Last night, the Aberdeen City Council interviewed the four applicants for the southeast district council seat vacated by Laure Swanson last month. David Novstrup, Carl Perry, Dennis “Mike” Olson, and Liz Hannum sat as a panel for eight questions. The council will consider the candidates’ responses, rank the candidates, and vote on a replacement August 8.
Let’s simplify the ranking by helping the commission agree on a last-place choice: David Novstrup. The young retiring Republican Senator has a clear conflict of interest, his Thunder Road amusement park, which thrives thanks to its exclusive long-term lease with the city at publicly owned Wylie Park. Novstrup attempted to address that conflict of interest on this blog earlier this month, in his usual tedious politispeak:
I want to address your post about Thunder Road. I currently own a small percentage of Wylie Thunder Road’s shares and I am currently the general manager. If the council views this as a possible conflict for me I will sell my shares to another owner. The current contracts are not up for review by the city of Aberdeen until 2027 as Wylie Thunder Road has options to renew the current leases until 2027 [Sen. David Novstrup, comment, Dakota Free Press, 2016.07.07].
Novstrup gave a similar answer at last night’s council interview:
When it comes to any potential conflicts of interest, Novstrup was the first to admit he has a perceived conflict of interest as general manager of Thunder Road. This business is in Wylie Park, which means they contract with the city of Aberdeen for use of the space. Novstrup said the business’ current contracts with the city expire in about 12 years. He also owns shares in Thunder Road.
“I will sell those shares if it’s perceived as a conflict,” he said [Elisa Sand, “Candidates Make Pitch for City Council Seat,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.07.26].
Note that Novstrup does not admit that serving on the council whose lease agreement butters his bread for the next twelve years is a conflict of interest. Other people only perceive it to be a conflict of interest. Subtext: David Novstrup is oh-so-generous, making a sacrifice to comfort others, even though he doesn’t have to, because perceived means not real.
At least that’s Novstrup’s perception.
Now to whom would Novstrup sell his shares? I haven’t seen Thunder Road on the stock ticker, so I don’t think it’s a publicly traded company. When Thunder Road’s website says Thunder Road is “family owned,” I must conclude the shareholders are Novstrup and his family. To whom do you think David will sell his shares?
Novstrup ignores the fact that probably no one outside of his family business knows how many shares he owns in the four-site Thunder Road empire and that any perceptions of conflict of interest come from his status as general manager of the Aberdeen facility. Regardless of his ownership status, Novstrup’s seasonal income (not to mention Legislature-skipping winter convention trips to Florida) depends on the city’s continued support of Thunder Road’s concession at Wylie Park. Selling shares (to his dad Al or anyone else) does not remove the real conflict of interest that any objective observer correctly perceives.
Do David a favor, City Council. Don’t make him sell his shares in Thunder Road. Don’t drag him into more strained and dissembling public oratory. Pick someone else for the council vacancy who’s not living off taxpayer favors.