David Novstrup Says We Just “Perceive” Thunder Road/City Council Conflict of Interest

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].

Quit staring at the papers, David. Look the voters in the eye and answer the question: yea or nay on HB 1182?
David, ever read Bishop Berkeley? He said there is nothing but mind and idea… so perception is reality, right?

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.

26 Responses to David Novstrup Says We Just “Perceive” Thunder Road/City Council Conflict of Interest

  1. What about Carl Perry’s conflict as president of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber does all the promotional work for the city. I see that as a true conflict of interest! Would Mr Perry step down from his position at the chamber if selected.

    Let me ask you this Cory. Does it scare you that if David sits on the city council, he will resign his seat as the senator of dist 3, to which the governor will appoint his replacement? Would he choose Al Novstrup as his replacement and then in turn place Drew Dennert as Al’s replacement? It would put an already uphill battle for the democrats in D3 even harder against all “incumbents”

  2. Cory, if Thunder Road already has contracts in place with lease terms established until 2027, what true conflict would Novstrup have if he wasn’t even voting on his own lease? Even if that lease did come up, simply being on the Council itself isn’t the conflict – voting on any item which he or his family has an interest in is the conflict, in which case why couldn’t he simply recuse himself from participating in any such vote?

    Are you sure your opinion Novstrup is really centered on this potential conflict, or is this due to other political opinions you disagree with?

  3. Craig…NAILED IT

  4. DR, if that Chamber role is contractual, if Carl makes a living off it, then yes, that conflict is problematic as well.

    Your resignation/appointment chain is an unpleasant scenario. But maybe we can flip the fear: Governor Daugaard would see a chance to boost his agenda by appointing me to the seat to guarantee a solid YES vote for his Medicaid expansion plan. ;-)

  5. Craig, I disagree with David about plenty of policy positions. He has presented himself in public as a brittle, defensive, and ineffective public speaker. I don’t think he adds value as a Senator or as a city councilor. In this case, we have three other candidates who may offer better representation of constituent interests without our having to figure out if the councilor is just occupying a seat to protect his obvious business interest.

    Craig, you do raise a fair point about the nature of the lease. The Novstrups apparently have the option to renew the lease through 2027. But even if they are locked in, it seems there could still be plenty of other decisions the city can make about Wylie Park that would have a significant effect on the Thunder Road business model.

  6. I can’t speak to his policy positions or his demeanor, so it is very possible he is worthy of being ranked four out of four. However the conflict of interest issue doesn’t seem to strong here because he could easily recuse himself if ever necessary.

    Granted if he refused to recuse himself or tried to claim there was no conflict on matters which clearly impact Wylie Park, then there would be a problem. Perhaps the fact that he would need to voluntarily recuse himself is reason enough to pass on his selection, but I’ll have to leave that up to the Aberdeen Council.

    Perhaps several of the other candidates are a better fit and this would be a non-issue, but I have witnessed a pattern that suggests anyone with prior political experience has an advantage over those who do not. The Sioux Falls City Council has experienced this as well – sometimes I wonder if name recognition is more important than taking a stance on the issues. At least in this case the vote is up to the Council and not the public.

  7. Craig, if I thought Novstrup had done anything or learned anything from his previous political experience, I might agree with your point. But Novstrup wasn’t a leader in Pierre. He didn’t plow new ground. He didn’t show much curiosity or originality. He just did what he was told. Someone waiting to be told what to do or to get signals from party leaders is not what Aberdeen needs. We need decision-makers, not party boys who can’t even acknowledge that making a living on a city contract represents a genuine conflict of interest.

  8. Is there something wrong with having a conflict of interest? I don’t know much about the younger Mr. Novstrup, who seems like a pretty swell fellow if not quite as swell as his dad, but I doubt he would act in a conduct unbecoming.

    Everybody has conflicts of interest. They just need to be up-front about them and disclose them and recluse themselves into caves when things come up.

    I mean, if you are barred from serving if you just HAVE a conflict of interest then I say kick every teacher and farmer out of the legislatures. Or bar them from voting on any education issue.

  9. Exactly Mr. Grudznick, a conflict of interest is really nothing to be concerned with. So you get a few thousand or a few hundred thousand or even millions like Joop. Why should we care? After all it is government money and who the hell is the government? Not like it has anything to do with you or me.

  10. Mr. jerry, you clearly don’t grasp the situation. People have conflicts of interest. When they do, they need to be up front about them and then not take advantage of the situation. You should pay closer attention to the real world where I lived, back in the day.

  11. Although, after thinking about Mr. jerry’s thought line a little further, somebody should bring one of those initiated measure things to propose a constitutional amendment to ban all farmers and teachers and especially fat-cat administrators from being able to serve in the legislatures. Or if you were a teacher, farmer, or fat-cat administrator or you have any of those in your family in the past 10 years. They cannot serve in the legislatures. Conflict of interest.

  12. mike from iowa

    Ask self-smothering Scalia about conflicts of interest,Grudz. He accepted all kinds of freebie vacations from people/businesses that had cases in front of Scalia at the Soopreme Court. The last night of his life he was at a ranch (free, of course) of a close friend who just had a case decided by the Scotus in his favor. Guess which Scalia voted in favor?

  13. Mike, you are from Iowa so your opinion automatically doesn’t matter. Sorry.

  14. Why farmers and teachers in the sight of not being able to serve. Can’t reasonable honest people recuse themselves from a vote that they could see direct benefits from? Me, I want a teacher on board who knows education to be able to get the best deal for all involved. Me, I want a farmer or rancher who knows the land and animal husbandry to make the clear choices about our direction. What I do not want is someone like Mickelson who could give a damn about real ag and only sees the dollar signs for confinement that soils the land and water.

    Regarding this man in Aberdeen, he is clearly getting a benefit from the government regarding his business. Be that family or not, he recognizes that fact and says that he will “sell his shares” so that he does not seem like it is an impropriety. He should just move on so that there can be no question about how his business is being run regarding his position, as it would be like selling from his left hand to his right hand.

  15. mike from iowa

    We can agree you are sorry alright, Grudz.

  16. owen reitzel

    Grudz doesn’t like teachers because he thinks they’re over paid.

    Don’t know what his problems are with farmers

  17. Farmers have a conflict of interest, Mr. reitzel. They serve in the legislatures and they vote on mil levies and agricultural issues. That, sir, is a conflict of interest. If they were to admit they have a conflict like younger Mr. Novstrup has and then recuse themselves from voting then they would be OK.

    Teachers, frankly, aren’t savvy enough to understand the situation.

  18. Now this Mr. Grudznick would appear to my tired eyes, like a conflict of interest. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/07/the_dnc_hack_is_watergate_but_worse.html

    Whose interests, you may ask? It surely is not in our best interest, like me for sure. You, I cannot make a clear call right now.

  19. It has been 12 years since I called the Hub City home. I was fortunate to be able to get to know Carl Perry and I would hope that he would receive the appointment. Carl is a relentless promoter, advocate, and ambassador for Aberdeen. I wish that Sioux Falls could find someone like Carl Perry to be on our city council. Carl is a good man and loves Aberdeen. You would be foolish not to have him serve on the council.

  20. mike from iowa

    Grudz sounds like a frosted,mini-Drumpf wingnut.

  21. Not that this should factor into the Council’s decision on Swanson’s replacement, but there is great irony in the fact that Republican Novstrup’s business depends so much on the support of a government entity.

  22. Grudznick—Seems like there is lots of teaching jobs out there for a talented guy like you. You better go apply —try 2nd grade for a year and then head up to middle school for a year or two. Take on that easy high paying job and take 20 to 30 kids under your wing and inspire them to learn and make them get your respect. I don’t think that after inspiring kids for a few years that you would say that teachers are not savvy. That’s kind of insulting and you should find out so you know better. You seem like you have a lot of time on your hands.

  23. Mr. H (Jon), I have done my share of teaching and I never whined like the teachers do today. I do have much time as I’m mostly a fat lazy fellow these days.

    But it is the other Mr. H, the one who blogs here, who established that conflicts of interest prevent teachers from being able to be in the legislatures. It was not I. Did you know that there is no bigger group of whiners in any state than teachers? I have been studying this for some time and am working on a Sunday breakfast speech for the Conservatives with Common sense on the psychology of this. I think I will be applauded, mostly.

    But teachers cannot serve in the legislatures for they have a conflict of interest.

  24. mike from iowa

    Grudz-always the comedian, Conservatives with common sense. My, that is rich.

  25. Darin Larson

    Conservatives with Common sense breakfast speech in Rapid City? So, will it be a table for two or do you just sit at the counter and mumble to yourself?

    Teachers can’t serve in the legislature because they don’t have time for BS. They are too busy working hard to educate the next generation of Americans and dealing with all the challenges that go into that most important task.

  26. Grudz, we teachers have our own conflict of interest rules. We rightly cannot serve on our school boards. We cannot write ourselves contracts. Serving in the Legislature poses no such conflict. I will go to Pierre and fight for regionally competitive teacher pay, but from my District 3 Senate seat, I still won’t be able to write myself a 12-year contract with the Aberdeen school district.

    I will also encourage reform to the Session calendar to make it possible for more teachers to serve in the Legislature. We’d be a far better state if the Senate consisted entirely of teachers—and specifically, of debate coaches. :-)