May 12, 2008

Rounds legacy -- a shroud?

Mike Rounds has done a pretty fair job as Governor of South Dakota. While he doesn’t have a stellar record regarding education issues, I was impressed with his creativity and diligence in helping to breathe new life into the old Homestake Mine in Lead. Economic development issues seem to be his forte’.

But if there is a lingering blemish on his tenure, it’ll surely be his reluctance to support open government – despite his claims to the contrary. This contrast is painfully vivid in his May 7, 2008 essay in the Rapid City Journal. He was responding to the question: “Why did you veto HB 1233, an act to create a web site making certain state government financial information available?”

The Governor contended that the bill was not an open government bill – it was, instead, “an accessibility bill.” Surely he understands that unless one has access to public documents, it really doesn’t make much difference whether records are open or closed.

Governor Rounds concluded his piece by writing “I am committed to a practical approach to put the state’s financial information on the Web, in a form that does not create needless expense.”

I take that as good news. It would suggest a turnaround from his approach last year of virtual non-participation with the Attorney General’s task force established to deal with open government. The most public participation contributed by the administration seemed to be their last-minute appearance at legislative committee meetings to speak out against open records measures like SB 189. Of course, that doesn’t count behind-the-scenes maneuvering to sabotage efforts to bring real transparency to South Dakota government.

The Governor said that the folks who wrote HB 1233 “don’t fully understand the structure and operation of the state of South Dakota’s finances.” While I don’t know who wrote HB 1233, I do know that that our state “chart of accounts and classifications of expenditure” cited by the Governor – as well as other state government operations – need not be all that complicated. But keeping a veil over these activities creates the illusion of complexity.

Those who control accessibility should understand that they are temporary custodians of public records, and that these documents – just like the State Capitol (and the Governor’s Residence) – belong to the people of South Dakota.

I hope that the Governor’s professed commitment to open government means that he’ll be working with both sides of the aisle in a genuine effort give South Dakotans better access to the process of government. His input and support could help ensure a positive step forward for open government. It would be a shame for his accomplishments to be overshadowed by the larger cloud of political secrecy.

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