The South Dakota Newspaper Association sent an e-mail to its members recently about Senate Bill 104, which seeks to clarify which committees, boards, task forces and other such sub-groups of state and local governments are subject to the state’s open-meetings law. In Mitchell, those sub-groups would include such things as the Park and Recreation Board, the Airport Board, the Corn Palace Festival Board, the Golf and Cemetery Board and the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee, among dozens of others.
Currenty, the de facto position of many government officials is that the open-meetings law only applies to the main government body, such as the City Council, and not to the various sub-groups that the body appoints. That’s why Mitchell’s Events Center Task Force, for example, was allowed to meet in private for two years before its arena proposal was rejected by voters in 2007.
I wrote a story about Senate Bill 104 for today’s edition. I was told that the bill will basically seek to identify two types of government sub-groups: those that have final decision-making authority, and those that are merely advisory in nature. Only the former would be subject to the open-meetings law under the language that is expected to be amended into the bill.
Sen. Dave Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, the bill’s sponsor, told me that there’s too much opposition to pass a bill that would extend the open-meetings law to cover all committees, boards, task forces and the like. Apparently, there are many government groups who think such an extension of openness would be a bad thing. They think it would discourage citizens from serving on such bodies, because they’d be afraid of public scrutiny. They also think the agenda and minute-keeping requirements that come with the open-meetings law would be too great a burden for some of the minor committees.
It’s the newspaper association’s position, meanwhile, that all of the bodies that do the public’s work should do their work in public, with some very limited exceptions.
What do you think? Should all, some or none of our state and local committees, task forces and other such groups be subject to the open-meetings law?