South Dakota’s open meetings commission takes action


Reprimands Edmunds County board and delays Ferebee complaint again

PIERRE — One man won his contest without a fight, while another man won another delay, on complaints heard Friday by the South Dakota Open Meetings Commission.
Chris Holmes prevailed over the Edmunds County Commission in a unanimous decision by the five county state’s attorneys who comprise the state commission.
They reprimanded the county commission for failing to give proper legal notice of a special meeting May 19.
The state panel also voted unanimously to grant another delay requested by George Ferebee of Hill City in his complaint against the state Water Management Board.
Ferebee said about one week earlier he received a copy of a Pierre police department report dated Nov. 2, 2016, about his complaint.
Steven Blair confirmed Friday that the police report wasn’t in the documents sent previously to Ferebee. Blair is an assistant attorney general who coordinates matters for the state commission.
Ferebee alleges that the Water Management Board decided in executive session to rule against him at a meeting last year in a battle over his private sewage disposal system. He said his complaint was about when the decision was made.
The state commission members had heard both sides of the Ferebee complaint at their August meeting and deadlocked 2-2 on how to proceed.
They planned to re-hear it Friday when their fifth member, Sully County State’s Attorney Emily Scovell, was present.
But Ferebee objected at the start of the proceeding Friday, saying he didn’t have adequate time to prepare after getting the police report late.
“That’s unfair to me,” Ferebee said. “In essence, I should ask for a continuation.”
Matt Naasz, another assistant attorney general, responded for the Water Management Board. He objected to granting the continuation.
“This commission has already bent over backward,” Naasz said. “The materials aren’t going to change.”
Meade County State’s Attorney Kevin Krull, the state commission chairman, said the police report was in the commission’s packet for the August meeting.
Aurora County State’s Attorney John Steele told Ferebee, “These things happen.” But Steele also said Ferebee should be granted a continuance “as a matter of fundamental fairness.”
The state commissioners voted 5-0 to give Ferebee more time. They didn’t decide how much, however.
“It would have been nice if we had this motion last week,” Naasz told the commissioners.
They went on to the complaint against the Edmunds County Commission about the May 19 secret meeting.
Vaughn Beck, the Edmunds County state’s attorney, notified the state commissioners in a Sept. 26 email that his county commission wouldn’t contest the matter.
Beck referred to a July 18 letter he said contained the admission by Robert Olson “to the failure to post the agenda.” Olson is chairman of the Edmunds County Commission.
Beck wrote that Olson “takes full responsibility for such failure.”
Holmes, the complainant, used some of his allotted 15 minutes to talk about other incidents involving the county commission.
He said the May 19 secret meeting wasn’t an isolated event.
Holmes told the state commissioners about a meeting Feb. 17, 2017, when two county commissioners held a private meeting with several county highway department workers.
He said there were telephone calls during the Feb. 17 meeting to other members of the county’s five-member commission.
That meeting also didn’t have the required 24-hour notice that state law requires, according to Holmes.
“This is a chain of events that has happened and also continues to happen,” he said.
There was a legally noticed meeting Feb. 21 that Holmes said violated a different state law that limits action to agenda items.
He said a man was hired at the meeting but it wasn’t an agenda item.
Holmes said there wasn’t an agenda posted before a July 20 meeting. He said the agenda and minutes were posted afterward.
He claimed the commission at its Aug. 22 meeting went into executive session and took action while still in executive session.
Holmes also objected to the county commission Sept. 4 decision that most courthouse employees would get a 3.5 percent raise while other county employees would get 3 percent.
Holmes argued that chairman Olson’s granddaughter works in the courthouse and therefore, Olson shouldn’t have voted on the matter.
He also said Beck, the Edmunds County state’s attorney, didn’t want to investigate any of the matters.
“I just wanted to make it clear this was not a one-time issue,” he said. “There never really has been any type of action taken against them.”
He also said the state’s attorney hasn’t investigated.
Two of the state commissioners, Krull and Steele, reminded Holmes their board had only one complaint before it.
They voted unanimously to reprimand the Edmunds County Commission. Correspondence in the case originally went to Holmes at a Hosmer address and later changed to an Aberdeen address.
Blair said his office recently received one new complaint. By this point Naasz had left the meeting.
The state board members agreed they could hold a teleconference at some point in December to take up the Ferebee complaint again.
Ferebee described himself as “old school” and said he would prefer meeting in person but could accept a teleconference.
Ferebee then apologized because he didn’t ask for the police report at the August meeting.
He said he might want to file more information against the Water Management Board.
Krull set Nov. 17 as the deadline for Ferebee and Naasz to supplement the record.

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