A former Yankton County commissioner says he will file a complaint against the current commissioners for allegedly violating South Dakota’s open meetings law.
Todd Woods, who served on the board until last year, addressed Tuesday’s County Commission meeting about actions taken at the Oct. 1 regular meeting.
The presentation produced some terse exchanges between Woods — who along with two other incumbents were defeated in the 2018 county election — and current commissioners.
In particular, Woods said action was taken on three items at the Oct. 1 meeting that weren’t listed on the agenda.
“I think we all agree on the importance of the South Dakota open meetings law,” Woods said, who then read the law aloud to the commission.
Woods then expressed his concerns about the Oct. 1 meeting. He said the agenda listed the appointment of an acting zoning administrator.
“However, the motion was a little more in-depth than that,” he added.
Chairman Dan Klimisch interjected, noting Woods should have provided information from his presentation to the county officials ahead of time so it could be reviewed for discussion.
“According to the Yankton County agenda policy, which you adopted (when you were commissioner), these copies and supporting materials should have been given to us prior to the meeting so we could review them,” Klimisch told Woods. “Now, you’re now following your own policy. We would have put a lot of this in the packet, but you’re handing us all these documents now.”
Woods resumed his presentation, saying the commission acted on items not listed on the agenda, which he called a violation of the state’s open meetings law.
The commissioners created the acting zoning administrator and appointed Jessica Atkinson, which was listed on the agenda. However, the board then appointed Commissioner Joe Healy to a supporting role for Atkinson, which was not on the agenda.
Elsewhere during the Oct. 1 meeting, the commissioners delegated certain additional authority to the planning and zoning commission, Woods said. In addition, the commission acted on a motion involving the mental health board, he said.
“The question I ask, as commissioners, is if it’s not a public agenda item, how can you vote on it?” Woods asked.
Yankton County State’s Attorney Rob Klimisch offered his response on the matter. He noted the action concerning the mental health board was a continuation of a previous business item. He acknowledged the item should have been listed as a continuing item on the agenda.
On the other matters, he said the commission’s actions were a matter of interpretation and could be seen as falling in accordance with the open meetings law.
“The item on the acting zoning administrator is a relatively broad term,” he said. “(The other motions and action) were all related. You could argue that it also falls under the acting zoning administrator.”
Atkinson had been appointed in a limited acting capacity, Rob Klimisch said.
“Joe (Healy) was appointed as an assistant because she hadn’t been in (the office) long enough,” the state’s attorney said, adding that authorizing the zoning board with more authority flowed from the acting administrator capacity.
Woods said he could understand those interpretations.
“But as for a public agenda items, for the public to be engaged, we should know what other items may or may not be on the agenda,” he said. “Giving authority to the planning and zoning board was not a published agenda item.”
Rob Klimisch said commission’s actions at the Oct. 1 meeting all fell under the same agenda item. The issue becomes one of interpretation, he added.
Healy looked at the issue from a different perspective. He pointed out that the commission had acted that night on whether to provide days off for employees on Dec. 23 and 24, which were not Christmas. He also pointed to the renewal of liquor licenses on the agenda, which didn’t spell out exactly which liquor.
In those cases, the commission acted in good faith without having a cumbersome listing of the agenda items, Healy said.
“I think we’re splitting hairs here,” he said of Woods’ complaints.
Dan Klimisch said, during Woods’ time on the commission, many of the same items would have been placed on the consent agenda and passed with little additional public information or input.
Dan Klimisch then informed Woods that he had reached his five-minute limit for his presentation.
Wood said he wasn’t finished and had a concluding question. “How are you going to rectify this going forward?” he asked the commission.
“What would you like us to do?” Dan Klimisch asked.
Woods said he wanted to give the commission one more opportunity to take action. He noted a violation of the open meetings law is a misdemeanor and cited that the Walworth County auditor was recently arrested by that county’s state’s attorney for a violation.
Rob Klimisch said he could act on a complaint, turn it over to another state’s attorney or even send it to the South Dakota attorney general’s office.
“I do understand what you’re saying. We need to comply with the state law,” he said. “We need to follow it, and if there is a violation, I need to disseminate it or give it to the right party.”
Commissioner Don Kettering agreed. “If it’s found we did something in error, I have no problem with trying to remedy it,” he said.
The commissioners made no changes in their previous motions, so Woods said he planned to file the complaint.
“I’ll sign it … and turn it over to the powers that be,” he said.
In some of the other action:
• Commissioners approved the purchase of life packs for the ambulances at a four-year cost of $99,104.40, or $24,776.10 a year.
• Commissioner Cheri Loest gave a presentation and update on the county’s road task force, along with its recommendations.
• Highway Superintendent Mike Sedlacek provided an update on the county’s roads and bridges, including work that is needed because of the current flooding damage. He also spoke about efforts to obtain state and federal disaster assistance.
• Healy and Craig Ernster of River Rat Productions, which videotapes the commission meetings, provided an explanation on the recent disappearances of certain video from the county’s website. The issues are technical matters related to reaching the maximum capacity allowed on YouTube. The missing material has been retrieved and archived and will remain available for public usage.
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