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Aberdeeen Chamber Suspends Rebranding Bids Amid Conflict-of-Interest Concerns

If Aberdeen does need a new marketing campaign (and that’s still an open debate), Mayor Travis Schaunaman’s naked self-promotion has delayed its implementation. At Tuesday’s Aberdeen City Council meeting, Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce exec Gail Ochs said that the Chamber has suspended the bidding process.

Ochs told the Council that she asked City Attorney Ron Wager whether there would be any conflict of interest in granting the 100% taxpayer-funded marketing contract to Mayor Schaunaman’s company, Production Monkeys, and Wager said there would be no problem.* However, “We have since asked both agencies to halt any work on the project after the conflict of [interest] concern was raised.”

After her comments, Wager clarified that his advice to Ochs happened in an e-mail exchange on July 8.* That conversation happened several weeks before Mayor Schuanaman stuck his foot in the conflict-of-interest fire by using his mayoral privilege to publicly promote his bid to redesign the city logo and slogan.

Ochs did not say when or whether the Chamber will ask the two remaining bidders, Production Monkeys and McQuillen Creative Group, to resume work and submit their final designs. But if Mayor Schaunaman had just kept his mouth shut and not used his mayoral soapbox to rally the public to back his bid, the Chamber might have already chosen and gotten this supposedly necessary project underway.

*Update 12:49 CDT: Wager asked Ochs to make their July 8 e-mail exchange available to the public; Ochs has followed up and done so:

From: Gail Ochs
Sent: Monday, July 8, 2019 1:31 PM
To: Ron Wager
Subject: Meeting

HI Ron!  Would you have some time this week to meet with me to discuss conflicts of interest as it would pertain to promotion fund and the use of Production Monkey’s as Travis is our new Mayor?  I want to have clear direction and understanding in case there is ever an issue or perceived issue.


From: Ron Wager
Sent: Monday, July 8, 2019 2:32 PM
To: Gail Ochs
Subject: RE: Meeting

Hi, Gail,

I want to be careful here.  Given the number of groups applying for and receiving Promotion Fund dollars, it would set a bad precedent for me to sit down with any organization and advise them about whether a councilmember does or doesn’t have a conflict of interest.  Each councilmember – not the unelected organization, business, or employer – is responsible for identifying and disclosing conflicts and is welcome to discuss those matters with me if he has a concern or question.  Travis and I have visited about the city’s conflict of interest policy so I know he’s going to be vigilant about avoiding conflicts between his official duties and his business dealings.

Please call me if you still have questions about this.


[Gail Ochs and Ron Wager, e-mail exchange, 2019.07.08; provided by Ochs to Dakota Free Press 2019.09.05]

Read Wager’s e-mail carefully: he didn’t say Mayor Schaunaman has no conflict of interest in bidding for a taxpayer-funded contract. He said the mayor and other council members are responsible for identifying and disclosing conflicts. Wager said he had visited with the new mayor about conflicts of interest. He expressed his confidence that the mayor would be “vigilant about avoiding conflicts between his official duties and his business dealings.”


  1. Gloria Dahme 2019-09-07 20:29

    Is there anybody else that can submit logos?

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-07 22:11

    The original Request for Proposals set June 28 as the deadline for submitting bids; the Chamber and other decision-makers were to pick a winning bidder by July 31. But something came up that led the Chamber to have Schaunaman and McQuillen have a showdown to see who could come up with the better rebranding package. So I guess, up until the moment the Chamber suspended the process, only those two advertisers were in contention and other bids could not be submitted.

  3. Debbo 2019-09-08 12:27

    If Aberdeen feels like they must change logo and slogan, I suggest they adopt the same one Burnsville, a Minneapolis outer ring suburb, just did: “You Belong Here.” I see an outstretched hand.

    The City Council says it reflects the diverse and welcoming nature of the city. Of course, Aberdeen would need to work on building a diverse and welcoming nature. That would require ending those lying anti-Muslim road shows and the lying, racist politicians like Al Nosetrap who support the hate fests.

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