- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Editors: Please note that The Associated Press welcomes editorial contributions from members for the weekly Editorial Roundup. Three editorials are selected every week. Contributions can be made by email at [email protected]


Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Dec. 12, 2015

Let’s have a proactive conversation about criminal justice reform

Many issues are swirling around the Minnehaha County Jail these days.

The big, blocky barb-wired structure in downtown Sioux Falls is the main lockup for people waiting for trial and unable to bond out, those convicted of a slew of lesser-level misdemeanors and, until recently, prisoners from other jurisdictions.

There are 400 beds in the jail today.

Current trends suggest that’s not enough.

The Minnehaha County Commission will have to answer three important questions: How big? Which direction? And how do we pay for it?

These are not surprising questions. It’s the kind of thing we’ve dealt with before as our community grows, spreading into adjoining counties and facing increases in crime that come with more people.

There are complicating factors, however, that have less to do with the physical space of the jail and more to do with who is in it.

Consider these recent reports:

- An Argus Leader Media series - Locked in Limbo - detailed just one of the strands of population that leads to overcrowding. In that case it is people charged with crimes and awaiting trial who require a mental health evaluation.

Delays in those evaluations have led to long waits and a larger prison population.

- In a separate story published by Argus Leader Media this weekend, Circuit Court Judge Doug Hoffman says that too many people end up sitting in jail, unable to bond out, taking up beds when they don’t need to.

Hoffman has taken a proactive approach, studying individual cases to determine if jail is the proper venue as a trial approaches.

- Last week County Commissioner Gerald Beninga said he’d like to hear from circuit judges on ways to keep more people out of jail before moving forward with expansion. This drew a rather terse response from Sheriff Mike Milstead, who pointed out that he’s been working very hard on pre-trial alternatives, but even with the most aggressive programs more jail space will be needed.

These are just a few of the factors that will affect the future of the Minnehaha County Jail. Also in play are the continuing effects of a statewide criminal justice reform, the need to house federal inmates, and the potential for drug courts, mental health courts and other methods to provide a more enlightened approach to sentencing.

Beninga and other commissioners are right to protect the public purse in these matters. But it would be short-sighted to hold the process up for long.

Not expanding is probably not an option.

It’s also time to take a broad-based look at our needs. Not filtering into the base discussion about the downtown building is the reality that the county’s existing work-release facility - a remodeled Elks Club on Russell Street across from the Denny Sanford Premier Center - is wholly inadequate and must be addressed.

A consultant told commissioners that Minnehaha County will need 730 jail beds by 2019. That’s quite a jump.

Commissioners can choose to believe that number or not.

What’s clear is that pressure is building for the county to take action.

This conversation requires a holistic vision that takes all these factors into consideration and prepares for a future that we cannot dodge. A larger jail and a better work-release facility are needed, and fiddling at the edges of the problem while trying to avoid making the hard decision to spend the money simply will not do.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Dec. 14, 2015

County meeting agendas need work

South Dakota has made some strides toward government openness in recent years, and now we’re hoping for some progress locally.

The Davison County Commission for years has offered its weekly agenda with the topics it plans to discuss. The agenda is typically vague and short, as many county government meetings tend to be. Each Friday, the agenda is sent out, along with the minutes of the previous week’s meeting, by the Davison County Auditor’s Office.

Some weeks, the agenda is posted online at the davisoncounty.org website, but we always see it posted at the Davison County Courthouse per South Dakota law passed in the 2015 session that says the proposed agenda must be up for at least 24 consecutive hours prior to the meeting.

The Davison County Commission meeting agendas abide by open meeting laws. But we’re not completely satisfied with that.

Why? Because today the commissioners have a major decision to discuss about a proposed wind farm between Mitchell and Mount Vernon, and the agenda says no word of the proposal.

Found on today’s agenda is a 9:15 a.m. Board of Adjustment meeting, which is when the wind farm will be discussed.

The proposed wind farm, as we reported in our Saturday edition, would permit Juhl Energy, of Pipestone, Minnesota, to install up to 11 turbines on the property of Brad and Peggy Greenway on a 3-mile by 1-mile stretch of land in Beulah Township.

It would be the first wind farm in Davison County and only be about 10 miles west of Mitchell.

Though, none of that information was available on the County Commission’s agenda. None of the words “wind,” ”farm” or “proposal” were on the agenda.

We’re not accusing the commissioners or the county’s auditor office of trying to hide information, nor do we believe the commissioners are trying to push an agenda. We believe all of the commissioners do what they feel is best for the county and their constituents.

But we wonder why the weekly agendas are not more detailed to help inform the public of pertinent meetings and topics such as today’s.

We look at the city of Mitchell’s bi-monthly City Council agenda meeting packets, and they can run well beyond 200 pages. The packets show details of each agenda item and help inform citizens of exactly what the council members are considering. The Mitchell Board of Education’s meeting agendas - which occur monthly and sometimes bi-monthly - are also typically more than 20 pages.

But the County Commission meeting agendas are usually a half-page, leaving those interested with more questions than answers. We realize the commissioners do not write the agendas, but it is their job to oversee their contents and ensure the public is informed of the meeting’s details.

To help the public, to serve the public - which is the job of the County Commission - shouldn’t these agendas be a little more in-depth? We say absolutely.


Watertown Public Opinion, Watertown, Dec. 15, 2015

Does holiday cheer have to be politically correct?

Getting into the holiday season is a lot different than it used to be.

It wasn’t too long ago public school Christmas programs included traditional holiday songs like “Silent Night”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” along with “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”.

Those days are long gone, however, as being politically correct has taken on more importance than it ever should. The increased concern over the separation of church and state argument also hit new heights and led to the removal of songs during school programs with any hint of a religious trace. That, of course, is more than just a bit ironic because the Christmas season and holidays - don’t forget Hanukkah - have their basis in religion.

Sioux Falls got a taste of what is and isn’t socially acceptable during the holidays last year when the city’s annual event allowing public and private school students to decorate snowplow blades drew fire.

Apparently there were no concerns about the blades decorated by public school students. Two parochial schools participating in the city’s Paint the Plows program last December, however, decorated the blades with the words “Jesus Christ” and “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

Pretty radical stuff, right? What did you expect from Christian schools? Even the biggest Grinch shouldn’t be offended by those messages, especially since they’d likely be obscured once the plows started pushing snow.

That wasn’t good enough for a local secular group, Siouxland Freethinkers. It complained about the artwork saying that it violated the constitutional separation of church and state. And, technically, they were probably right. State, local and federal governments should not be endorsing one religion over another, especially in a multi-faith country like ours.

But there still should be room for some common sense and to recognize a simple gesture of holiday spirit for what it is. How many snowplow blades have you heard of leading to new religious converts? Not many, we’ll bet.

This year the city is continuing its Paint the Plows program, although with a disclaimer affixed to the snowplows. The disclaimer says the city doesn’t endorse the religious messages and it appears to have satisfied all sides - to a point. Although the president of the Siouxland Freethinkers still has misgivings.

“If it was a plow mentioning Muhammad would you feel the same way?” Allen Larson said. “If it was a plow mentioning Hanukkah would you feel the same way?”

Larson said he wasn’t the president of the group last year and he doesn’t approve of religious symbolism. However, he said, the group decided that the debate over the plows would not be a priority this year. Now that’s thinking - free or otherwise - that makes sense.

We seriously doubt whatever message is put on the blade of a snowplow is going to spark much religious fervor one way or another. Most people, we believe, likely view the decorated slow blades as an amusing way to inject a little cheer into what can be a long and dreary winter. And when you consider Congress starts its day with a prayer and many city council meetings across the country do the same thing, what’s the harm with decorating a few snowplow blades with birthday greetings? It’s not like they’re saying praise Jesus or God is great.

Oh, and if the politically correct folks are so concerned about the separation of church and state, how come they’re not demanding the phrase “In God We Trust” be removed from our money supply? Apparently, there is an exception for that when it comes to cash.

Let the holiday season be what it’s supposed to be: A time of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. We could use a lot more of that, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof.

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