- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, July 28, 2016

Government should disclose all settlements

Transparency and accountability are two terms that we often hear.

Government, for example, devotes a great deal of resources holding those they serve accountable.

If you don’t pay your utility bill, the government can shut off your water and charge a hefty fee to turn it back on. If you don’t pay your property taxes, the government can put a lien on your property. If you break the law, the government can take away your freedom.



As far as transparency goes, citizens are compelled to provide information when they apply for permits, licenses or sign up for basic services. In fact, South Dakota has a new Obligation Recovery Center that empowers a private contractor to pursue money owed to state agencies. The state also has the power to deny a driver’s license and hunting and fishing licenses to those who owe it money.

None of this is surprising and for the most part good citizens are comfortable following the rules and expect government to make sure everyone else pays their fair share, as well.

But at the same time, the government can be elusive when citizens want accountability on how their tax dollars are being spent or to know if their public servants are doing a good job.

This is especially true when it comes to civil suits filed in South Dakota that seek damages from municipal governments. In this state, a city is not required to disclose any aspect of a civil suit, especially those settled before they reach the courts.

A municipal government does not have to disclose how much it or its insurer paid the litigant, details of the allegations, or why it decided to settle or lost the case in court.

What makes this particularly outrageous is that these settlements and awards or the premiums paid to insurers are funded by the same taxpayers held accountable by the same city officials.

The other troubling aspect is the lack of disclosure. Unless taxpayers are informed otherwise, they can only assume that someone or some department made a serious mistake if the city loses a case in court or agrees to a settlement. While government officials might challenge that assumption and even point to the obvious fact that the media and residents don’t know the entire story, it is a hollow explanation without a full disclosure of the facts, which includes the amount paid.

As is all too often the case in South Dakota, city officials apparently need to be compelled to be transparent and accountable. Perhaps, it is human nature or the nature of government itself. The problem, however, is that it is our money - not the government’s - that is being spent. We also hear all too often from government officials that they need more money to justify another tax hike or to implement an ordinance that requires permits and the inevitable fees.

Attorney General Marty Jackley says the state does not make confidential settlements. Municipalities should adopt the same policy and the Legislature should pass a law that requires all settlements and civil court decisions involving a government agency be made part of the public record.

What is fair for the taxpayers is certainly fair for those who spend the taxpayers’ money.

___

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, July 25, 2016

We are not immune to tension and violence

The video starts with a crowd gathering around two young men, fists up, engaged in a sort of defensive dance, threatening rather than actually hitting each other.

It’s daylight outside Hayward Elementary when another man shoots across the frame and tackles one of the people in the crowd.

And that’s when the video turns horrific.

A multiracial melee of dozens of people begins attacking two individuals, eventually taking them to the ground. The assailants circle the two, punching, kicking, taking turns beating the men. One man removes his belt and begins whipping one of the men on the ground.

One man escapes briefly, only to be chased down and dropped again, this time in the parking lot.

Less than a minute long, the video ends focused on a motionless, beaten body.

Recently posted to YouTube and Facebook, the video has since been deleted. Sioux Falls police are aware of the video but couldn’t do anything because no victims have come forward to press charges.

It’s a stark reminder we are not immune from the heightened tensions felt across the nation - maybe less concerning than some of the large-scale violence seen elsewhere, but only by degrees.

And in a week where reports were released detailing spikes in burglaries, robberies and felony drug cases, it’s a time to call for calm and civility in our city.

Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said recently that he has “never been more concerned about the safety of my deputies and police and state troopers than I am today.”

Jarring words from an experienced and respected leader of our community.

The cellphone video from a west-side parking lot reinforced that notion of raw violence.

One incident is not an indictment on our community. That is true.

Sioux Falls is a clean, safe, vibrant city.

Let’s not be naive, however. With growth comes a degree of change. With change comes new challenges to our assumptions.

Social challenge can bring fear, distrust and an unhealthy retreat from the communal spirit that we cannot allow to develop.

That group violence of this level could occur in broad daylight in a suburban neighborhood without any report to police is disturbing.

It’s also a call to action, not just for the police or the mayor or other leaders, but for all of us. Don’t let bad actors escape because good people are afraid.

Band together for strength. Talk to your neighbors, join your Neighborhood Watch, stay active in schools.

But, at the very least, when you see something, say something. Call the cops.

___

Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, July 25, 2016

An Old Ghost Creates A Little Unity

In this age of hostile political division in America, there has emerged a small island of shocking common ground between the two political parties.

The platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties call for the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, a piece of banking regulatory legislation born from the hard lessons of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and, after those memories had sufficiently faded, was repealed in 1999. Thereafter, banks were free to move into areas of investment banking and insurance domains, and they grew powerful and bloated in the process. When the Great Recession of 2008 hit home, some of these mega-institutions were deemed “too big to fail” - a phrase we are all too familiar with - and were bailed out at taxpayer expense.

The Republican Party announced this plank in its platform last week, joining the Democrats in calling for the act’s return. Thus, we are presented with the stunning prospect of Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren actually being on the same side of this issue.

The Glass-Steagall Act was passed by Congress in 1933 as a means of establishing a so-called “wall of separation” between bank and brokerage firms. It sprang from the wreckage of the 1929 crash and the speculative boom that preceded it. Banks were tied heavily into investment firms, and the subsequent banking crisis helped deepen what we now know as the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the early days of President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, with the Depression at its nadir, Glass-Steagall was enacted to ensure that this particular version of history could not repeat itself.

But in 1999 during the Bill Clinton administration, the restrictions between banks and security firms were repealed, and banks were free again to delve into investments and securities, in the process merging and consolidating wealth, moving into riskier endeavors and becoming mammoth fiscal players. It’s been argued that the drawbacks of this consequence were exposed dramatically in 2008, and some fiscal critics have stated that the repeal of Glass-Steagall created the road to the 2008 downturn. Others economic analysts have disagreed with this theory, but one thing is clear: The taxpayers have never forgotten the bailouts and are seeing those institutions reaping rewards.

While there have been a number of attempts in recent years to revive Glass-Steagall, they have made little headway. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed in 2010 to set up new financial oversights, but it has long been criticized by Republicans - who, it seems, prefer to revive Glass-Steagall, perhaps as a substitute for the more far-reaching Dodd-Frank measure. (That will be another political debate in which this bipartisan island will sink beneath the waves.).

So, Glass-Steagall - which may or may not have minimized the damage of the 2008 downturn - seems to have unexpectedly broad support. It would not be a cure-all in its original form, and as some observers have noted, the measure would need modernization to address 21st century financial realities. But reviving the act would be one step in a wiser direction.

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