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South Dakota county questioned for private meetings

April 23, 2018

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Some western South Dakota residents are questioning a county commission’s practice of holding discussions behind closed doors.

More than 60 percent of Pennington County Board of Commissioners discussions have been held in private executive sessions since 2016, the Rapid City Journal reported .

State law protects certain topics for executive sessions, such as personnel matters, awarding contracts and ongoing litigation. But the sessions have raised questions about whether elected officials are having discussions that should be public.

Commissioners Lloyd LaCroix, Deb Hadcock and Ron Buskerud said the executive sessions are necessary to handle employee turnover, legal issues, and property deals and construction.

“Most of them are contractual and personnel, hiring, that type of thing,” LaCroix said. “Nothing out of line, I would think.”

Hadcock cited the growing number of county employees, estimating that there are currently almost 600. There were about 350 employees when Hadcock started, he said.

“With that many more, you have more personnel matters,” he said.

The 60 percent figure is high but could be due to increased personnel or legal issues, said Dave Bordewyk, an expert on the state’s open meetings law.

Commissioners have also been criticized for placing executive sessions on the board’s agenda regardless of whether it’s necessary.

Board Manager Holli Hennies said she started putting an executive session as a placeholder after spending considerable time and resources amending the session onto the agenda.

“For ease of efficient government I just put that on every single agenda,” Hennies said. “Then we would make a note in the minutes to say it wasn’t needed or it wasn’t necessary, but if we did need it we would list the reason why.”

Bordewyk said such a decision “lends itself toward making it much easier to put things into executive session whether they need to or not.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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