South Dakota should gear up for some transparency. Transparency has been a challenge in South Dakota for some time — regardless of what side of the political aisle you are on. Fingerpointing is popular but that doesn’t get much accomplished.
The good news is that South Dakota moved up in the transparency rankings. In 2012, South Dakota was ranked 49th of 50 states. Now in 2015, the state has vaulted all the way up to 47th on the list.
You may want to look at what that improvement means because South Dakota still ended up with an “F” grade for overall transparency. We aren’t making much headway.
If you like the idea of “trust but verify,” you’ll find that South Dakota has more trust than verification. For instance, lobbyist reports are required but are not audited. If an elected official fails to disclose a possible conflict of interest, it may be a misdemeanor, but there isn’t any auditing going on to make sure reports are accurate.
Candidate’s and committee’s statement of financial interest often contain income omissions, but no one is checking so it really doesn’t matter, does it?
If you aren’t familiar with the EB-5 scandal by now, then it’s best that you assume that it is a new and expensive robot in the upcoming Star Wars movie that was working with R2D2 but then turned to the dark side.
Recently, South Dakota's GEAR UP program has grabbed headlines for underperforming and costing more money than it should have without much accountability. Interestingly, KELOLAND did some investigating and found quite a few inconsistencies.
The first problem that their investigation ran into is that the department of education only keeps records for three years on grants. As a result, there wasn’t much available because records were destroyed (legally). A simple fix in this day and age is to look at keeping records for a longer period of time. Medical records are kept significantly longer and with the ability to turn many documents into digital PDFs the required storage space would not be excessive. I’m sure there are some people who may disagree.
I think the money could be found somewhere and it could be worthwhile. Between 2012 and 2015, two former state employees went to work for GEAR UP and made $588,000 between the two of them in that span. I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit excessive. If there were better records, we might know more.
This brings us to where we are now. We cannot change what has happened, but we can make changes to prevent issues like this from coming up in the future. The first step is for our South Dakota Legislature to make transparency a priority. Require offices to retain records for a longer period of time — that’s a simple fix.
Consider random audits of campaign disclosure reports as well as other records. That would be a start.
Look at creating a law to allow keeping minutes of executive sessions.
These are just a few ideas that can move South Dakota up on the transparency list. There really is nowhere else for it to go but up.
- South Dakota
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