If you’ve heard me talk about music, you’ve probably heard me talk about Slowdive.

Ethereal. Epic. Fragile. Melancholy.

These are some of the words I’d associate with the music of Slowdive.

I was lucky enough to see them in concert twice last year — and both experiences were quite overwhelming and emotional. I never thought I’d get the chance to see them live, and there they were … with their guitars acting like jet engines lifting my mind to the heavens.

Pitchfork released this documentary about “Souvlaki,” the band’s most beloved album, this week. Get to know Slowdive.

If you like what you see and hear, check out my more in-depth post about Slowdive’s past and reunion in this post.

SunThe Yankton City Commission will take up a discussion tomorrow (Monday) to make our municipal government more transparent.

If you have strong feelings on the matter — one way or another — I encourage you to attend and share them.

The meetings gets under way at 7 p.m. at the Technical Education Center.

Below you can peruse the memorandum I shared with my fellow commissioners (and can be found in the commission packet made available to the public).

Dear City Commissioners,

Government transparency is an issue that I believe helps ensure trust between governing entities and the public.

I know from experience that the City of Yankton takes open government efforts seriously and does a good job of keeping the public informed.

However, there are ways we can strengthen our transparency efforts and, I believe, build more trust with the public.

Of special interest to me is the subject of executive sessions. During 2014, the Yankton City Commission spent just more than 30 hours in regular session — and just more than 22 hours in executive session.

In other words, we spend a lot of time in closed meetings. This can create perceptions among our constituents that we are being secretive or have something to hide.

I want to create more accountability for the time we spend in executive sessions. This is not to suggest we have been/are doing anything wrong. It is simply an effort to improve transparency.

One way I believe we can do this is by recording executive sessions and, in some cases, possibly releasing those recordings to the public at an appropriate point in time.

What follows is research I have compiled regarding open meetings laws in other states/cities.

Some key questions I think we need to address if we proceed with recording executive sessions are:

1) Should we also take some form of minutes?

2) What is the purpose we wish to accomplish by recording executive sessions?

a. For example, in Colorado it is ”solely to permit policing of the requirements that discussion in an executive session focus solely on the matters(s) for which the session is called and that the session be used for deliberation only, rather than for decision making.”

b. Other states record the sessions with the intent of eventually releasing at least some of them to the public.

3) Who will have access to these recordings?

a. Presumably, we would want a judge to be able to review the tapes in order to settle a legal dispute.

b. Can a commissioner, who was or was not present for the closed session, request a copy of the recording?

4) How long will the recordings be retained?

5) Are there instances in which the recordings will be made public?

a. For example, in Anchorage, Alaska, “if the session concerns labor negotiations, the release date shall be six months following expiration of the labor contract.”

b. In Iowa, if a session is closed to discuss the purchase or sale of particular real estate, the records of that closed meeting must be made available for public examination when the transaction is completed or canceled.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, here are the states that require recordings of executive sessions: Colorado, Nevada, Iowa and North Dakota.

Either a recording or minutes are required in Oregon and Texas.

Recordings are not required but are permitted in California, Kentucky, Maryland and Ohio.

Some states require a recording only under particular circumstances. In Minnesota, an executive session for labor negotiations must be recorded. In Utah, a closed session must be recorded if it is convened for reasons not laid out in Utah law.

Below, I’ve collected information about open meetings laws in places where a recording is required to help us understand how this is employed by those entities.

Best,

Nathan Johnson

Yankton City Commission

ALASKA

I’ve included Alaska, because its state law does not require the recording of executive sessions. However, the City of Anchorage has established in its own ordinances that the meetings are to be recorded.

Here is information about the Alaska state law:

http://commerce.state.ak.us/dnn/Portals/4/pub/Alaska%27s%20Open%20Meetings%20Law.pdf

4. Recording and minutes There is no statutory requirement to take minutes or make a recording of the discussions in executive session. However, at least one superior court judge has observed that one reason why he was unable to determine whether an executive session in question was legal was that no recording had been made of the session. Some public bodies do record executive sessions (the tapes are not released to the public) while others do not. Municipal attorneys and public officials in this state disagree about whether an executive session should be recorded. Until the law is clarified by the legislature or the Supreme Court, it seems likely there will continue to be inconsistency in the practices of various public entities on this issue.

Here is the law in Anchorage:

https://www.municode.com/library/ak/anchorage/codes/code_of_ordinances?searchRequest={%22searchText%22:%222.30.030.8.2%22,%22pageNum%22:1,%22resultsPerPage%22:25,%22booleanSearch%22:false,%22stemming%22:true,%22fuzzy%22:false,%22synonym%22:false,%22contentTypes%22:[%22CODES%22],%22productIds%22:[]}&nodeId=TIT2LEBR_CH2.30RUPRAS_2.30.030ME

Executive sessions.

1. The assembly may recess to meet in executive session to discuss the following subjects if the express nature of the subject is stated in the motion calling for the session: a. Pending litigation; b. Labor negotiations with municipal employees; c. Matters that, if immediately disclosed, would clearly affect adversely the finances of the municipality; or d. Matters which tend to defame or injure the reputation of persons.

2. No official action may be taken in executive sessions. Although the public may be excluded, the session shall be electronically recorded. The tapes shall be available for public access according to the following schedule: a. If the session concerns pending litigation, the release date shall be when all causes of action have been resolved by final judgment or when further claims arising from the matter are otherwise barred; b. If the session concerns labor negotiations, the release date shall be six months following expiration of the labor contract; c. If the session concerns matters that, if immediately disclosed, would adversely affect the finances of the municipality, the release date shall be a date certain set by the assembly at the conclusion of the executive session; and d. If the session concerns matters which tend to defame or injure the reputation of persons the assembly may set a release date or may provide that no release shall occur.

3. The assembly may extend the time periods set forth in subsection 2. of this subsection only for good cause shown.

4. Notwithstanding any provisions of chapter 3.90 to the contrary, tapes or minutes of an executive session shall be available only to assembly members or authorized municipal staff until the date of release, if any, as authorized under the provisions set forth in this subsection.

MINNESOTA

2014 Minnesota Statutes

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=13D.03

13D.03 CLOSED MEETINGS FOR LABOR NEGOTIATIONS STRATEGY. Subdivision 1.Procedure. (a) Section 13D.01, subdivisions 1, 2, 4, 5, and section 13D.02 do not apply to a meeting held pursuant to the procedure in this section. (b) The governing body of a public employer may by a majority vote in a public meeting decide to hold a closed meeting to consider strategy for labor negotiations, including negotiation strategies or developments or discussion and review of labor negotiation proposals, conducted pursuant to sections 179A.01 to 179A.25. (c) The time of commencement and place of the closed meeting shall be announced at the public meeting. (d) A written roll of members and all other persons present at the closed meeting shall be made available to the public after the closed meeting.

Subd. 2. Meeting must be recorded. (a) The proceedings of a closed meeting to discuss negotiation strategies shall be tape-recorded at the expense of the governing body. (b) The recording shall be preserved for two years after the contract is signed and shall be made available to the public after all labor contracts are signed by the governing body for the current budget period.

Subd. 3.If violation claimed. (a) If an action is brought claiming that public business other than discussions of labor negotiation strategies or developments or discussion and review of labor negotiation proposals was transacted at a closed meeting held pursuant to this section during the time when the tape is not available to the public, the court shall review the recording of the meeting in camera. (b) If the court finds that this section was not violated, the action shall be dismissed and the recording shall be sealed and preserved in the records of the court until otherwise made available to the public pursuant to this section. (c) If the court finds that this section was violated, the recording may be introduced at trial in its entirety subject to any protective orders as requested by either party and deemed appropriate by the court.

NORTH DAKOTA

https://www.ag.nd.gov/Brochures/ORandOMBrochure-citizen-2005.pdf

Can an open meeting be closed?

Before a governing body can close a portion of its meeting, it first must convene in a properly noticed open meeting. Next, it has to announce the legal authority to close the meeting and the topics to be considered during the closed portion of the meeting.

After that, unless the law requires a closed meeting, the governing body must vote on whether to close the meeting. Any executive session must be tape recorded. All substantive votes must be re- corded by roll call.

http://www.ag.nd.gov/Manuals/OROMManuals/OpenMeetingsManual.pdf

How Do I Conduct an Executive Session?

Only the portions of a public meeting that are specifically confidential or exempt from the open meetings law, or during which confidential or exempt records are discussed, may be closed to the public and held in executive session. The remainder of the meeting must be open to the public. Although certain statutes may apply to particular meetings or entities, state law specifies the following general procedure for holding an executive session.

1. Convene in an open session preceded by public notice;

2. Pass a motion to hold an executive session, unless a motion is unnecessary because a confidential meeting is required;

3. Announce during the open portion of the meeting the topics to be considered during the executive session and the legal authority for holding an executive session on those topics;

4. Record the executive session electronically or on audio or video tape;

5. Limit the topics considered during the executive session to the announced, authorized topics; and

6. Take final action on the topics considered in the executive session during the open portion of a meeting. Under these provisions, a governing body’s authority to hold an executive session may be invoked only during a properly noticed open meeting, and not during a separate meeting for which public notice is not provided. To close a portion of the meeting, the governing body may either excuse the public or reconvene in another location. Under N.D.C.C. §44-04-19.2(2), a vote to go into executive session is not necessary if a confidential meeting is required or if the governing body is closing the meeting to discuss confidential records. However, because a discussion of exempt records does not necessarily have to occur in an executive session, a vote is necessary to determine whether the discussion will occur in an open meeting or in an executive session. The recording of an executive session may be disclosed upon a majority vote of the governing body, unless the executive session was required to be confidential. The recording must be disclosed pursuant to court order or to the Attorney General for the purpose of administrative review. The Attorney General must return the recording to the governing body upon completion of the administrative review without disclosing the recording to the public. Unauthorized disclosure of the recording by a public servant is a violation of N.D.C.C. §12.1-13-01. The recording and any minutes of an executive session remain closed even if the underlying statutory basis for the executive session no longer applies. The recording must be maintained by the public entity for a minimum of six months after the executive session. Although all executive sessions must be recorded, minutes of executive sessions need not be kept. The minutes of an open meeting during which an executive session is held must indicate the names of the members attending the executive session, the date and time the executive session was called to order and adjourned, a summary of the general topics that were discussed or considered that does not disclose any closed or confidential information, and the legal authority for holding the executive session. N.D.C.C. §44-04-19.2(4).

NEVADA

http://ag.nv.gov/About/Governmental_Affairs/OML/

Minutes and recordings under the OML?

The OML requires that written minutes be kept of each meeting of the public body, for both closed and open sessions. Written minutes must include the date, time, and place of the meeting, the members of the public body who were present, the substance of all matters proposed, discussed or decided, the substance of oral or written remarks made by a member of the public if he so requests, and any other information which a member of the public body requests to be included. Written minutes, and any audio or tape recordings of an open meeting must be available for public inspection within 30 working days after adjournment of the meeting. Minutes of public meetings must be retained by the public body for at least five years. Upon request, minutes of closed sessions must be provided to the person to which the closed session pertained within 30 working days of adjournment of the meeting. Minutes of closed sessions are generally not public records.

http://ag.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/agnvgov/Content/About/Governmental_Affairs/OML_Portal/omlmanual.pdf

Minutes of meetings closed pursuant to NRS 241.030 become public records whenever the public body determines that the matters discussed no longer require confidentiality and the person whose character, conduct, competence, or health was discussed has consented to their disclosure. NRS 241.035(2)(a)-(c). Under NRS 241.033(6) the subject person is always entitled to a copy of the minutes of the closed session upon request, whether or not they ever become public records. In Davis v. Churchill County Sch. Bd. of Trustees, 616 F. Supp. 1310, 1314 (D. Nev. 1985), the court suggested that a student who was the subject of closed hearings may release “any information he or she chooses,” which presumably includes minutes or tapes of closed sessions. …. Recordings of closed sessions made by public bodies must also be retained for at least one year but are given the same protection from public disclosure as minutes of closed sessions set out in NRS 241.035(2). The tapes must be made available to the subject of the closed session, and under NRS 241.035(5), must also be made available to the Office of the Attorney General upon request.

COLORADO

http://tornado.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/olls/PDF/OPEN%20MEETING%20REQUIREMENTS%20OF%20THE%20COLORADO%20SUNSHINE%20LAW.pdf

Executive session: Requires announcement of topic for discussion, citation to authorizing law, and a two-thirds vote of the members present. Discussions held in an executive session must be electronically recorded. No record or electronic recording is required to be kept of the portion of a discussion in executive session that constitutes a privileged attorney-client communication.

https://www.cml.org/uploadedFiles/CML_Site_Map/_Global/training/boards_meetings_wilson.pdf

The Executive Session Record The Open Meetings Law requires that executive sessions be electronically recorded. The executive session record must be retained for at least ninety days following the date of the executive session. The record may then be disposed of, as other government records, consistent with the local government’s records retention policy. The requirement that a record be made of the executive session is solely to permit policing of the requirements that discussion in an executive session focus solely on the matters(s) for which the session is called and that the session be used for deliberation only, rather than for decision making. Thus, the Open Meetings Law provides that the executive session record is not a public record and may only be reviewed by a judge, following certain preliminary showings, to determine if the body stayed substantially “on topic” and did not engage in unlawful decision making.

IOWA

Iowa Open Meetings Law

http://iowafoic.nfoic.net/files/2014/06/Chapter-21.pdf

4. A governmental body shall keep detailed minutes of all discussion, persons present, and action occurring at a closed session, and shall also audio record all of the closed session. The detailed minutes and audio recording of a closed session shall be sealed and shall not be public records open to public inspection. However, upon order of the court in an action to enforce this chapter, the detailed minutes and audio recording shall be unsealed and examined by the court in camera. The court shall then determine what part, if any, of the minutes should be disclosed to the party seeking enforcement of this chapter for use in that enforcement proceeding. In determining whether any portion of the minutes or recording shall be disclosed to such a party for this purpose, the court shall weigh the prejudicial effects to the public interest of the disclosure of any portion of the minutes or recording in question, against its probative value as evidence in an enforcement proceeding. After such a determination, the court may permit inspection and use of all or portions of the detailed minutes and audio recording by the party seeking enforcement of this chapter. A governmental body shall keep the detailed minutes and audio recording of any closed session for a period of at least one year from the date of that meeting, except as otherwise required by law.

“j. To discuss the purchase or sale of particular real estate only where premature disclosure could be reasonably expected to increase the price the governmental body would have to pay for that property or reduce the price the governmental body would receive for that property. The minutes and the audio recording of a session closed under this paragraph shall be available for public examination when the transaction discussed is completed.” A meeting may be closed under exemption (j) only when public discussion of the possible purchase or sale of particular real estate could be reasonably expected to increase the price demanded of that property or decrease the amount the government would receive in a sale. The economic public interest that this exemption is intended to serve is clear. The exemption does not allow closed sessions for discussion of real estate in general. If a session is closed under this exemption, the records of that closed meeting must be made available for public examination when the transaction is completed or canceled. Under Chapter 21.5(4) the minutes and tape recording of any closed session must be kept at least one year. If more than a year should elapse between a meeting closed under Chapter 21.5(1)(j) and the completion of the real-estate transaction, the record of that closed session should be kept for a reasonable time after the completion of the transaction so it can be available for public examination.

BartSimpsonCriminalIt’s difficult for me to admit this, but I feel I must: I have a criminal past.
In June of 1996, I was arrested by the Yankton Police Department and thrown in jail. I was 17 years old.
My crime?
At first, I thought my offense was watching the dumb Hollywood summer blockbuster “Independence Day.”
But I came to learn that my real crime had been violating Yankton’s juvenile curfew — something I, nor my parents, even knew existed until that night.
Here are the facts of the case as I recall them:
A couple friends and I decided to catch the late showing of “Independence Day” at the Carmike Cinema located in the Yankton Mall.
When we came out, we discovered that a couple of other friends had also attended, so we were in the parking lot catching up and discussing the film. I would guess that within 10 minutes of getting out of the movie, a handful of police cars came in the various parking lot entrances at high speed. We were curious as to what major crime had transpired that required such manpower and urgency. Did someone have drugs? Was there a fight?
Soon, an officer approached our group and asked us our ages. We were told we could not leave.
After some time, we were finally informed that we would be going to jail for curfew violation. We were handcuffed and hauled away in a cop car.
I’m not sure how many juveniles were arrested in the mall parking lot that night, but several of us were processed and locked up together in a drunk tank. We were not given the opportunity to call our parents.
Fortunately, one friend in our group was 18 years old. After we were arrested, he went home and his parents contacted the parents of those of us who were in police custody.
It was perhaps three in the morning before my mother was able to get me out of jail.
Our parents attended the eventual court hearing and there were some pleas to the judge that it was ridiculous that kids were being arrested for talking in a parking lot after spending money in the community to watch a movie. There was a meeting with the police chief. There was a letter published in the Press & Dakotan. However, at the end of the day, the judge found us guilty, and we were fined.
For many years, I had a very negative view of law enforcement that stemmed from this experience.
I had been detained, arrested and thrown in jail simply for standing in a parking lot and being under the age of 18. I felt an injustice had been perpetrated.
It was only after I became a journalist and visited regularly with police officers that I got over my jaundiced view of law enforcement.
Yankton still has a “Nocturnal Curfew for Minors” in its ordinances.
It states:
(c) Minors aged fourteen (14) and below. Subject to a reasonable defense, it shall be unlawful for a minor fourteen (14) years of age or younger to be in a traditional public forum or in a private establishment in the city on Sunday through Thursday between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day and on Friday and Saturday between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. the following day.
(d) Minors aged fifteen (15) and above. Subject to a reasonable defense, it shall be unlawful for a minor fifteen (15) years of age or older to be in a traditional public forum or in a private establishment in the city on Sunday through Thursday between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day and on Friday and Saturday between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. of the following day.
Reasonable defenses to subsections (c) and (d). The only “reasonable defenses” to a violation of subsection (c) and (d) are:
(1) The minor is accompanied by his or her parent;
(2) The minor is on an emergency errand directed by his or her parent;
(3) The predominant reason for the violation is that the minor is exercising First Amendment rights protected by the United States Constitution, such as freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and the right of assembly;
(4) The minor is not a resident of Yankton and is in a motor vehicle involved in interstate commerce; or
(5) The minor is traveling directly between his or her dwelling house and a place of employment, church, school, or a function supervised by parents and sponsored by the city, civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor.
The stated purpose of the ordinance is also included: The Yankton Board of City Commissioners specifically finds that establishment of a nocturnal curfew for minors within the city limits is within the best interests of the city for the following reasons: (1) to reduce the number of juvenile crimes victims; (2) to reduce accidents involving juveniles; (3) to reduce additional time for officers in the field; (4) to reduce juvenile peer pressure to stay out late; and (5) to assist parents in control of their children.
Studies of juvenile curfew laws provide inconclusive evidence of their effectiveness. Some have found that they lower crime rates, while others have shown no impact.
In Yankton, there were 30 curfew arrests in 2014, and 53 in 2013. There were 239 total juvenile arrests in Yankton during 2014 and 227 in 2013.
I’ll lay my cards out on the table: I have a serious problem with criminalizing all of our youth between certain hours of the day. If they are engaged in vandalism, stealing, an assault, etc., arrest them for a crime. But what good comes of arresting a 16-year-old because he or she is walking in the park or talking with friends following a movie after 11 p.m. — as I know from experience does happen.
Nationally, most of the crimes perpetrated by school-aged youth are committed in the three hours following the school day, so it seems to me that is where our efforts would be better placed. This may involve a community-oriented policing component that isn’t currently in place, but I think community investment in the proposed expansion of the Yankton’s Boys’ and Girls’ Club would be one of the most logical answers if we feel there is a juvenile crime problem during the after-school hours.
Do parents in Yankton depend on the municipal curfew to enforce their own curfews at home? Do you feel it impacts juvenile crime? Did you even know there is a juvenile curfew in Yankton?

I’d be interested in hearing thoughts on this subject. Is the curfew something that the Yankton City Commission should explore with community members and law enforcement to determine whether it is necessary? Are there alternative measures that could be used that don’t cast such a wide net and criminalize all of our youth?
The 17-year-old in me won’t leave me alone until I address this subject with the community. I hope he isn’t being unreasonable.

What if I told you that the Yankton City Commission has spent almost exactly the same amount of time conducting meetings in public as it has in private this year?

It might sound hard to believe, but it’s true.

An examination of the available minutes for the Yankton City Commission in 2015 — which encompasses four meetings — reveals it has spent three hours, two minutes conducting its meetings in public. Meanwhile, it has convened executive sessions — or closed-door meetings — lasting a total of two hours, 42 minutes.

During 2014, the Yankton City Commission spent just more than 30 hours in regular session — and just more than 22 hours in executive session.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this indicates anything nefarious – and I am very sincere about that. I know the current commissioners to be good and honest people, and this issue is not about calling into question their integrity. There are legitimate reasons to hold executive sessions. The reasons listed for the four 2015 meetings are contractual and personnel matters.

However, I believe that elected officials and government employees need some measure of accountability for what goes on during these private meetings. Currently, South Dakota does not require that minutes or audio recordings be made of executive sessions.

The first thing I plan to introduce for consideration by the Yankton City Commission when I am sworn in May 11 is the adoption of an Iowa law that requires minutes and audio recordings of closed meetings.

During my time as a reporter covering local government, I found that the public was often bothered by the idea of boards going behind closed doors to discuss matters. It fueled speculation and distrust.

I think the Yankton City Commission — and government bodies across South Dakota, for that matter — could adopt this law that has been used in Iowa for some time and use it to reassure the public and promote transparency. Because the South Dakota Legislature is perennially reticent to enact open government laws, I believe we must take the lead at the local level.
If accusations of wrongdoing are made, there should be a record that can be reviewed by legal authorities to confirm or deny such accusations.

This can serve to protect elected representatives and government employees. It also encourages them to take seriously the limits placed upon executive sessions.

We have much to accomplish as a community, and the key to any good working relationship is trust.

I want to give Yankton residents as much reassurance as possible that their elected officials are conducting public business in public and, should we need to go behind closed doors, they can still hold us accountable.

As a community, we will also be able to hold our heads high as a beacon for open government in a state that is routinely considered among the worst in the nation when it comes to such laws.

Here are the two elements of the Iowa law that I am interested in adopting as policy for Yankton:

21.5 (1.j) — To discuss the purchase or sale of particular real estate only where premature disclosure could be reasonably expected to increase the price the governmental body would have to pay for that property or reduce the price the governmental body would receive for that property. The minutes and the audio recording of a session closed under this paragraph shall be available for public examination when the transaction discussed is completed.

21.5 (4) — A governmental body shall keep detailed minutes of all discussion, persons present, and action occurring at a closed session, and shall also audio record all of the closed session. The detailed minutes and audio recording of a closed session shall be sealed and shall not be public records open to public inspection. However, upon order of the court in an action to enforce this chapter, the detailed minutes and audio recording shall be unsealed and examined by the court in camera. The court shall then determine what part, if any, of the minutes should be disclosed to the party seeking enforcement of this chapter for use in that enforcement proceeding. In determining whether any portion of the minutes or recording shall be disclosed to such a party for this purpose, the court shall weigh the prejudicial effects to the public interest of the disclosure of any portion of the minutes or recording in question, against its probative value as evidence in an enforcement proceeding. After such a determination, the court may permit inspection and use of all or portions of the detailed minutes and audio recording by the party seeking enforcement of this chapter. A governmental body shall keep the detailed minutes and audio recording of any closed session for a period of at least one year from the date of that meeting, except as otherwise required by law.

Furthermore, Iowa Attorney General opinions have established:

A meeting may be closed under exemption (j) only when public discussion of the possible purchase or sale of particular real estate could be reasonably expected to increase the price demanded of that property or decrease the amount the government would receive in a sale.
The economic public interest that this exemption is intended to serve is clear. The exemption does not allow closed sessions for discussion of real estate in general. If a session is closed under this exemption, the records of that closed meeting must be made available for public examination when the transaction is completed or canceled.
Under Chapter 21.5(4) the minutes and tape recording of any closed session must be kept at least one year. If
more than a year should elapse between a meeting closed under Chapter
21.5(1)(j) and the completion of the real-estate transaction, the record of that closed session should be kept for a reasonable time after the completion of the transaction so it can be available for public examination.
I’ve been visiting with open government advocates in both South Dakota and Iowa about how this law could be adopted as City of Yankton policy. Preliminary discussions are that there is nothing preventing us from taking this step.
As a long-time advocate for more open government, this possibility has me genuinely excited. I look forward to discussing this matter with my peers in Yankton city government. Hopefully, I can convince them that this is a worthy action that makes our local government and residents winners.

What is your vision for Yankton?

I was recently reading about Dubuque, Iowa, which is considerably larger than Yankton but offers us a good example of how to develop a community vision.

Dubuque Iowa

A photo of Dubuque, Iowa.

 

In 2005, the Dubuque mayor stated, “The next five years will define the next 50 for Dubuque.” This kicked off a massive visioning process for the community that sought big ideas with broad acceptance that would have a long-term, positive impact on the growth and quality of life of the greater Dubuque community.

Read more about that process here.

I think Yankton needs to do the same thing.

We all need to come together, invest our talents and create a cohesive community vision for the long-term future.

We need to think big.

When I talk to people in the community, I sense a hunger to do big things because of a belief in the potential of Yankton to be more than it is right now.

Look at the small European island of Guernsey. A group there has set the goal of making it the best place to live in the world by 2020. Yes, you read that right.

It might sound crazy, but it’s also really inspiring. Similarly, we need to have the confidence to set big goals for Yankton. If we don’t believe in ourselves, no one else will, either.

Included in my personal vision of Yankton would be downtown and riverfront development; more public art, architecture, trails and other quality of life improvements; higher wages; and a community-wide focus on health and happiness that would have buy-in from all community members.

I don’t want to be a community where people ask, “Why don’t we have that?” I want to be a community where people ask, “How in the world did we get that?”

Let’s use the next five years to define the next 50 for Yankton and make ourselves and future residents proud.

Have ideas? Let’s talk about them on the Nathan For Yankton Facebook page.

FatherLeonardKayser(I delivered the following eulogy for Father Leonard Kayser at a couple of prayer services this week and wanted to share it here to provide anyone interested with some background on my great uncle, who was a tremendous influence upon my life. You should also take the time to read this fantastic story the Press & Dakotan printed about his life and influence. I’ve heard so many stories and expressions of love for Father Kayser this week that it really has ended up feeling like more of a celebration than a time to mourn. The key is to keep working toward the values he strove for during his lifetime.)

———

When Father Leonard Kayser looked back on his 50 years as a priest in 2009, he described it as “ordinary.”
“I graciously accepted each assignment as the Will of God for me at that point,” he said. “I was blessed by the people in every one of the parishes I have served. The years as Rural Life director (for the Sioux Falls Diocese) were especially blessed because I got to know many wonderful people and go to many places I never would have been otherwise.”
But how many of us would describe Father Kayser’s impact upon our lives as ordinary?
His gift was to ask questions of us, to call us out of our complacency and to encourage us to be better humans than maybe we thought possible.
Some have referred to his “prophetic voice.” It was real. It was revolutionary. And it was powerful.
If Father Kayser himself was ordinary, it was in the sense that he was a complicated figure.
He was a great man, but he was a man. He could be glowing and generous. He could also be short-tempered. Father Kayser had personal struggles, as all of us do, and I think they helped him connect with and help the individuals he encountered at the South Dakota Human Services Center and the Yankton Federal Prison Camp. He knew he could learn from them and did.
He was an advocate for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others – and in their own eyes. He recognized human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he offered understanding and encouragement to individuals struggling with those realities.
When he saw mistreatment or neglect of mental patients or prisoners, he took action. He raised his voice. His advocacy wasn’t always popular with those around him, and he sometimes paid a price. But he couldn’t look the other way. Whatever these men and women were suffering from or might have done, he believed they deserved to be treated with kindness and respect.
I know how deeply he loved the Catholic faith and the Church, and yet he often criticized the hierarchy of the Church as too patriarchal and certain of itself. No human institution was beyond criticism. He believed women should be allowed as priests and actively supported that effort. He refused to condemn homosexuals. In other words, he was not afraid to express his deeply-held Catholicism in ways that some might deem controversial or even at odds with the Catholic Church.
He scoffed at the idea that faith could exist in a vacuum.
In a homily delivered in 2010, he related how a woman had complimented a homily he had given the previous week before she added, “It’s too bad we have to bring politics into all this.”
Father Kayser’s response?
“Sorry folks: Everything involves moral values and everything involves political decisions. Social justice is a constitutive element of the Gospel. We cannot talk meaningfully about charity until and unless we have first addressed the local, state and international issues of injustice.”
Social justice was a foremost concern for Father Kayser. As a member of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, for example, or the Catholic Worker Movement, he was committed to nonviolence, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and foresaken. He protested injustice, war, racism and violence of all forms.
Father Kayser could be found at protests against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. He opposed drone warfare. He recognized the institutional mechanisms that make poverty and suffering inevitable.
He was fond of quoting the fascinating British economist E.F. Schumacher, a man whom Father Kayser had met when he toured South Dakota in the 1970s and from whom he found much inspiration.
Listen to these Schumacher passages, and you will certainly hear the spirit of Father Kayser within them:
“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
 
“If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they really are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures. If whole societies become infected by these vices, they may indeed achieve astonishing things but they become increasingly incapable of solving the most elementary problems of everyday existence.”
Schumacher and Father Kayser shared a love of rural life and sustainable economics. In fact, Schumacher developed a set of principles he called “Buddhist economics,” based on the belief that individuals need good work for proper human development. He also proclaimed that “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.”
Before a crowd in Danville, Ohio, in May of 1980, Father Kayser expressed why he believed family farms were so important while criticizing industrial farming.
“The hallmarks of a small family farm community and small towns traditionally have been stability, community involvement and strong family attachments. An integral part of this society for the most part has been high-quality education, strong religious traditions and an openness which encourages the democratic process.”
Later in the speech, he addressed the ills that had befallen the United States and which, I would add, have only become much, much worse in the last 35 years.
“While we still talk about being good, hard workers and making it, whether in town or country, we have had to change our whole value system, our way of looking at life, at the world around us. We too often talk about free enterprise as if it were still working.
“Too many of us associate our present kind of capitalism with the Ten Commandments. (The worship of capitalism, let’s face it people, is nowhere in scripture nor the teachings of the Holy Mother Church.) … We find ourselves engaged in a battle for economic self-survival that can only destroy our society if we continue to passively accept the present trend of this technological revolution.”

I’m sorry. At this point, I want to take a moment to thank Father Kayser for not suing me for plagiarism during his life, because, looking over these speeches now, I’ve clearly been stealing from his body of work. I plead ignorance!

FatherKayserWithNathanAndFamily cropped

This may be the last photo of me with Father Kayser, along with my mom, Nancy; my dad, Roy; and my brother, Ben. (My brother, Chris, was missing in action.)

I admired Father Kayser for all of the above reasons and considered him a mentor both politically and spiritually.
But there is something more I need to add, because I think it is important.
Those who know me have joked about the fact that I’m in a church delivering a eulogy for a man of such deep Catholic faith. Why? Because I don’t subscribe to any faith.
I am, at best, an agnostic.
And yet, I considered Father Kayser a spiritual brother and guide.
I never saw Father Kayser use Catholicism as a litmus test. He did not allow it to be a barrier to communing with another human being. He refused to believe his faith, or any faith, laid claim to the absolute truth. And he realized goodness and truth could come from many backgrounds and schools of thought.
I think that is why my own approach to life was never an issue between us. In fact, from my perspective, I think it drew us closer. In the often polarized country in which we now live, I think there is a lesson and a beauty to that fact.
Returning to 2009, when Father Kayser was looking back at his 50 years in the priesthood, he quoted a priest who was asked what he had learned during his life.
“His conclusion at the end of his life was, ‘I learned God is much bigger than I thought she was.’ I would kind of like to adopt that,” Father said. “There are so little black and white answers to anything, even in our strict theology in the Catholic Church.”
I would like to close with a T.E. Lawrence quote that Father Kayser was fond of using:
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
Father Kayser was a man who dared to dream by day. And the world he has left behind is a better place for it.

(The following feature on yours truly appeared in the Jan. 23-29 edition of the Yankton County Observer. You have been warned. BUT, on a serious note, I do really want to thank the Observer staff for giving me the opportunity to air my thoughts in a public forum. It was an honor to be asked to be a part of their weekly “Off the Cuff” feature.)

Name: Nathan Johnson

Birthday: November 12, 1978

Birthplace: Osmond, Nebraska

NathanCropped3 1-06-2015Education: English and History degrees from Mount Marty College

Occupation: Communications Coordinator at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Family: Parents: Roy Jr. and Nancy Johnson; and brothers: Ben and Chris

Favorite childhood memory: Picking strawberries and eating them out of my mother’s or grandmother’s garden while taking a break from “work” on my sprawling backyard toy farm.

Growing up, I wanted to be an: astrophysicist or nuclear physicist (That was before I realized math is hard.)

First job: Feeding calves with my grandpa.

Prized possession: Whichever film, book or song I happen to be enjoying at any given moment …

All-time favorite movie: If you know me, you know this is an excruciating question for me to answer. So I hope you’ll be so kind as to let me parse my response. If we were to go by number of views, it would most likely be “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” That film was a comedic revolution in my world as a sixth grader, so it was studied endlessly. But if I could only take one film with me to the desert island, it might very well be Terrence Malick’s 2011 opus “The Tree of Life.” It would provide plenty to reflect upon as isolation tightened its grip upon my mind.

I would stay home to watch: “Doctor Who.” The Doctor is one of the greatest heroes I’ve ever encountered in fiction and is a role model for my life.

Best movie I’ve seen recently: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Best book I’ve read recently: “Love Letters to the Dead” by Ava Dellaira

Favorite author: Vladimir Nabokov. Why? Here is an example: “Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.”

Favorite sports team: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Favorite athlete: Teen Wolf from the classic 1985 Michael J. Fox vehicle, “Teen Wolf.”

Favorite performers: Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Samuel T. Herring (of Future Islands), comedian Doug Stanhope, Tim and Eric … and I’ll stop there because that’s where I need to take a breath …

Hobbies: Writing, blogging and consuming as much film, music and literature as my mind can handle. I also enjoy a good bourbon or scotch with friends.

Three things that can always be found in my fridge: cheese, salsa, beef sticks

If I have any warning, my last meal will be: Let’s assume I have short notice, so I’ve got to stay in town. It will be a grand buffet of Tokyo, Charlie’s Pizza, Mexico Viejo and El Tapatio. I feel sorry for the mortician, but a person shouldn’t go out on an empty stomach.

Least favorite food: Celery has always seemed rather pointless to me.

Greatest fear: That when I die, it will be on my porcelain “throne” in the “home office.” I’d like to die with some dignity, and I think it will be hard to accomplish in that situation.

Pet peeve: People who say, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s certainly true, but not in the way they mean it.

Three words that best describe me: Introverted, Curious, Kind (None of those bad words you associate with me, of course.)

People would be surprised to know I: have been listening to The Carpenters a lot recently. I love Karen’s voice.

My girlfriend says I: I am single, but my hypothetical girlfriend would say I should stay. I’ll let Brett Anderson of Suede explain: “And oh if you stay/ I’ll chase the rain-blown fields away/We’ll shine like the morning and sin in the sun/Oh if you stay/We’ll be the wild ones, running with the dogs today.”

I hope I never have to: hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” again. Please. Have mercy on me.

I’ve never been able to: figure out the contents of my Great American Novel. They are very elusive and don’t respond to threats.

I wish I could stop: succumbing to the shackles of self-doubt. Also, I wish that, deep in my heart, I could believe there is something funnier in this world than flatulence. But every time I think I’ve dug down far enough to excavate that weakness for juvenile humor, someone let’s out a squeaker and I am left breathless and in tears from the ensuing laughter. I guess thousands of years of evolution have made us all comedians.

I’m better than most at: listening.

I could be better at: listening. Really, there is so much power in listening to people. And, sometimes, after listening to someone, you’ve got to have the strength to tell them that maybe they should talk less and listen more. Active listening also requires action.

I’m proud that: I survived a real-life sh** storm. Stop laughing. It’s true. Please refrain from referring to your “crappy week” around me. It triggers flashbacks.

I regret: that I often allow my shyness, especially with people I don’t know, to prevent me from engaging with others who could probably teach me a lot and provide me with rich experiences.

Best time of my life: is any time I can gather with good friends and make them laugh. (Little-known fact: I have a sense of humor.)

Worst time of my life: was my grad school experience, which ultimately had me jumping out of the ivory tower for the refuge of the real world.

Most embarrassing moment: Growing up, I had a tendency to throw up occasionally in gym class or at football practice. People noticed.

The most interesting place I’ve traveled to: Austin, Texas, always provides me with fun, thought-provoking and, as advertised, weird experiences.

If I could travel in time, I would visit: the year 2100 to see how climate change has impacted the earth and humanity. Maybe we’ll have found a way to counteract it. Or maybe we’ll be wishing those stubborn idiots at the beginning of the previous century (who, us?) had done more to cut carbon emissions.

I’d like to have a dollar for every time I: hear people say they don’t want to see a raise in any taxes. I could donate them to school districts across South Dakota and end our education funding crisis that the majority of our state’s residents don’t seem all that interested in addressing. If they were, it wouldn’t be getting worse after all these years. That’s not to say that taxes alone are the answer, but they will almost certainly play a role. That’s my stinger for the evening, folks. Good night! You’ve been a terrific audience.

The most interesting person I’ve met was: Father Leonard Kayser, my great uncle. I’ve always looked up to him as a man who advocates for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others. He recognizes human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he has offered understanding and encouragement to those struggling with those realities.

Worst idea I’ve ever had: It’s hard to single out one, but how about the time I chose to slide down a piece of a metal grain bin with my hand on its sharp edge? That resulted in some screams for Mom and stitches in three fingers.

Behind my back, friends say that: if I were a flavor of ice cream, I’d be more cookies and cream than vanilla.

Major accomplishment: I’ve earned the friendship of some really great, supportive people in my life who keep me grounded, optimistic and inspired.

Future goal: Yeah, I will take more of the above, please. … And I’d like to run for public office.

A great evening to me is: good friends, good food, good spirits and … I should probably stop there.

When nobody’s looking, I: make hand gestures in front of electric doors in order to create for myself the illusion that I have super powers. It’s a real thrill.

The best thing about my job is: I am able to help a non-profit organization provide health care on a daily basis. It is important work, and I am proud of what 15,000 Avera employees are able to accomplish every day.

The most challenging thing about my job is: that, at the age of 36, I’m having to exercise parts of my brain I haven’t used in a while. I’m in a new environment that demands different skills, so I’ve been trying to get into a new groove.

The thing I like most about Yankton is: it feels like home.

Something I’d like to see changed in the area is: more of a focus on public art and public spaces that bring people together, inspire them and, therefore, strengthen our communities socially and economically. Those are features that can truly give communities an identity and help them create a lasting legacy.

One thing that really makes me angry is: how income and wealth inequality are causing our society to fragment and grow more desperate. This inequality has led to a decline in fairness and opportunity in many respects for the vast majority of people who live in this country and other places around the world facing the same challenges. A steady stream of studies is showing how destructive the accumulation of wealth into too few hands has on society. Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to be sparking any serious re-evaluations of our economic system.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s: that kindness is more important that intelligence, beauty or any other attributes humans often long to attain. A little kindness can go a long way, and a lot of kindness would make this world a much more hospitable place for humans during their relatively short stay on it.

If I had something to do over, I would: probably procrastinate too long to do it over.

I can die happy once I’ve: come to terms with the insignificance of mankind in the scheme of the universe. So much human struggle is tied to the idea that there is something that makes us exceptional. I think it’s important for us to recognize that ultimately we are no more significant than anything else we may encounter — a dog, a flower or a cloud. Everything is made from the same stuff. We are exceptional in the sense that we have the intelligence and drive to destroy things on a large scale. Therefore, I think we are charged with using what intelligence we have as humans to cooperate with each other — to be kind to one another — and preserve and protect the world that surrounds us. Once I truly comprehend all of that, I’ll be able to die happy. I’ve got some work to do!

At my funeral, I hope people say: I’m glad we aren’t having ham sandwiches again at a funeral. This sushi is great! By the way, what is this green stuff in the rolls? Soylent green, you say? Wow, that’s delicious. What great taste Nathan had. Wait! Taste? Nathan? Soylent green!? (Cue the “Twilight Zone” music …)