New ethics board thrust into South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem inquiry
SIOUX, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s Government Accountability Board is made up of four retired judges. They meet only a few times a year and are almost completely unnoticed.
The board was created in response to public pressure for reforms in ethics within state government. It is only 4 years old. It has met a total of 17 times, dismissing most complaints without a public hearing on the grounds that they fell outside its specific purpose to “review and investigate allegations of misconduct” by officials holding a statewide office or by executive branch employees.
WHAT IS THE ALLEGATION AGAINST NOEM
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg — a Republican like Noem, but no ally of the governor’s — referred two matters to the board. A request by a Democratic lawmaker to investigate whether Noem ‘s use of state planes violated the law. The second concern is whether the governor interfered with an agency that was evaluating her daughters application for a license as a real-estate appraiser.
Noem, who is positioned for a White House bid in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and dismissed the cases as political attacks.
Concern among Republican and Democratic state legislators has grown following an Associated Press report that the governor met with her daughters and the director at a state agency, who had denied her daughters’ application for appraiser certification.
WHAT THE BOARD CAN DO?
It is endowed with broad powers. It can dismiss an ethical complaint at a private conference, without naming the complainant. It can request the Division of Criminal Investigation to open an investigation or subpoena evidence, witnesses, and even dismiss an ethics complaint. The board may take many actions if it finds violations. These include issuing private reprimands or requiring coursework and community service.
“This will be a real test of this new board, one we did not expect, but certainly appropriate,” said Karen Soli, the former Democratic lawmaker who spearheaded the effort to create the board.
WHY WAS THE BOARD CREATED
Soli suggested the board . He was eager to get support from Republican legislators, who were under pressure by voters after repealing an earlier voter-approved law that overhauled ethics laws. Soli explained that the push for ethics reform was triggered by a number of scandals in state government, including one in 2015 in which a couple committed murder-suicide while stealing hundreds of thousand dollars from government programs.
The board has bipartisan representation. Noem elected one of its members, former Supreme Court Chief Judge David Gilbertson. Gilbertson, who was a registered Democrat for many years, told the AP last summer that he had changed his party affiliation from independent to Democrat.
” It’s made up of people who would be able to exercise good judgment and have the ability say there’s no here or we should take a closer look,” stated Mark Mickelson who, as House Speaker in 2017, helped push the proposal through the Republican-dominated Legislature.
If any board members are unable to attend, Noem will name a replacement. Jordan Overturf, the spokesperson for Governor, said that “we cannot comment on hypotheticals” when asked how the governor would handle it.
WHERE WILL THE BOARD PROCEED?
Tim Bormann was a spokesperson for the attorney general and said that the office had “no oversight into the Government Accountability Board .”
He also declined to comment on whether the office had sent any documentation to the board.
Overturf said Noem‘s office had not received a notice of complaint from the board. Once the board receives a written complaint, it has 15 days to notify the person accused of wrongdoing, who in turn would have 15 days to respond.
Assistant attorney General Katie Mallery is responsible for assisting the board in procedural matters. She said that the board had not set up any meetings and has not decided how it will deal with referrals from the attorney général. It usually schedules meetings within 30 days of receiving a complaint.
Once the court meets, the four retired justices will be able to address the audience.
“Something similar could hold the governor responsible, but I certainly didn’t envision it in my lifetime,” Soli stated. “God Bless those four — they have hard labor ahead of them .”
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