Public dialogue crucial to the Brookings community

By Nick Schmeichel


Posted 4/3/24

Editor's note: This Speakout was submitted  by Nick Schmeichel of Brookings.

I remember leaving SDSU’s political science and mass communications departments upon graduation thinking …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Public dialogue crucial to the Brookings community


I remember leaving SDSU’s political science and mass communications departments upon graduation thinking that local government is really where citizens can make their voices heard. Over the past several years I have noticed less and less civic engagement in our local system, so I started looking at the numbers.

Based on City Council meetings minutes, from November 2022 to November 2023 the average meeting time was 65 minutes with only one meeting eclipsing two hours and that was by seven minutes. There were three study sessions that averaged 115 minutes. In 2016, the meetings averaged 102 minutes and the seven study sessions averaged 214 minutes. In 2013 the meeting minutes averaged 115 minutes and the 10 study sessions averaged 150 minutes. The reason these minutes are important is because they are public meeting minutes. This is the citizens time to listen to the direction of our leadership and raise concerns warranted. In total, the city council in 2023 spent 1,983 minutes in public meetings, which is 46% less time than 2013’s 3,685 minutes.

In meetings lately, discussion topics haven’t garnered much council discussion. The Marketplace land sale was only thoroughly discussed in public after signatures were collected for vote referral. When I asked about the lack of public discussion, I was told by three different councilors that they discussed topics in their three-on-one meetings with the city manager. It may be legal, but this is effectively a tactic used to circumvent open meeting laws. Any time four or more councilors are going to be in the same place, the public must be notified and can attend. These types of meetings lead to lack of public trust and civic engagement. Elected officials should be doing everything in their power to ensure public trust. Perhaps some of the confusion, or anger, around the land sale could have been avoided had more public discussion happened prior. I’m not trying to single out the Marketplace. It’s just the most recent big public topic.

In 2023, there were in total 220 action items. Out of those 220 action items 218 had unanimous votes. Council members Tilton Byrne and Specker were the two dissenting votes for the entire year. This is not an accurate representation of our community, or any community for that matter. It is extremely complicated to find any community in the country that agrees with every decision being made 99% of the time. In fact, all other major cities in the state of South Dakota aren’t even close.

I’m writing this because I believe every government body should be open and transparent. Part of that transparency comes from having open dialogue in public and not behind closed doors. I encourage the council to start having more study sessions with open dialogue and less three-on-one meetings with the city manager. Let’s see more discussion in the meetings prior to voting, giving citizens findings of fact and reasons behind your vote. Our community deserves open government and more discussion than we are currently getting.