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Schaunaman Strikes Out Again, Uses Mayoral Column to Deny Conflict of Interest and Promote Logo Bid

To prove that he has no conflict of interest, Aberdeen Mayor Travis Schaunaman uses the privilege of his weekly mayor’s column in my local paper to argue at length that he and his again prominently named company have no legal reason not to bid for city promotion fund dollars to (unnecessarily) redesign Aberdeen’s “Write Your Story” slogan and logo that he has publicly denigrated as obsolete and outsidery.

Mayor Schaunaman manages three strikes in this morning’s defense. First, he reminds the Chamber, Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Downtown Association that they’d better choose wisely or the city could pull their funding:

Once allocated, the council provides no direction for the money dispersed. Should it be misspent for purposes other than requested, the council has no authority to do anything about it. It would simply have to respond by adjusting funding amounts for future requests from that organization [Mayor Travis Schaunaman, “Logo Proposal Not a Conflict of Interest,” Aberdeen American News, 2019.08.31].

For strike two, Mayor Schaunaman twins this subtle threat with buttering up:

I’ve worked with the groups who market the city for more than a decade. The people in those organizations are standup individuals with the best interest of the city in mind at all times [Schaunaman, 2019.08.31].

And for strike three, Mayor Schaunaman avers that he is not a BS artist… by reminding us that he is a professional BS artist:

I am a marketer, not a politician [Schaunaman, 2019.08.31].

Ah, yes, there’s nothing like seeing the mayor of your town use his mayoral privilege to emphasize that being mayor isn’t his first job.

Mayor Schaunaman doesn’t rebut the fact that, beyond the question technical legal question of whether a sitting mayor can bid for city dollars that have been transferred to quasi-private city marketing entities, he has now twice in one month used his weekly column, a mayoral privilege not available to any other bidder or resident of this community, to promote his private business.

The conflict is there, Mayor Schaunaman. But as your strike-out shows, you just can’t see it… or just don’t want the taxpayers into whose pockets you are reasching to see it.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-08-31 07:05

    Outsidery? What’s the new slogan, “Keep it in the Family?”

  2. Donald Pay 2019-08-31 09:38

    I have a problem with anyone double dipping. I don’t like it when I see people double dipping in the guacamole, and I don’t like it when sleazy politicians double dip taxpayer funds

    For Christ sake, the guy was elected Mayor. If he’s Master Marketeer, as he says he is, he would be looking for ways to take marketing inside his office, and save taxpayers a heap of money. I think, really, the guy wants to enrich himself at the expense of the taxpayer. Why bill this out to a private firm when Master Marketeer is sitting in the mayor’s chair, collecting a taxpayer handout already? How about this for a slogan: DO YOUR GODDAMN JOB!

    Everyone who is elected brings some sort of skills to the job. He seems to be suggesting that the elected elite deserve double the money for doing their jobs.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-08-31 09:55

    Hear, hear Donald Pay.

  4. Debbo 2019-08-31 21:54

    A less greedy politician would have dropped out graciously to avoid the appearance of chicanery. Obviously Schaunaman is a more greedy politician whose motto is “Ethics, schmethics. I do what I want!”

  5. A Waldner 2019-08-31 22:18

    I see nothing detriment in what the mayor is proposing, quite the opposite as I’ve dealt with his company in the past and know they offer a professional service at a very competitive price point. That to me is to the taxpayers advantage.

  6. Aberdonian (original handle; now going by Barbara Johnson in the rest of this post) 2019-09-01 05:13

    The Mayor’s job is a part time position that only pays $15,000 per year. The city is run by a city manager under the direction of the city council. I believe the manager makes over $100,000 a year. Do your homework about the city charter, Corey.

    Are You all mad that the new mayor was elected by a 2 to 1 margin. The people of Aberdeen knew what was going on in the previous administration and voted to change it.

    Your rants are out of touch and misinformed, Corey

  7. Ryan Kelly 2019-09-01 08:43

    I think if you hooked Travis Schaunaman up to a polygraph, he would really believe he is doing the right thing. But that’s politicians for you. It’s only “the appearance of a conflict of interest” if it’s someone else’s business ties. When it’s your connections being questioned, it’s all about what is legal by the strictest letter of the law.

  8. Timothy Even 2019-09-01 09:30

    Life is good in Aberdeen. The city without limits

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-01 19:14

    Ryan, I take no position on what actually lies within the impenetrable recesses of an elected official’s mind. I look only at the observable moral nature of their actions. What Mayor Schaunaman may or may not believe does not change the fact that his actions constitute a conflict of interest. If he believes they don’t, he needs to change his beliefs… or we need to change mayors… already, just two months in.

  10. Ryan Kelly 2019-09-01 19:58

    What lies within the impenetrable recesses of this particular elected official’s mind doesn’t matter. If enough people believe, as you do, that this is a legally actionable conflict of interest, Mayor Schaunaman will have to defend himself against a lawsuit. Whether a judge or jury determines that the Mayor is correct or not, it will take an enormous amount of time and money — taxpayer money — to defend himself. And I am not okay with our mayor putting the taxpayer’s money at risk in such a manner.

    If this is a conflict of interest, then it is blatantly illegal; res ipsa loquitur. If this is merely the appearance of a conflict of interest, I can see no reason to go forward outside of arrogance and vanity.

    Besides which, there are only two individuals ultimately vying for this bid. One of them is the mayor and the other has council member Rob Ronayne on retainer. If the mayor doesn’t have clean hands, then neither does Troy McQuillen.

    Count me in the “let’s keep the logo just the way it is” camp.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 06:44

    A Waldner, the quality of Travis Schaunaman’s work has no bearing on determining whether his now-repeated use to tout the quality of that work in the weekly column he gets as a privilege of being mayor is a conflict of interest.

    Ryan Kelly, some people are drawing a false equivalency between Schaunaman and McQuillen. Rob Ronayne is not lobbying to receive a taxpayer-funded contract. He is not saying, “Give the contract to my friend/client McQuillen.” And Rob Ronayne is not using the title and privilege of his office to promote his own interest. Schaunaman is.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 06:47

    One “Aberdonian” above also errs in logic (and presumes to attack me by name while hiding hers/his): the amount the mayor is paid has no bearing on determining a conflict of interest. The mayor could be paid nothing, and using mayoral title and privilege to promote his business would still be a conflict of interest.

    Also irrelevant to the ethical/legal nature of the Mayor’s action are the emotions of the Aberdonian. I could just as easily yet fruitlessly dismiss her/his statement because she is happy that Schaunaman was elected. The law and city Code of Ethics and other applicable ordinances say nothing about the emotions of the accusers or the accused.

  13. Barbara Johnson 2019-09-02 13:19

    Do you want to argue or report the news, Cory?
    Lots of opinion in your posts. Very little verifiable fact.

  14. 96Tears 2019-09-02 14:38

    Well, Babs! If you’re going to give Cory a slap, you’re going to have to be a whole lot more specific other than your blanket statement that he produces “lots of opinion in your posts. Very little verifiable fact.”

    You’re the one doing the slapping, so spit it out Barbara. Tell us, if you can.

    I found this post as factual as anyone can to state the facts without being able to read minds. Conflicts of interest are rather common, as is sleaze in all levels of government. Mayor Schaunaman seems to think people are dumb and will go along with anything if spun convincingly.

    After all, he’s “a marketer, not a politician.”

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 15:34

    Thanks, 96!

    I want to do both: report the news and argue for good honest government that serves the people, not its leaders. I do both reasonably well… and it’s far more civically useful and spiritually healthy than ignoring facts, hailing Caesar, and making excuses for corruption and abuses of power.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 15:37

    And stop right there: Barbara Johnson is “Aberdonian” from above. She is attempted to sock puppet, posting under one name, then, when unable to respond effectively to my critique of her misapplied defense of Mayor Schaunaman, jumping in under a different handle so it doesn’t look like she’s avoiding the successful challenge to her original point and so it looks like more than one person supports her view. That’s cheating, Barbara. Stick with one identity, or we can’t take you seriously… and you’ll create the impression that Mayor Schaunaman wins the support of people like him who don’t follow ethical rules.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 15:41

    The fact is this: elected officials shouldn’t use their position to promote their private businesses’ bids for taxpayer-funded contracts. That’s a conflict of interest.

    That fact should be reported far and wide.

  18. Barbara Johnson 2019-09-02 16:01

    My original post was made under Aberdonian as I thought that was accepted practice on this blog

    When asked for my identity I immediately provided it both to you privately, Cory, and publicly on your blog. I am not hiding anything.

  19. Barbara Johnson 2019-09-02 16:30

    Well, Cory could provide the specific part of the ordinance he thinks is being violated. Not a blanket statement there is a conflict.

    Just because the now Mayor was asked to bid before he took office may not actually be a conflict under the specific ordinance. Likewise, the newspaper asked the new mayor for one column. There is nothong on stone that says he is required to write it. But, he did and many people saw this as beong open and forthright in an attempt to explain the process.

    Reasonable people may disagree. They don’t insult or denigrate those with views they don’t agree with.

    And, by the way, my name is Barbara.

    No contract has been awarded.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 18:34

    So, Barbara does want to argue, but she doesn’t want me to. Sounds fair.

    Barbara, the question is simple, and you’ve ignored persistently: is it ethical for an elected official to use the privileges of office to promote his private business and to promote his bid for a taxpayer-funded contract? I welcome arguing, but you should answer the question being argued first.

    The Request for Proposals was issued June 4, Election Day. The Mayor promoted his bid in his weekly column on August 17, well after he took office. That’s the salient fact here, which the mayor and his apologists continue to ignore.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 18:37

    In most places, behavior like this from elected officials would result in immediate criticism. But in South Dakota, where we elect people to affirm our prejudices and party loyalty, such ethical thinking is rare. One might be tempted to think that EB-5 and GEAR UP are contagious… or that one-party rule enables unchecked immorality.

  22. Barbara Johnson 2019-09-02 18:47


    Now you are providing facts, Cory. Time, Date, etc.. Plus a whole lot more opinion.

    But, you still have not explained how these particular facts violate the actual text of our city ordinance. Does the ordinance say anything about bidding? That the mayor is required or not to write the newspaper column? Under what circumstances? What is the appropriate way for the mayor to disclose his actions. Would you prefer he skip the column and take action s in private or secret?

    What exactly does the ordinance say…???!

    There are lots of facets to this. You keep going after the mayor by tossing around grandiose generalities. You can do better.

    Why don’t you stick to a what some may see as the boring and dull facts.

  23. DR 2019-09-03 13:11

    Why are you also not writing about Councilman Ronayne and his conflict with Troy McQuillen and his business MCG. He is his attorney and they are personal friends. I am less concerned about the friends part b/c well, its not always what you know, its who. But it doesn’t pass the smell test to me that Mr Ronayne is bringing this up when he knows damn well is buddy and client will benefit from the mayor and his PM business. While Mr Ronayne may feel his heart is in the right place, him and his relationship with McQuillen doesnt pass the smell test either. But hey…what do I know?


  24. Barbara Johnson 2019-09-03 13:37

    Thank you for posting this DR.

    The situation involving Councilman Ronayne may actually be covered by the South Dakota Bar Association Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Especially sections 1.1 1.2, 1/3 and 1.7 and 1.9

    Cornell University published the code in their law school web site

    These rules are enforced by the State Bar Association Ethucs Committe and the South Dakota Supreme Court.

    They would be the ones to decide if Councilman Ronayne had a conflict.

  25. Troy McQuillen 2019-09-04 19:02

    Clean hands???

    Not cool Ryan. Not cool.

  26. Barbara Johnson 2019-09-04 19:54

    Missed you at the City Commission meeting last night. You missed the opportunity to speak with the 50 plus people who were there. How do you know they were all Republicans? Maybe they were just a whole group of concerned Aberdonians.

    Let’s make it clear you are rewiring (selectively) the Aberdeen American News and adding a healthy dose of opinion

    I hope in the future you actually attend the meetings you are writing about.

Comments are closed.