Let it become a well-known fact that I write this as a completely and totally non-professional politician. I won’t ever claim to be professional in anything with the world of politics and hold no degrees in it. All I’m doing here is sharing with you what I’ve learned in my experiences and research. So, here we go!
Everyone, this whole thing with laws was the most aggravating subject to figure out, save for the whole law-making process! The biggest reason for my annoyance is because getting a straight answer from local politicians who seemed to not want me to actually learn about laws was like the J6 Prisoners getting due process: I wasn’t going to get one! On the other side of this issue was well-intentioned local politicians who didn’t know the answer either so would shut me out or give me an answer that was more BS than truth. My trust had been broken and betrayed so many times from the very beginning that I concluded that it was best to find the answer on my own by researching state law as the foundation, and not trust answers given to me by politicians until I check out what others have to say and if answers are the same across the board. (I’ll add here that there are very few I DO trust at this point and hope to interview them in the future for the Rumble channel due to their knowledge and morals). So it was with a ton of trial and error that I’m just starting to know my way around this complicated and overwhelming subject for the non-drama-seeking tax payer like all of us. Since I’m a bit more comfortable on the process now, I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you so you can easily go and know you’ll find what you are looking for in local and state laws.
First off, laws are split up into 3 different levels, from what I understand: Federal, State, and Local: Federal comes out of DC, State comes out of our capital, and local comes from the county and cities. Counties and cities/municipalities can tailor their ordinances/local laws from the guidance given them by the state laws. Since I’m focused on nothing higher than state level, that’s where we’ll start today.
I always begin my research first looking at South Dakota State Law (SDCL), because you’ll find all you need to know in black and white there about how our local and state governments are to be run. It first reads like you’re reading pig Latin because of all of the verbiage in it, but the more you read it, the easier it becomes. So, step by step for any newbie like I was (and still am, to a point!), go to https://sdlegislature.gov/ and click on Codified Laws. Every title covers certain aspects of our state and local governments and holds the laws in place that dictate how they are to be run and managed. When you click on a title, it’ll take you to all of the chapters within that title. So, for example, I want to look into how city government should work according to state law: I’m going to click on Title 9, Municipal Government. It will first list off all of the chapters, but then as you scroll it lists every section of every chapter. For example, I’m in the Title of City (Municipal) government, and I want to learn about Belle Fourche’s specific form, which is an Aldermanic form, which is under Chapter 8.
To keep up with reference numbers, we are at 9-8 (Title 9, chapter 8)
Say I wanted to look up what SDCL says about a mayor since that’s my next article. So under Title 9, Chapter 8, Section 1, I find information on the mayor’s term in office. Then you’ll see there’s a subsection talking about qualifications for a mayor. All the subsections have the period before the subsection number.
To summarize this: We are in Title 9, “Municipal Government,” in Chapter 8, “Aldermanic Form of Government,” reading up on the Mayor, which is section 1, and includes a subsection. In numbers, if someone wanted to find this reference by numbers alone, it would look like this: SDCL 9-8-1.1.
Can you look up the reference of 7-16-14 and tell me where it leads you? 🙂
SDCL has everything we need to know on how our state is supposed to run and be managed. Reading it will tell you what you are to expect from anyone in government: from a department head to county auditor to the governor, as well as all of the laws they are bound to uphold.
Ok, PART 2: ORDINANCES.
From what I understand, the ordinances are more detailed local laws taken from the boundaries given by the state laws. So let’s go back and use our example from the state law about the mayor. I’ll copy and paste it here:
The chief executive officer of a municipality under the aldermanic form is the mayor. The mayor holds office for a term of not less than two nor more than five years as determined by ordinance. A mayor may hold office for more than one term.
9-8-1.1. Qualifications of mayor and alderman.
A person may be nominated, elected, or appointed as a mayor or as an alderman if the person is a citizen of the United States, a voter of and resident of the municipality, and, if an alderman, a voter of and resident of the ward for which the person is to hold office.”
From that state law, every municipality can adopt an ordinance for how they want to run their city, and what they want for the role of a mayor. If you go to library.municode.com and click on South Dakota, you can click on Belle Fourche and it takes you to the ordinances for Belle’s municipality. You’ll notice it’s got the same organization or layout as SDCL, but it’s in a smaller and more compact form. As you can see, we have it organized under titles, chapters and sections just like SDCL. When you look at Title 2, Chapter 4 (No idea yet on how the extra numbers after the period are specified or organized but, not a big deal!), you’ll find information on the mayor’s role:
2.04.010 – Organization.
Members of the Common Council shall be the Mayor and two (2) Aldermen from each ward. The Common Council shall, at the first regular meeting in May of each year, organize by electing one (1) of its members as President and one (1) as Vice President, who shall hold their respective offices for the ensuing year. The President of the Common Council shall, in the absence of the Mayor, be the presiding officer of the Common Council, and during such absence or the Mayor’s temporary disability, be acting Mayor and possess all the powers of the Mayor; in the absence of the Mayor and the President of the Common Council, then the Vice President shall perform such duties.
2.04.015 – Terms of office.
The Mayor shall hold office for a term of three (3) years.
Aldermen shall hold office for a term of three (3) years.
An individual may serve more than one (1) term in office.”
When you compare the State law to the city ordinance, you can see how state law says a mayor can hold office between 2-5 years. And the city of Belle chose a term of 3 years, and the state law says a mayor can have more than one term and the city ordinance states the same, with no limit on it.
This is how a local government can tailor their local laws within the guidelines of the state law.
For anyone wondering about the difference between “bylaws” and “ordinances” (because I sure did…. horses and kids don’t require bylaws and ordinances so this was all new to me! haha), just know that bylaws are policies for how organizations will be run, while ordinances are local laws adopted by the government and bear legal weight to them. If you’d like to learn more on the differences, this seemed like a good read.
If you want to read up more on municipal government, the SD Municipal League is a great reference for citizens and elected officials alike!
To take a deep dive into state government, go to sdlegislature.gov. It’s packed with everything we need to know about our state government: you can find information on how to properly write a bill to the qualifications for law enforcement officers. There’s also contact information for our legislators, committee meetings being held and when, and you can follow bills that interest you during the legislative session. It’s an amazing tool we should all take advantage of!
While I loathed politics and all of the toxic drama that comes with it, I’m realizing how incredibly important and powerful this knowledge is for tax payers like you and me. It makes sense why so many of our elected officials give us the run-around when we want straight answers: with this knowledge of state and local laws and how our elected politicians are supposed to represent us, we have the power to hold them accountable, and that terrifies a lot of them! So while it may seem like a waste of time to learn all of this and it’s incredibly boring and dry, please equip yourself with this knowledge. It’s THE KEY to taking back our state from corrupt individuals running it into the ground on the backs of tax payers.