Longtime director for South Dakota's Legislative Research Council resigned on Wednesday, following an audit report that criticizes his office. Jim Fry led the LRC for 13 years, but said he does not see himself staying on, because some people want to take the board in a new direction.
"I wouldn't say (I was) forced out, but it was certainly was a change that needed to happen," Fry said. "It's not like I didn't see this coming."
The LRC helps legislators write bills that are debated in Pierre, and serves as a resource for taxpayers. The report from National Conference of State Legislatures said many Republican legislators in South Dakota think the LRC could do a better job. One of the biggest concerns is a perceived lack of quality in the LRC's performance.
According to the NCSL report, legislators were surveyed. Many Democrats ranked the LRC with a four or a five - which are "positive" rankings. The audit shows Republicans gave lower ratings. Senator Larry Lucas, D-Mission, opposed Fry's resignation.
Brady: Do you feel like Jim Fry was forced out of the LRC?
"Yes, he was," Lucas said. "There are some people that claim the bills weren't drafted the way they wanted them, or the LRC was telling them their bills would be unconstitutional if they passed that way, and they didn't want the LRC to be telling them that. They wanted to introduce it just to make a point."
Some of the concerns in the report are as follows:
The impact of term limits, short session length and a long interim on staff/legislator relations;
- The absence of consistent oversight of and knowledge about LRC activities by the Legislature;
- The lack of effective employee performance standards and accountability;
- A predominant culture at LRC that often does not complement the demands of legislators and the Legislature; and
- The smallest legal/research/fiscal/computer staff size of any of the 50 states.
- A laissez faire approach to staff leadership and management at the LRC;
Republican Majority Whip Charlie Hoffman praises Fry, but says legislators want more staff on the LRC, so members can work more closely with lawmakers. The report for the NCSL also states lawmakers want the LRC to, "give advice about the process, policy and sometimes politics."
"In the terms of purchasing anything, you get what you pay for, and I don't believe as we're operating today, I don't believe the public is being served in the best interests of the government," Hoffman said.
Fry said this aspect concerns him, because he believes working more directly with lawmakers could lead to a more partisan council.
"That's a very slippery slope, because what happens, especially in a state like this one that has a very dominant party, what makes the legislature stronger is what the dominate party *thinks makes the legislature stronger," Fry said.
Fry said he has been planning to retire anyway, and is looking forward to volunteering more.