Northern Valley Beacon

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Thursday, December 15, 2005


The land of infinite bad faith

It has not been a good week for democracy in South Dakota.

On a state level, members of an abortion review panel walked out when it was apparent that the panel was stacked, a report of questionable substance was being imposed on the minority, and their presence on the panel was an exercise in futility. A legislator said that the people walked out because they were not accustomed to the legislative process.

This probably is the legislative process in South Dakota. That is why the state is ranked absolutely last in openness and responsiveness in government. The majority suppresses minority contributions to state government. No honest argument is permitted. It is not excessive to state that South Dakota is ruled by tyranny of the majority, and that is what passes for legislative process in South Dakota.

On the local front, there was a confrontation between city officials and members of the police union in Aberdeen on Monday night. Members of the police union have been complaining for the last six months or so that negotiations between them and the city have not been proceeding with good faith efforts. The city hired a lawyer to be its chief negotiator. On Monday night, members of the police union tried to read a letter to the city council that reviewed the points that they do not think receive adequate attention and effort at the bargaining table.

This letter produced two reactions notable for their lack of integrity. The attorney who is the city's labor negotiator said that in coming to the city council with their concerns about negotiations, instead of confining them to the negotiating table, the union members were probably violating the law by engaging in an unfair labor practice. As an old hand at negotiating, we know that there is no law that prohibits public employees from directly approaching the agency with whom they are negotiating.

The law does say it is an unfair labor practice to refuse to negotiate in good faith with the official representative of the government body with whom the union is negotiating. But when the union does not think it is getting an adequate good faith effort from such a representative to come to agreement at the bargaining table, there is nothing that prevents them from informing the agency when they do not think a good faith effort is being put forth and of specifying the issues they think are being dismissed.

The mayor told the police union representatives that collective bargaining is not part of his job. That is true only because he and the city council designated a lawyer to be their negotiator. Ultimately, the mayor and city council must approve any contract negotiated by their representative. And ultimately, they are the parties to any collective bargaining agreement. Attending to the contract and the way it is produced is, in fact, the job of the mayor and the city council. In many cities, the mayors and a committee of councilpersons do the collective bargaining with the unions involved.

South Dakota law is full of loopholes and badly phrased articles that permit public officials to evade their democratic responsibilities. Rather than sit down to legitimate debates and negotiations, they find ways to block open discussion and open government. Rather than come to agreements, they impose statements and impose contracts because the law permits it.

South Dakota will not rise above its Third World level of government until it revises its laws regarding meetings and negotiations to meet the standards of true democratic process. Until that happens, tyranny will rule.

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