HOT SPRINGS – The Fall River County Commission discussed recording meetings and the accompanying ballot measure at their Oct. 2 meeting.
At the meeting, commission chairman Joe Falkenburg and commission vice-chair Deb Russell laid out two different factors that recently came to the commission’s attention: a letter from the judge that would allow for recording in the court room where the commission meets so long as it is removed and a South Dakota law that allows for recording by anyone in public meetings so long as it is not disruptive.
“It will cost taxpayers about $10,000 to get that going as it is in the referendum,” Russell said. “I just wanted the taxpayers to know, and that is not counting the cost of somebody setting it up every day and taking it off for the other meetings, so there will be some cost to it, but of course we will abide by whatever happens.”
Russell said that the meetings that are held are transparent.
Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend, she added.
“We don’t hide anything,” she said. “We have two newspapers that record what we do. Everyone knows that, and everyone on this commission knows, we are not here to hide anything.”
However, Dusty Pence, who organized the petitions to bring the video recording measure to the ballot, was upset with the stance some on the commission took.
She said this issue could have been resolved without a ballot measure.
“I know that politically correct thing to say would be 'oh, congratulations, you've come around,' but I don't feel very congratulatory right now, and I was annoyed before, but now, here you come with 'we've received a letter from the judge,' she said. “Well, I'm sorry, I saw the letter you sent to the judge. You wrote to the judge and asked him for permission to record finally.”
The commission, however, did not influence the judge, Russell said.
Pence, however, was still upset with how the commission handled the situation, particularly with commissioners Ann Abbott and Falkenburg voting against allowing the ballot measure to proceed as a referendum item in the November election.
“The people expressed to you, first in that informal petition and then in that legal petition, that they wanted to allow video recording in this room, and in spite of the fact that, legally, you had no choice but to record it, (Abbott) and (Falkenburg) voted against it,” Pence said.
This was the first time they knew they had a legal responsibility, Falkenburg said.
It is going to be on the ballot, he added, so he did not see what the problem was.
The issue is they did not see they had to do this, Pence said, and that is “was the right thing to do.”
Russell apologized, and said that was the truth and they “didn’t know.”
“There's a lot of us, we are going to have to change our whole meeting, and it will be a lot more formal,” Russell later said. “You will not be talking, you will be limited.”
Pence wanted to know why the meetings would change.
The county commission meetings had been relaxed, and they had been able to “kind of enjoy some jokes and some fun,” Russell said, and the meetings will have to become more formal.
“We don’t want to do it in front of the camera,” Falkenburg said.
The commission is going to have to be “more careful” with what they say and think, he added.
“I put my foot in my mouth too many times,” Russell said. “I don't want it on permanent video, so I just won't talk.”
Falkenburg said they do not have a big controversy over this because the issue will soon be settled.
The commission, however, should be “ashamed” for putting the public through this process, Pence said.
“You knew what the voter sentiment was,” she said. “You gave it no credibility.”
Russell said she believes that there are very few people who would want to watch an entire commission meeting, and she takes issue with the burden the price would have on the taxpayers if few people would watch.
Pence said there she thinks Russell is right, and there are few people who would watch an entire meeting, but they will watch the meetings that are important to them, and they will have a record, something Pence said is “easily as important.”
Commissioner Paul Nabholz said he did like the idea of having a record because he can go back and watch his own record.
“I think it does make us as public officers be more diligent, and it makes us feel as if we are doing due-diligence and doing this job, but the video makes me feel like I have to scrutinize myself on how I say things and what I do,” Russell said.
Ultimately, though, it is up to the voters, she said.