Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

I have decided to respond to the article written by Nancy Haigh in The Pioneer Review's Nov. 16, 2006, issue concerning the Haakon Co. Commissioners' meeting of Nov. 9th.

With all due respect to Nancy, I realize that it has to be a very hard job writing for a small town newspaper and covering local board meetings. And, try as you may to be fair to everyone, usually someone feels the story slants more to one side than the other. And, in this case, I feel there were some very important facts that were left out of Nancy's article that should have been included.

First of all, Patti Rhodes was not named by anyone, but Nancy Haigh, as the spokesman at the meeting. The fact is that all of the following people were named on the agenda to each speak at that meeting: Karyl Sandal, Patti Rhodes, Rita Merrill, Traci Radway, and Rhonda Coyle. Every one of us had a written statement that they had planned to share at the meeting, but because of interruptions made by some of the commissioners this changed.

We came to the meeting for three reasons: (1) ask for a "correction to Nancy's article" where she quoted a commissioner saying … "Haakon Co. was reprimanded by legislative audit concerning time sheets"; (2) bring to the commissioners' attention the fact that they acted too hastily in their previous meeting when they voted to stay open during the lunch hour and have some employees punch a time clock and some fill out time sheets; and (3) request the commissioners to treat us with respect, allowing us to communicate with them in the future on topics of interest that concern our offices.

Haakon County was not "reprimanded" by legislative audit concerning the time sheet issue. The fact is, in their report, legislative audit issued a recommendation concerning this topic … their recommendation stated: "that the county use (unified) time sheets for everyone but elected officials. Under FISA standards certain employees are considered hourly for overtime purposes. These employees should be paid for overtime at time-and-one-half for hours worked over 40."

Our second item to be pointed out to the commission was the fact that it is illegal to discuss and act upon items if it is not put on the agenda at least 24 hours prior to the meeting, unless it is deemed an emergency. In their Oct. 5th, 2006, meeting, they did just that. Towards the end of that meeting, with nothing left on the agenda to discuss, "a commissioner made a motion to keep the courthouse open during the noon hour and to put courthouse personnel on time clocks and the county highway crew on time sheets". I pointed out to the commission that this was not legal because these items were not previously on the agenda. I further pointed out that this goes along with the "open meeting laws" which gives all taxpayers (including other election officials and employees) the right to attend and speak out on issues that concern them. (County Commissioner meetings, City Council meetings and School Boards are all governed under the open meeting laws.)

Concerning the time clock issue, the commissioners made it known that it was their intention to have the elected officials, plus the hourly employees at the courthouse punch a time clock, and have the rest of the employees (which includes the hwy. dept.) fill out time sheets. I asked the question, "why don't you either have all the hourly employees punch a time clock OR have all the hourly employees fill out a time sheet?"

Commissioners Brunskill and O'Connell answered "no". I asked "why?". Their answer was, "accountability … the courthouse personnel need to be made accountable to the public." I then asked, "and the hwy. dept. doesn't need to be made accountable to the public?" "No," said Commissioner Brunskill, "just the courthouse personnel."

I asked the commission if they knew how many elected positions there are in Haakon County … they didn't know. I pointed out to the commission that there are 11 elected positions in Haakon County: Auditor, Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Sheriff, States Attorney, Coroner, and five commissioner seats. I further asked, "Are you going to make all 11 positions punch a time clock?" "No," said Commissioner Brunskill, "just three" … (meaning the Auditor, Treasurer and Register of Deeds). When we asked, "What would be the point of having just the (3) elected officials (in the courthouse) punch a time clock?" Commissioner Brunskill and O'Connell both stated, "accountability … you need to be made accountable to the public." And, here again, I asked, "And the other (8) elected positions in Haakon County don't have to be made accountable to the public???"

It was at this point I made it known to the commission that I was not going to punch their time clock. I was totally blown away (appalled) to think … (how can you become a county commissioner and not know that these three positions are already made accountable to the public by the very election process that got them there???" The Auditor, Treasurer and Register of Deeds are all accountable to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is no different than the States Attorney, Sheriff, Coroner AND COMMISSIONERS. We are all accountable to the taxpayers by our job performance, by the duties and responsibilities that we carry out. Each of our offices are governed by South Dakota Codified laws, and we each have to take an oath and swear to uphold our offices, and to perform and administer said duties to the best of our abilities. We are further made accountable to the public by having all of our records audited every two years by South Dakota Legislative Audit (a process that we just went through). There are no other elected officials in the State of South Dakota who are required to "punch a time clock" that I am aware of … and for our commission to even bring this up is a total embarrassment for Haakon County.

Our third item to discuss with the commission was "respect" and "communication". I don't remember if we got to address this issue with the commission because, like I said before, we were interrupted. But, I think respect and communication go hand in hand. We could all better serve the public if we could all respect each other's positions and communicate in a professional and adult manner.

Respectfully submitted,

/s/Patti Rhodes

Patti Rhodes

P.O. Box 524

Philip, SD 57567-0524

Phone: 859-2289 (h); 859-2612 (w)