March 18, 2009

More sunshine for South Dakota

Last year, we criticized Governor Mike Rounds for vetoing HB-1233 a piece of open government legislation that would have created a website to reveal how the state was spending its money. He said it would cost too much. Up to $600,000 to set it up and $100,000 year to keep it running We suggested he follow the footsteps of Governor Sarah Palin (before her national notoriety as a V-P candidate) who had launched such a site in Alaska.

We don’t know what revelation struck the Governor after legislators went home, but – after snubbing the website project – the Gov suddenly late last year announced
Open SD. We’ve never been much impressed with how the site works, but pleased that a step was taken toward more open government.

With passage and signing of SB-143 this year, it looks like we’ll see Open SD continued – and that’s a good thing. We only hope the site will become more robust and user friendly. Knowing state salaries is fine for busybodies who want to know how much their neighbor makes, but the site is far less helpful in areas like state contract expenditures.

While it has its own failings, we like the searchability of Nebraska’s, which is more user-friendly than Open SD. It’s easy, for example, to find all Historical Society contracts. By the way, the Cornhusker website cost them only $38,000, according to Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn.

Governor Rounds has yet to sign SB-147, the new open records bill that passed both houses of the legislature handily, but I expect he will sign it. An over-ride would seem unstoppable.

So, with a new open records law and a renewed Open SD law, South Dakota finally appears poised to bask in the sunshine of more open government. Better late than never.

Now it’s time to make the Open SD website more functional. Then perhaps we can start looking at ways to strengthen the provisions of the open records legislation.

But let us pause a bit to enjoy these first rays of long-awaited sunshine for South Dakota government.

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