Boy, if anybody had a good reason for cutting newly elected Watertown mayor Sarah Caron’s pay, they didn’t bring it up at last night’s Watertown City Council meeting. With more than 50 residents packing the meeting room, and with Mayor Caron quietly recusing herself and letting council president Bruce Buhler conduct the debate, councilors unanimously killed dropping Caron’s pay to $69,360 from the $80,437.20 the council thought the man she beat, Steve Thorson, was worth.
Facing accusations that the council proposed the reduction because of alleged retribution against Caron as well as creating a gender pay gap, Council President Bruce Buhler rejected those accusations, telling the crowd measuring over 50 people that he was a little bit hurt.
Funny: the council is still hiding the agenda that motivated the pay cut.
Councilman Glen Vilhauer said the proposal came from the city finance office, and he commended them for bringing forward an idea that he voted against. That’s also funny: if I were a councilman, I wouldn’t commend my staff for bringing forward an idea with no policy brief explaining its justification, no apparent precedent in any government office (I’m still looking for an example of any jurisdiction that pays its elected executive or legislative officers based on experience or longevity—we sure didn’t do it with zero-experience Donald Trump!), and no broader application to other government positions (why no comparable cut for council members?) to prevent a controversy that makes my council look like a bunch of mean-spirited good old boys trying to attack a newly elected mayor.
If any members of the Watertown City Council were trying to knock Mayor Sarah Caron down a peg, they failed miserably. They turned out Caron supporters—informally polled by Buhler, nearly everyone in the audience raised a hand against the pay cut—and made themselves look bad, while Mayor Caron came out looking cool and mayoral.
To the victor usually go the spoils. But in Watertown, might the victor face some spoilsports?
At tomorrow night’s meeting, the Watertown City Council will consider Resolution 17-21 (agenda item #14), which would set the mayor’s salary at $69,360. That’s a reduction of 14% from the $80,437.20 that the council set just six months ago. Resolution 17-21 does not change any other city salaries, so it does not appear to be part of any broad cost-cutting measure. Resolution 17-21 does not indicate that the city is experiencing any major negative fiscal change necessitating this reduction.
Watertown mayor-elect Sarah Caron takes her new post Monday and is promising city staff a “clean slate“:
Caron said she doesn’t plan to make any staff changes at City Hall.
“I know there have been some rumors that I am going to come in and clean house,” she said, “but that’s not true. Everybody will start with a clean slate. My expectations will be communicated clearly, and everybody will be expected to meet them. I want everybody to feel comfortable telling me what their concerns are” [Roger Whittle, “Mayor-Elect Sarah Caron to Take over Reins Starting Monday,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.06.27].
The man she beat, outgoing mayor Steve Thorson, will get a cleaner slate, of sorts. As reported first and only on this blog last week, Thorson has two federal tax liens against him for almost $83,000 owed to the IRS for the 2006–2008 tax years. In addition, in 2011, the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, of the U.S. District Court granted Ace Hardware a civil judgment of $302,944.01 for Thorson’s failure (or, technically, the failure of his corporate shell SC Thorson Inc.) to pay for merchandise and services received under his contract to run an Ace Hardware store in Watertown between 2006 and 2010 and to satisfy guarantees made personally by Thorson and his wife Christine.
My check of the case documents on PACER indicates that Thorson never formally contested Ace’s complaint, and Judge Ronald A. Guzman granted Ace’s motion for default judgment on January 20, 2011.
More identifying information: New judgments and liens won’t go on credit reports unless they have a Social Security number or birthdate to go with the consumer’s name and address. Frequent updates: The bureaus will check for updates or new records at least once every 90 days.
Scrubbing old data: The bureaus will begin to remove previous entries that don’t meet the new standards.
The changes could affect about half of tax liens and almost all civil judgments now on reports, according to the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group representing the three major U.S. credit bureaus [Bev O’Shea, “Will Your Score Soar with Credit Report Changes?” Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2017.06.28].
Consumers can thank the CFPB, though anyone who wishes to do so might want to hurry because the agency is not a favorite of the new president.
…Before going, however, the CFPB did send a message to the three major credit bureaus for mistreating consumers. The CFPB has documented more than 186,000 consumer complaints about credit reporting and credit scores since July 2011, the most of any subject they handled.
Most of the griping was because of the nonchalant attitude credit bureaus had about mistakes on credit reports. Consumers felt like the bureaus didn’t take them seriously, even if they presented overwhelming proof that the information on reports was inaccurate.
The CFPB, which has been hounding the credit reporting industry for nearly six years on the subject, said things are improving.
“Because of our work, important improvements are being made,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “Much more work needs to be done, but our corrective actions are leading to positive changes that are benefiting consumers all over the country” [Bill Fay, “CFPB’s Deal with Credit Bureaus Could Raise 12 Million Scores,” Debt.org, 2017.04.04].
Steve Thorson, you need to think about your choice of political friends. Not only did you throw in with a PAC whose partisan caterwauling appears to have been counterproductive in your campaign, but your out-of-town pals are also trying to undermine the federal agency that may well be helping you clean up your credit report just as you reënter the private sector and maybe go looking for a loan to start a new business.
I know that Steve loves Watertown and he poured his whole life into being the mayor, and I want to thank him for his dedicated service to the city if Watertown as councilman for four years and as mayor for four years. He really gave it his all and to his credit, he deserves a huge word of thanks for that, and I give it to him, and I appreciate everything that he did [Mayor-Elect Sarah Caron, transcription of audio, in Mike Tanner, “Sarah Caron Elected Watertown Mayor,” KWAT Radio, 2017.06.20].
Complaining about “extremes” by some unnamed “they” seems odd for Thorson, who enjoyed at least tens of thousands of dollars worth of campaign intervention by Rushmore PAC, the out-of-town partisan campaign fund operated by South Dakota Republican Party chairman and Dakota Dunes bail bonds operator Dan Lederman. Rushmore PAC blanketed Watertown with pro-Thorson postcards, radio ads, newspaper ads, and canvassers. Thorson said he had nothing to do with Rushmore PAC’s activity in Watertown:
I have received requests for more information regarding the contributions from the Rushmore PAC and would like to respond to accusations that I am somehow responsible for the formation and contributions to this PAC. These accusations are completely false. From what I understand and gather, this PAC is involved with a number of local people that fear retaliation from the public in both their professional and personal lives to give their support to our campaign. If any of you follow social media you can attest that some comments can be quite harsh and with family and friends at arms length it can be a touchy subject. We have many people that have contributed directly to our campaign and thank those who support us directly and indirectly however we have no control over the content of this PAC. From what I have seen the PAC has not been negative and we hope their message stays with the positive direction we are running this campaign [Steve Thorson, “Statement Regarding The Rushmore PAC,” campaign Facebook post, 2017.06.15].
Rushmore PAC drew a strong rebuke from local newspaper publisher Mark Roby, who criticized “anonymous outside influencers” for playing D.C.-style politics in a local election. Last night 52% of voters seconded that rebuke of Lederman, his outside interference, and his political money laundering.
The hotly contested Watertown mayoral race comes to an end with voting on Tuesday, June 20… maybe. Touting the historical accuracy of its unscientific straw poll, the Watertown Public Opinion reported its respondents leaning toward challenger Sarah Caron over incumbent mayor Steve Thorson but only by five percentage points. With that narrow margin and third man Mike Davis to split the vote, Watertown may need a runoff to pick its mayor.
In Q&A with the WPO, Caron strikes three fiscally conservative notes over Mayor Thorson. Caron calls the new city hall Thorson wants to build a “luxury”. She advocates replacing the stoplights on Kemp Avenue downtown with cheaper four-way stop signs, while the mayor says the question “stumps me and warrants further research.” And not surprisingly, given that she brought to light the Mayor’s unauthorized use of a city vehicle, Caron says the city should not provide the mayor with a car on top of the mayor’s $80K+ salary and travel reimbursements.
Perhaps the loss of his misappropriated car has led Thorson to cut down his travel around town. After appearing at one city ballot forum with Caron and Davis on June 7, Thorson declined Caron’s invitation to a public debate dedicated to the mayoral race this week:
In an email to media outlets Monday afternoon, Thorson declined the invitation, saying any such debate would put him at an inherent disadvantage.
“As I stated earlier this month, I have no plan to participate in any further debates or forums with Sarah. She is fully aware I have a huge disadvantage in those settings, because Sarah can attack anything about me, or my record,” Thorson wrote. “The Chamber held their forum and there has been extensive coverage by all the media concerning the issue surrounding this election” [Dan Crisler, “No Takers in Caron’s Mayoral Debate Challenge,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.06.13].
…including the interest of Dan Lederman, whose Rushmore PAC is sending out two postcards, one claiming Caron is running for revenge against the city, which fired her for insubordination this year before she declared her bid for mayor, the other boosting Thorson:
Dan Lederman, chairman of the attack-loving South Dakota Republican Party, patron of SDGOP attack blog Dakota War College, sends a card telling others to keep “desperate attack politics in the gutter where they belong.” Oh, how rich.
“I have no limitations on discussing my termination and would like the public to know that, as my letter of termination states, I was fired for an act of insubordination in which I questioned my superior’s integrity,” she wrote. “This is true. I refused to look the other way while corners were cut on drainage requirements on a new development. There are many other issues that should be discussed and I will do so with or without the others on Wednesday evening” [Crisler, 2017.06.13].
There was a group of local contractors and developers that are afraid to put their name out there if she were ever to win this election, which I don’t believe she will, but if she were ever to win, the retaliation, the vindictive behavior that she puts out there, is just horrible, and they would be really concerned about their businesses and their livelihoods [Steve Thorson, audio in Mike Tanner, “Watertown Mayoral Candidates Make Late Pitch for Votes During Appearances on KWAT,” KWAT Radio, 2017.06.16].
I would think a candidate like Caron sounding fiscally conservative notes would be right up Dan Lederman’s ally. Instead, he launders money for local wheeler-dealers who want to launch anonymous attacks on behalf of a mayor who avoids public forums.
We’ll find out Tuesday whether these Rushmore PAC cards, funded by anonymous locals, can chip away Caron’s tenuous five-point straw poll lead.
It’s not just Washington, D.C., that needs a special prosecutor. Watertown mayoral candidate Sarah Caron says Watertown needs to appoint an independent investigator to figure out how her incumbent opponent, Mayor Steve Thorson, got a city car without any policy authorizing such mayoral use of city property:
“I am requesting an independent investigation,” she told the Public Opinion this morning. “The council can’t be unbiased; it is filled with his family and friends.”
The mayor’s son, Brad Thorson, represents Ward C on the council.
“The city must be able to trust its mayor to be responsible with all city resources,” Caron said. “It’s not appropriate to have that body do the investigating. It needs to be done by a unbiased third party.”
Mike Davis, who is also running for mayor, said the mayor did the right thing by giving up the car when questions arose.
“But somebody at City Hall should have known there was no policy for the mayor to have a city-owned car and stopped it before it happened,” Davis said..
This was an honest mistake. This was something that during the budget time, what we do is we hand down cars, and we hand down trucks, and we hand down lawn mowers so there isn’t that big expense to all the department heads and all the different departments. And when… Lee McPeek, our chief of police, was getting his four new cars, I said, because I was getting $250 a year for my expenses on the vehicle, and I said, What’s the chances of using one of your cars, and Lee says Well, he didn’t have a problem, but in hindsight, I should’ve looked at policy, I should’ve looked and seen if it was o.k. with the city council [Mayor Steve Thorson, transcribed from audio, “Watertown Mayor Takes Blame in Police Car Incident,” Hub City Radio, 2017.05.15].
Mayor Thorson has parked the city’s car until the city council decides whether to authorize a car for the mayor in the 2018 budget. Of course, by that time, it may be Mayor Caron considering procuring that used Dodge Charger for her trips around Watertown.