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AAN: Mayor Schaunaman Has Conflict of Interest, Should Withdraw City Rebranding Bid

Weekend before last, Production Monkeys boss and Mayor Travis Schaunaman used his weekly mayor’s column in the Aberdeen American News to urge the public to support his advertising company’s bid to redesign the city’s logo and slogan.

AAN’s editors say Mayor Schuanaman has a conflict of interest and should withdraw from the bidding for that contract:

Still, it’d not fair to ask those representing the agencies to pick among a group of bidders that includes a company owned by a city leader. Even if they don’t know which proposal came from which designer, they might be able to tell based on past experience or what they know about each bidder. Even the possibility of exposing the people who have to make the call to such pressure doesn’t seem right.

…There’s an old adage newspaper people love. Don’t just avoid overt conflicts of interest, but even the appearance of a conflict. There’s no use in giving people reason to be suspicious when it can be avoided. That seems to apply in this case.

We hope the mayor negotiates this curve smoothly and rethinks his position even if this conflict isn’t overt [editorial, “Mayor’s Company Should Bow out of Rebranding Effort,” Aberdeen American News, 2019.08.24].

The editorial notes that Mayor Schaunaman says there’s no conflict, in part because the rebranding project was “in the works prior to my election as mayor.” That is technically true: the Request for Proposals went out on June 4, the day of the election. But Schaunaman knew he was headed for power that night. He’d have known there’d be a conflict of interest when the Chamber and its partners considered bids after the initial deadline of June 28, and he knew full well there was a conflict of interest in using his mayoral column to promote his company’s bid on August 17.

The AAN editors have it right: Mayor Schaunaman needs to pulls his company from this bid for City Promotion Fund dollars immediately.


  1. Scott 2019-08-26

    The citizen of Aberdeen should also demand unbiased proof that these type of advertising programs actually have an impact. I suspect these advertising programs were started by advertisers to drum up business for themselves. Politicians and community leaders are too easy to sway when it comes to things like this and before you know it taxpayer money is being spent.

    Aberdeen is no longer a regional shopping center like it was in the past. Aberdeen no longer has unique stores to attract people to Aberdeen. Aberdeen has to change how it attracts people to the city. I would suggest remaining business work together to bring people to Aberdeen. As an example this past weekend, run promotions that not only bring people to Aberdeen, but keep them in town overnight such as an after car show event and reduced lodging for car show participants. If you could have gotten car show participants to stay overnight, that would have generated sales on Sunday morning.

    I feel the chamber should not be concerned with catch phrases or light pole banners, but instead concentrate on bringing businesses together to create promotions across a wide verity of business types and events that would keep people in Aberdeen longer. For example, providing tickets to NSU events if you purchase a prescribed dollar amount of merchandise. This could be further expanded with reduced lodging costs to get people to stay the night. If you can get people to stay the night, people will spend more money in Aberdeen the next day.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-26

    Scott, the only proof that these city branding programs boost economic development is in the bank accounts of the marketers who convince cities they need such programs… and that they need to rebrand every ten years.

    Advertising is useless if you don’t have something to advertised. Our real brand is what regular folks really think of us. If we have a mayor who uses his position to secure contracts for his ad company, people will think we’re just like Trump using his office to bring business to his Miami golf resort… although maybe that will make some people like Aberdeen more.

    I am curious: where’s the sweet spot that allows subsidized motel rooms to generate more sales tax revenue than they cost?

  3. Debbo 2019-08-26

    Let me guess, Schaunaman is GOP?
    Does the “G” stand for Grifter or Gouger?

  4. Caroline 2019-08-27

    Speaking of conflict of interest- how do you feel about a county commissioner who volunteers to be on a committee to do a wage study of county employees. The discovery was that our county employees needed big raises. Coincidentally, this guy’s wife is a county employee AND he did not abstain from voting for the increase. Some citizens raised concerns, but other commissioners did not feel there was a conflict of interest.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-27

    Debbo, yes, our three GOP legislators all backed him. The local GOP packed City Hall to applaud his official swearing in.

    Caroline, do the state’s conflict-of-interest statutes mention spouses of officials? Even if they don’t, the appearance is bad.

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