The Aberdeen City Council helped David Novstrup avoid any perception of conflict of interest by rejecting his application and picking Dennis “Mike” Olson to fill the city council vacancy created by Laure Swanson’s abdication. Olson came out on top of the council members’ ranking the three remaining applicants (Olson, Novstrup, and Carl Perry—Liz Hannum withdrew last week). The council gave Olson the job with a unanimous vote.
The council appears to have chosen age and experience. Olson, now semi-retired, served as Edmunds County Sheriff from 1979 to 1995 and Aberdeen code enforcement officer from 2003 to 2014. In 2013, the South Dakota Municipal League named Olson its Code Enforcement Officer of the Year. Since leaving his previous Aberdeen post, Olson has served as a code consultant for other communities.
Olson takes a seat vacated by Laure Swanson following her decision to avoid a conflict of interest and clear the way for her electrician husband to do more than $5,000 of business with the city. Interestingly, councilman and businessman Todd Campbell says the Legislature needs to loosen our conflict-of-interest restrictions:
Councilman Todd Campbell, who is a business owner himself, said her early departure from the council was unfair.
“I’m not happy with our state legislature,” he said. “The law has to be changed. It affects a lot of people who could be sitting up here. It’s a sad day when a person like you can’t be on the council because you do business with the city” [Elisa Sand, “Mike Olson Selected as Council Appointee,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.08.09].
Um, Todd? Doing business with the city—making one’s living on a contract the City Council must approve, as David Novstrup does—is one of the most obvious, basic, and smart reasons not to allow someone to serve on the City Council. We don’t want a Vice-President working as CEO of a big federal contractor. We don’t want a Governor running an insurance company that handles insurance contracts for state agencies. We don’t want city councilors voting for contracts at council meetings then going to work the next day to cash the five-figure check the city just wrote to their own business. We can like all of those people, but we can still draw clear ethical lines that require those likable people to make some choices between public service and private profit.
And consider: even though you lost one councilor to conflict-of-interest rules, you got four applicants to replace her, three of whom were qualified for the job.