodate legislation relating to the alleviation of livestock losses as a result of the late autumn West River blizzard. tabled House Approp 2/07
HB 1203 improve the financial practices of the State of South Dakota. passed House 2/25
HB 1247 revise certain provisions for the economic development partnership fund. tabled HSA 2/19
HB 1252 improve the work force development in South Dakota. tabled HSA 2/19
HB 1256 increase opportunities and funding for school districts to apply for jobs for America's graduates programs and to make an appropriation therefor. hoghoused House Ed 2/21; killed House Approp 2/24
SB 99 revise certain provisions regarding self-funded multiple employer trusts. hoghoused Senate State Affairs 2/19; passed Senate 2/24
SB 107 accommodate legislation on the state aid to education formula and to make an appropriation therefor. passed Senate 2/24
SB 108 accommodate legislation on medical services. hoghoused SSA 2/21; passed Senate 2/25
SB 109 accommodate legislation on education in South Dakota. tabled SSA 2/21
SB 110 require state employees to make certain payments or contributions for health insurance. hoghoused SSA 2/24; tabled Senate 2/25
SB 141 make an appropriation to fund certain scholarship programs and to declare an emergency. hoghoused SSA 2/21; passed Senate 2/25
SB 146 revise certain provisions regarding the closure of county and township roads due to high water. withdrawn 2/19
SB 168 provide oversight and accountability to certain economic activities. passed Senate 2/24

Seven of these empty bills have been killed. Three have been fleshed out with specifics and passed out of their respective chambers; two were killed once legislators saw the first details.

Yet five hoghouse vehicles have passed out of their chamber of origin in their original empty form. Someone in the Legislative leadership has plans for medical services, education and state aid thereto, financial practices, and "certain economic activities," but after six and a half weeks, these elected officials haven't mustered the data, the consensus, or the guts to put details on paper where we all can see them.

Last year, one hoghouse vehicle, SB 235, carried forward a massive omnibus bill revamping South Dakota's economic development policies. Regardless of the merits and demerits of that bill (which became law), reporter Bob Mercer and I both complained that crafting such important legislation out of sight of the public isn't cool. Legislators, reporters, bloggers, and other interested citizens should all have time to review public policy proposals, seek relevant data, and rouse public activism for or against those proposals.

South Dakota's hoghouse procedure has some merit. Allowing legislators to wholly overhaul (someone in the barn is shouting, "Holy overalls!") bills allows for the possibility that some unexpected information or event might warrant a swift response from the Legislature after Week 4 of the session. Plus, it's just plain fun to say hoghouse! all winter.

But hoghouse vehicles excuse tardiness and shield secrets. Keep the hoghouse, but ban hoghouse vehicles. Forbid the posting of any bill whose text consists of nothing but a general goal statement. Require that by the Week 4 submission deadline, every bill must outline a specific policy action and/or a specific statute that it would change. Such a requirement might sharpen our legislators' focus, get them to beat back attempts by their nuttier colleagues to clog the caucus and committee meetings with fruitless ideological grandstanding bills, and flush more serious policy discussions out into the open, where we all can help.

17 comments

Attorney Steven Sandven posts his bills in the Rapid City Journal... his open-records bills, that is, from the state of South Dakota:

Sioux Falls attorney Steven Sandven could buy a new car with the $20,000 South Dakota officials want to charge him for requesting public records on the federal money-for-green-cards EB-5 program. The state Board of Regents wants to charge $15,835 to find EB-5 related documents, and the state has already charged him $4,098 for records from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, or the GOED.

That figure comes from the amount of hours that the office's deputy commissioner, Nathan Lukkes, believes it will take to locate the records Sandven requested, and to confirm that they are public documents. Lukkes is charging Sandven $46 per hour — the hourly rate of Lukkes' salary, $77,976, including benefits.

"I'm having to buy everything but his lunch," Sandven said over the phone in early January [Joe O'Sullivan, "State Charging $20,000 for EB-5 Records Request," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.09].

According to O'Sullivan's report, that high price doesn't expedite service; Sandven says he's been told he'll have to wait until May for satisfaction of his requests. The state also won't help Sandven save costs on delivery:

He has also been told he must drive to Aberdeen, which is around 200 miles from Sioux Falls, to pick up records from Northern State University, where a private company collected tens of millions of dollars in EB-5 money for South Dakota projects.

The university won't email the records due to "security reasons," according to Sandven.

"Which is ridiculous," he said. "We file all our court documents electronically now" [O'Sullivan, 2014.02.09].

Sandven testified to the "inconsistent" and "excessive" fees various state agencies charge for access to public records Wednesday before the House State Affairs Committee in support of Rep. Bernie Hunhoff's House Bill 1139, which sought to cap public records request service fees at $10 per hour. Rep. Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) told the committee HB 1139 was moderate compared to other states: Idaho gives public-record requestors two hours and 100 pages for free; Delaware gives 20 pages for free, then charges 10 cents per subsequent page. Rep. Hunhoff struck a Madvillian note, stating that the real answer to high public records costs by putting more records online.

The state responded, via Emily Ward of the Bureau of Finance and Management, Tony Venhuizen of the Governor's office, and Jim Shekelton of the Board of Regents' legal office, that $10 and hour isn't enough to cover dedicating a mere minimum-wage employee to reviewing and editing the documents in some of the more complicated open records requests. Venhuizen said state agencies already respond to the vast majority of open records requests for free. Ward acknowledged that the public already pays for normal state government operations but that state employees have too many other functions to carry out to be able to spend three out of five days a week riffling through the file cabinets for us. Attorney Shekelton said open records laws are great but that we didn't create them to subsidize either out-state businesses (some of whom he cited as making their living compiling and marketing data about university athletics) or the discovery practices of lawyers.

The Republicans on House State Affairs agreed with the state and killed HB 1139 on a 9-to-4 vote. Sandven will have to put off buying that new car.

20 comments

The GOED/EB-5 scandal has revealed the widely varying and sometimes exorbitant fees that some state agencies charge to fulfill public records requests. Some South Dakota public servants charge you nothing to provide public documents. Other state agencies think the documents and services you paid for with your tax dollars aren't really yours until you pay even more. The Governor's Office of Economic Development has demanded $46.02 per hour to satisfy some public records requests. Hmmm... might the price be proportional to the office's desire to keep us from seeing what they've been up to?

Seeming to take a cue from my Christmas Eve suggestion, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) and Sen. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) are proposing House Bill 1139, to limit the fees citizens have to pay for public documents. This bipartisan proposal leaves intact the permission for officials to charge citizens the actual cost of printing and delivering and documents. HB 1139 caps fees for staff time in excess of one hour at $10.00 per hour.

I'm not convinced we can justify charging any hourly fee for government employees to carry out government functions. Librarians don't charge borrowers extra for bringing back books that take more than an hour to reshelve. Police don't charge crime victims an hourly investigation fee if they need more than an hour to process the evidence at the crime scene. Teachers don't charge students a grading fee if their papers are so poorly written that it takes more than an hour to correct them...  hey, wait, I like that idea!

We may need some expense to deter monkeywrenchers from shutting down government by walking into the courthouse and requesting copies of every public record available from the last two decades. (Hey, Tea Party! Why haven't you thought of that?) But perhaps we can come up with a solution that avoids high costs for curious citizens and protects our public officials from frivolous and burdensome records requests.

The state could reduce the cost of fulfilling open records requests by creating every public document electronically. Post every public record online (HTML format whenever possible, PDFs only when necessary, to save space). Most searches move online, as folks will be able to find all the really important public documents linked and explained here on the Madville Times. Public officials need only respond to requests for old paper documents only available in their filing cabinets.

HB 1139 is a fair gesture toward limiting the ability of public officials to use high fees to avoid public scrutiny. But let's keep an eye out for other ways to help South Dakotans get their hands on their documents and keep their money in their pockets.

6 comments

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