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SF City Council Violated Open Meeting Laws

March 8, 2012, 4:57 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

SF City Council Violated Open Meeting Laws

The Sioux Falls City Council has been reprimanded for violating South Dakota's open meeting laws.

The Open Meetings Commission's decision Thursday stems from the September meeting when the council fired city clerk Debra Owen. 

Back in September, the city council went behind closed doors to discuss a personnel matter. When they came out of executive session, they simply voted for three council members to take the action discussed in executive session.  

Owen told KELOLAND News shortly after that September 14, 2011, meeting that she had been fired.

The Argus Leader newspaper later filed a complaint saying the council was too vague in its official action and violated open meetings laws.

During Thursday’s hearing on the complaint, it was revealed that those three council members were authorized to offer Owen the opportunity to resign or fire her if she didn't accept that offer.

The Open Meetings Commission said the council should have laid out those details when voting after the executive session back in September.

City attorney David Pfeifle says council members didn't reveal more details to protect Owen's privacy.

"We tried to comply with the law yet respect the confidentiality of this matter," Pfeifle told the commission Thursday.

The Argus Leader's attorney says sharing those details is the responsibility that comes with being a public official.

"The sensibilities of the individual are yes, very important but not as important as the public's right to know, and not as important as the city council's accountability to the public,” Argus Leader attorney Jon Arneson said.

KELOLAND News talked with Owen after Thursday’s decision.  She said she was prepared to have the council vote in public to fire her during that meeting in September, and she agrees with the decision made by the South Dakota Open Meetings Commission to reprimand the council for their actions.

Sioux Falls City Council member Greg Jamison was the only council member at Thursday’s meeting and after the public reprimand, he said the city council ‘goofed’ and should have said more.

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