Veil of secrecy’ should be removed

Jason Mann

Jason Mann

Justin Wolfgang, editor-in-chief of The Volante, the student newspaper at the University of South Dakota, has filed an open meetings complaint with the Clay County state’s attorney after USD’s Student Government Association voted to remove its president from office during an executive session.

“My goal is for SGA at USD to stop the secrets and amend their constitution to prevent frivolous executive sessions from happening again,” says Wolfgang. “Ultimately, this is between those in favor of openness in government and those who don’t care what the fat cats do behind closed doors.”

SGA held a public trial on Nov. 19 after acting Dean of Students Kirsten Compary accused SGA President Terry Liggins of misusing state vehicles and SGA funds. The governing body publicly voted 16-1 that Liggins had violated the SGA constitution and then went into executive session to deliberate on whether or not to remove Liggins from office. SGA voted 13-3 during executive session to remove Liggins, but the individual votes were never made public.

Wolfgang says that as a non-taxpaying agency that receives public funds, SGA is required to comply with South Dakota open meetings law, Codified Law 1-25-1. The law allows governing bodies to go into executive session to discuss personnel matters, but any action taken must be done in public meetings.

“I don’t think I would be alone in saying that the SGA at USD is only alienating students and student organizations by continuing this veil of secrecy,” says Wolfgang. “It would be in everyone’s best interest if they would admit their mistake, change their constitution and move forward with progress for the student body.”

Wolfgang says that since he filed the complaint, some SGA senators have begun discussing constitutional changes, but he hopes they are not just trying to appease him.

“My only hope is that these aren’t empty promises in the hopes that this issue will go away, because I’m not about to back down,” says Wolfgang.

If Clay County State’s Attorney Teddi Gertsma decides to not prosecute SGA, the complaint will go to the state Open Meetings Commission for a decision.