UPDATE: The City of Sioux Falls released the settlement documents Friday afternoon. Click here to see the information. 

As the Denny Sanford Premier Center prepares its third year of operations, the South Dakota Supreme Court deems the settlement over the facility's outer panels an open document.

In 2014, the City of Sioux Falls expressed concern about the conditions of the outer curved panels on the then newly constructed Denny Sanford Premier Center. A settlement reached by the City of Sioux Falls and the contractors was subsequently sealed. Argus Leader Media fought all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court to publish the settlement terms.

Argus reporter Jonathan Ellis told KSOO News that his role is to hold public officials to their words and actions.

“We believe in holding government accountable to the people who pay the bill. My job (is to be) a watchdog for the taxpayers. If you don’t have access to basic government documents, you don’t know what’s happening.”

Ellis contends the lawsuit itself hinged on punctuation placement.

“Do you let a comma undermine the entire intent of the 2009 legislation? I was in Pierre in 2009 covering this issue and others in the Legislature. The (goal) was to open up government records to the public.”

In the majority opinion Justice Glen Severson wrote, “There is no question that in this case we are dealing with a record of an expenditure involving public funds. Therefore in accordance with that presumption of openness, we must narrowly construe the exception with subdivision…(I)nstead, it is clear that the context of subdivision contemplates documents pertaining to the judicial process rather than allowing the government to conceal ‘any document’ that it possesses and does not wish to disclose.”

The Supreme Court’s decision was not unanimous. Only Justice Steve Zinter dissented by saying that it’s the Legislature’s job to fix a poorly drafted statute.

“(U)nder our Constitution it is not this Court’s role to fix poorly drafted statutes—the ‘power to fix statues substantively would give the Judicial Branch to much leeway to prefer its views about what makes for “good” laws over those of the Legislative Branch.’ Jaskolski v. Daniels, 427 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2005).”

You can read the full opinion here.


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