News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, May 9, 2011

Want to see what it's like to live in a Freedom of Information Act state?

The Rock Island, Illinois, County state's attorney resigned last month after getting hauled into to court for supplying alcohol to a 17-year-old girl.  Just what was going on?  The newspaper I once worked for and other news media wanted to know.  They asked for details about the case under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but were denied. One of the media filed suit.  Last Friday the Illinois State Police released over a thousand pages of its investigative files.  They include all the reports of investigators and the evidence collected, such as cell phone text messages, receipts, interview reports.   

The newspaper has published all the documents on its online site:

The case is seamy.  If you like seamy, you can read all about it here.  And here, at another newspaper I once worked for.  In any case, take a look at the files which have been released to experience what it is like to live in a state where you have the right to see the work that the people who work in your behalf and who you pay do their jobs.   More files are to be released as the State Police process them by redacting names for public scrutiny.

The State of South Dakota makes a lot of noise about open records and accessibility, but even its recent open records act makes it possible to conceal much of what government officials are doing.  One provision of the act stipulates that information will not be released on correspondence, calendars, appointment logs, working papers and records of telephone calls of public officials and government employees.  That covers almost all the work done.  In contrast, see the kind of information released in the Illinois State Police documents.  Names are redacted, but the substance is clearly presented.

The major concern in South Dakota is to keep secret the dealings that businesses have with and in the state.  

Citizens of South Dakota have no notion of what officials are doing in their behalf and how they are carrying out there duties.  A prime case involves the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis who was found dead on the NSU campus November 1, 2004.  At first the death was termed a homicide.  Then it was declared a suicide.  A big area of doubt was conflicting evidence that was never explained. If South Dakota would and could supply records as complete as those released by the Illinois State Police in the case referenced above,  those doubts could be resolved and citizens would know one way or the other what kind of work their police are doing.  As it is, doubt and suspicion remains.  

Here is what the catalog of documents looks like:  (Go ahead.  Take a peek.)

Terronez SW Unseal Order PG 2184.pdfTerronez SW Unseal Order PG 2184.pdf 31KB


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States