Who should hold elected officials accountable?

American activist Marian Wright Edelman once said that democracy is not a spectator sport. Voting is backbone of our country’s democratic system, allowing everyday citizens to elect representatives whom they feel exemplifies their concerns and wishes in their local and national governments.

So, who should be responsible for holding an elected official accountable?

Such an issue was raised this week in Belle Fourche. City Councilman Troy Shockey’s feet were put to the fire Monday when he received notice that he was found to be non-compliant with a new section of the city’s ordinance that governs the responsibilities of city representatives.

According to the notice, Shockey missed three consecutive regularly scheduled city meetings, violating the ordinance amendment, adopted Feb. 18. The amendment, according to the seven councilmembers who voted in support, was intended to hold elected officials accountable for their attendance and assistance related to moving city issues forward in a timely fashion. Shockey was the sole dissenting vote when the amendment was adopted. The potential punishment for the violation, according to the ordinance, is the vacation of the city council seat.

This issue is not an isolated one. The same concerns can be heard in many of the Black Hills communities and around the country. At time, decisions on important issues have had to be pushed due to the absence of elected officials at scheduled meetings.

But, is it the job of fellow councilmembers or a city’s mayor to hold another councilmember accountable? In South Dakota, there already exists a mechanism to oust a sitting councilman for an array of reasons – called a recall.

In South Dakota, the right of recall extends to the mayor, any commissioner, any alderman, or any member of the board of trustees in municipal jurisdictions. According to SDCL 9-13-30, a recall campaign against a public official may begin at any time and “The allowable grounds for removal are misconduct, malfeasance, nonfeasance, crimes in office, drunkenness, gross incompetency, corruption, theft, oppression, or gross partiality.”

Should a registered voter decide an elected official’s behavior warrants a recall, the process requires a petition signed by 15% of the municipality’s registered voters over a period of 60 days. If those requirements are met, an election would be held and the people’s voices heard.

Belle Fourche’s decision to amend the ordinance governing the council’s conduct is a lose, lose situation. If Shockey’s attendance is an issue for the townspeople whom he represents, their voices should be heard instead of letting the dirty work be handled by other elected representatives.

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