Editor files open-meeting complaint against S. Dakota student government

Senate removed president in closed session

SOUTH DAKOTA -- The editor in chief of the University of South Dakota's student newspaper filed a complaint with the Clay County state's attorney Nov. 16, alleging that the school's student government improperly voted to remove its president in executive session rather than in an open meeting.

Justin Wolfgang, editor of The Volante, said reporters were not allowed into the three-hour meeting where former SGA president Terry Liggins was removed from office. Though the student government posted a tally of the vote, 13 to 3, it did not indicate how each senator voted.

"That alone should raise some red flags," Wolfgang said. "And it is illegal in South Dakota."

Wolfgang filed the complaint independently of the newspaper, saying due to the upcoming Thanksgiving break he did not have enough time to consult with the staff. Wolfgang argues that because the SGA receives public money and is tax exempt, it violated state law by holding the meeting in executive session.

South Dakota's codified law 1-25-1 states in part that " ... the official meetings of boards, commissions and agencies created by statute or which are nontaxpaying and derive a source of revenue directly from public funds, shall be open to the public."

SGA Sentator Jeremy Lemcke told The Volante that the senate can go into executive session when discussing personnel issues. Wolfgang argues that Terry was an elected official and so not covered under the personnel catagory.

Wolfgang said relations between The Volante and USD's student government have been tense recently, and the newspaper recently has run editorials calling the association's professionalism into question.

The university's student government office did not return messages left by the Student Press Law Center on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wolfgang said he hopes the complaint will pressure the SGA to clarify its bylaws. Currently, the SGA' s constitution calls for debating and voting to impeach a member in executive session.

"I want them to look at the consequences of what they did and open up student dialogue," Wolfgang said. "I hope that maybe other student associations in the state will look more closely at open meetings."

Clay County State's Attorney Terri Gertsma, who is in charge of investigating the complaint, said she could not comment on an ongoing case.

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