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Translucency: Noem Says No to Sharing State Officials’ Correspondence

When she was asking for our votes, Kristi Noem promised to “throw open the doors” of state government. But Wednesday, when Representative Kelly Sullivan (D-13/Sioux Falls) asked her to throw open more state government records, Governor Noem said, no way!

House Bill 1244 would have taken the “correspondence, memoranda, calendars or logs of appointments, working papers, and records of telephone calls” of state agency officials and employees and internal memos off the long list of documents state government can keep secret. David Bordewyk of the Newspaper Association said HB 1244 would put us on a par with most other states, although he noted he favored leaving personal correspondence and phone calls logs exempt from disclosure.

But Governor Noem sent top advisor Tony Venhuizen to kill 1244. He said transparency is an important value to Governor Noem. He noted the Governor supports the corporate-journalist shield bill and the ban on confidential settlements by local governments but said opening the state records targeted in HB 1244 goes too far. He warned that constituents expect their correspondence to legislators to be kept private… a notion I find radically mistaken. If you seek to influence legislation, you should expect your words to be as public as any committee testimony or crackerbarrel statements. Publicity is the price you pay for participation in public life.

Venhuizen did make an intelligent analogy to physics: “The act of observing something changes it.” Refreshing an argument made on the campaign trail by Noem, Venhuizen said that making e-mails public would drive many people away from using e-mail to conduct state business. They’d seek other, less efficient channels that would allow them keep their conversations and machinations secret… which leads me to one of my own principles: if you’re doing something only because you think you can keep it secret, 95% of the time, what you’re doing is wrong.

Venhuizen also invoked the South Dakota bunker mentality. He said that the state receives very broad requests from “out of state” for government officials’ e-mails all the time. He said that other states that make e-mails public records have to employ full-time staffs to review requested e-mails to make sure they don’t contain information covered by other open-records exemptions. And Venhuizen took this vague umbrage at the Ds and Fs that organizations like the Center for Public Integrity (cited in proponent testimony) give our state: “Does that sound like a fair ranking to you or does that sound like a group that’s trying to promote an agenda?”

Um… yeah, the Center for Public Integrity has an agenda: “To protect democracy and inspire change using investigative reporting that exposes betrayals of the public trust by powerful interests.” So does Governor Noem: to keep her correspondence secret.

But most legislators prefer the latter agenda. House State Affairs nixed HB 1244 10–1, with House Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D-15/Sioux Falls) casting the only vote for openness.

Governor Noem’s pillar of transparency is looking more translucent. But “translucency” doesn’t sound nearly as good as a campaign slogan.


  1. Dana P 2019-02-22 09:01

    Over promise, and DON’T deliver. Billie Sutton was right (of course he was) it will be more of the same. There will never be sunlight shown on South Dakota government until this state is not one party rule anymore.

    Well, at least Daugaard’s endorsement of Ms Noem has provided job security for his son-in-law.

  2. Rorschach 2019-02-22 10:10

    I thought McCleerey was a Democrat. Yet he votes with the GOP Party’s anti-transparency agenda. It’s too bad he can’t support another Democrat on this issue.

  3. marvin kammerer 2019-02-22 10:38

    let the sunshine in!we were never told the facts of benda’s death & his connection with the eb-5 program run by then gov.rounds & also the details of the gear-up program that led to the death of 6 more people.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-22 12:07

    Nothing wrong with more openness. Maybe McCleerey was swayed by Venhuizen’s cost argument, but I’m not. Make that correspondence open.

  5. mike from iowa 2019-02-22 12:10

    OT, but here is a guy that could use Noem right now. New England Pats owner charged with soliciting prostitution and there is tape.

    This is something voters need to know when their representatives wrap themselves in their bible and sin for all they are worth.

  6. Debbo 2019-02-22 16:15

    “if you’re doing something only because you think you can keep it secret, 95% of the time, what you’re doing is wrong.”

    Exactly Cory. It seems like there’s something biblical too, about hiding shameful acts in the darkness. Bible banging SDGOP ought to know that one.

  7. Donald Pay 2019-02-22 16:37

    Crooked politicians need secrecy. If you are corruption-free, you don’t need to hide what you are doing.

  8. Moses6 2019-02-22 17:53

    The woman in the empty dress about like Thune the man in the empty suit.

  9. Scott 2019-02-22 20:38

    This sounds like a good idea at first, but is the benefit worth the cost? Governments are dealing with all kinds of issues, with many of those issues dealing with peoples private lives. How much would this transparency cost? We have to remember that we the taxpayers are covering the cost of this transparency.

    My sister-in-law told me a story of where she works. A manager intended to print an email for an upcoming meeting. He was distracted and accidently printed a personal email dealing with a medical issue. The email went to a shared printed and numerous people saw the personal email. One employee made a copy of this personal email and shared the email. The impacted employee was so embarrassed he quit and had to actually relocated. The employee ended up wining close to $5 million due to lost wages, stress and mental anguish.

    My point, if something is accidentally made public that should not have been, the costs can be high.

  10. Robert Kolbe 2019-02-23 00:24

    The elected people work for us,the Citizens of South Dakota. As our employees and we the BOSS do we not have aright to see the schedule of our employees? We pay them . They don’t tell the boss what to do with out our permission, at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

  11. leslie 2019-02-23 00:39

    Southdakola’s elegant TAKEDOWN of all things Republican in SD includes Drinking Liberally’s comment on Daugaard’s hired SIL Tony and the silence of SD lambs as Trump takes us to slaughter.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-24 08:59

    Scott, I have no problem asking legislators to be careful when they hit Print or Share or whatever button they would press to comply with a public records request. The benefits of openness outweigh the costs.

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