New law makes South Dakota high school association subject to open meetings, records requirements

SOUTH DAKOTA — A new law makes the South Dakota High School Activities Association subject to open meetings and open records laws.

The association is a private non-profit organization, but was created by state statute. School boards, which are subject to public records and open meetings laws, delegate authority to the association, which administers athletic and fine arts events in the state for member school districts.

Because the association is performing functions delegated to school boards, legislators believed the group should be held to the same standards of openness, said State Sen. Corey Brown, a Republican and the bill’s sponsor.

“Then it would seem to stand to reason that even if you contracted a third party to do that, then those decisions should also be public,” Brown said.

The association argued last month that the bill was unnecessary, as it already opens its meetings and agendas to the public and its annual audits are available online.

Supporters of the bill, however, said the legislation was needed to ensure transparency if association leadership down the line proved to be less committed to openness.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the legislation into law last week.

“The legislature, through this act expressed a feeling that the activities association, although a private entity, is acting on behalf of public school districts and using funds that come from public school districts,” said the governor’s spokesman, Tony Venhuizen. “For that reason, legislators felt that it should be subject to the same open meeting laws as other public entities would be. The governor agreed with that thinking and decided to sign the bill.”

SDHSAA sets ticket prices and practice seasons, and can regulate rules and procedures for the games. The association can collect dues from member schools, but last month said it hadn’t done so for the past four years, instead opting to find corporate sponsorships to cover costs.

Brown said the activities association had been making decisions that didn’t seem to take into account input from the public or its member schools.

One example was a $2 increase in ticket prices. One dollar was designated to a foundation the association had recently created and the other was split between school districts and the association for operational costs. After the bill was introduced, the association rescinded the dollar that was to be donated to the foundation.

Prompted by the legislation, the association adopted a policy and then introduced a constitutional amendment to its bylaws saying the organization would follow open meetings and records requirements, Brown said.

“I think a good piece of legislation ultimately ends in some kind of result, and I think we’re seeing them take a proactive approach toward that,” Brown said.

Wayne Carney, SDHSAA’s executive director, said the law wouldn’t change how the group operates. They’re going to try to experiment with audio recording their upcoming meetings, and once they get the kinks worked out, they’ll start audio-streaming meetings starting in August.

“Other than that we’ll simply follow the guidelines of the law,” Carney said.

By Lydia Coutré, SPLC staff writer. Contact her by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.