The editor in chief of the University of South Dakota’s student newspaperfiled a complaint with the Clay County state’s attorney Nov. 16, alleging thatthe school’s student government improperly voted to remove its president inexecutive session rather than in an open meeting.
Justin Wolfgang, editor of The Volante, said reporters were not allowedinto the three-hour meeting where former SGA president Terry Liggins was removedfrom office. Though the student government posted a tally of the vote, 13 to 3,it did not indicate how each senator voted.
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SPLC View: It seems clear that the USD Student GovernmentAssociation, which is responsible for allocating mandatory student activity feescollected by the public university, is subject to the state open meetings law.As part of its definition, the law covers “boards, commissions and agenciesthat…are created by statute, or that are nontaxpaying and supported in part bypublic funds.” The SGA handles public money and helps determine universitypolicy and it — like the university itself — should expect to beheld accountable for the power it wields. The tougher legal question is whetherSGA members themselves should be judged like other elected public officialswhose official actions are subject to public oversight, or always as studentsprotected by a broad “student information” exception in the law that allows forclosed door meetings any time they are discussed individually. We hope thestate’s attorney recognizes the line between their role as elected SGA officialsand their time spent as students and understands the importance of ensuringstudent governments, like all governments, operate in the sunshine.