SD Supreme Court: City Should Release Settlement Documents Involving PREMIER Center Siding
SD Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Argus Leader
The South Dakota Supreme Court has handed down a ruling requiring the city of Sioux Falls to release once confidential documents involving the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center to the public. This comes after the Argus Leader newspaper took civil action against the city two years ago when officials refused to release the documents.
While the PREMIER Center has proved beneficial to Sioux Falls, it hasn’t come without controversy. At the center of a lot of it: the bulging panels on the exterior. Instead of getting them replaced, the city settled for $1 million with five companies involved its construction. Despite the state’s Public Records Act, the documents were kept secret.
“We, as citizens and as taxpayers, deserve to know how government is doing business on our behalf,” said Argus Leader Media News Director Cory Myers.
The Argus Leader requested to see the settlement documents several times, but the city refused. City officials said the most recent Public Records Act, crafted by the legislature in 2009, doesn’t pertain to documents declared confidential by a contract. The newspaper took the matter to court, arguing that the public had a right to see them because the contract was not a part of any litigation.
“When you’re not being transparent, the mind does wander. You start to ask questions, ‘Well, why?'” said Myers. “I just think it’s fairly absurd that we had to go to this point.”
The newspaper lost the battle in circuit court, but won the high court’s approval.
“It’s a clear indication that transparency and open government won the day. This is a win for the taxpayers. This is a win secondarily for journalism and the media,” said Myers.
Three out of four justices found the wording of the law ambiguous and ruled based on the intent of the legislature, which was to be open to the public. They ruled in favor of the Argus Leader.
Myers said, “This is very much not about this one instance of a settlement over siding at the events center. This is more about the precedent.”
KDLT did reach out to the city for comment. A spokesperson with the Mayor’s Office said, “We just received the opinion and are evaluating it now. A response is forthcoming.” The city has 90 days to read the opinion and appeal the court’s decision. Despite the most recent opinion, it could be awhile before the documents are released.