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Bunsness Admits Conflict of Interest, May Add to Busy Aberdeen Board of Ethics Schedule

Another member of the Aberdeen City Council has joined Mayor Travis Schaunaman in violating the city’s code of ethics. But the difference between councilman Dave Bunsness and the mayor is that the councilman himself brought up and admitted to his conflict of interest in a June demolition-permit vote:

In front of the council, Bunsness asked for advice moving forward and expressed his cooperation for whatever ruling was decided.

“This is embarrassing. This is an oversight on my part, sloppy work on my part. I need your assistance and that is, what should I do?” he said. “I want you to know that I don’t believe I’m above any policy or ordinance and if there needs to be more stringent whatever toward me then I’m accepting of that.”

One of the routes suggested to Bunsness after he spoke with [city attorney Ron] Wager was to file a complaint against himself to the city’s board of ethics and follow whatever steps imposed [Erin Ballard, “Aberdeen City Council: Conflict Discussion Turns to Bunsness {paywall},” Aberdeen American News, 2019.10.08].

File a complaint against himself? Now that’s a noble concept! It would demonstrate to Mayor Schaunaman, his gaggle of fevered Schaunamaniacs, and our impressionable youth how an elected official ought to take responsibility for his conduct. It would also demonstrate that ethics are not contingent on consequences. Ballard reports that the three votes in which Councilman Bunsness voted for his own business interests were all unanimous. His single vote thus did not secure for himself any special advantage or privilege (language from the city code of ethics, Section 5.f); nonetheless, his vote was unethical and warrants criticism and consequences from the Board of Ethics and the Council.

If Bunsness self-complains to the Board of Ethics, he may have to get in line. During the brief open session of the Board of Ethics at its September 30 meeting, the Board announced that it had two complaints before it, 19-01 and 19-02. It approved minutes for a September 16 meeting, which was held after its scheduled annual meeting on September 10. The Board held a second meeting on October 2, after the executive session of which it decided to meet again on October 17 at 1 p.m. (that meeting is mentioned on the Board of Ethics webpage, but the time is not given) and give notice to “Complainant #2”. The confidentiality rules of the Board of Ethics forbid it and the complainants from making any public statement about the complaints, but evidently the Board already has two complaints to process, the first in its brief existence. After just two meetings in two years, the Board of Ethics is now having five meetings in less than two months.

The Board of Ethics may be busy, but at least they’ll be practiced at procedure and can handle the Bunsness complaint more efficiently. If Bunsness does file a complaint against himself, he should do the community a favor, waive his right to confidentiality, and allow the Board of Ethics to conduct its examination of his conflict of interest in open session, so we may all see how the Board conducts its business and be assured that the process is fair and complete.


  1. DR 2019-10-09

    Please, he only admitted it b/c the AAN found it.

    According to current code, has the mayor violated anything since its the chamber, not the city. One thing no one has said anywhere is what is the potential value of the contract?

    AND the person who wrote this new ordinance is Mr Ronayne who has had a long term personal friendship with the owner of the company the would gain the most from the new ordinance. They have also done business together. To me, that doesn’t pass the smell test.

    In all reality, none of this does.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-09

    DR, you’re making bad analogies.

    The press hadn’t run a story on Bunsness’s conflcit of interest. They asked. He checked with the city attorney, realized he had erred, and admitted it on the record in council meeting.

    The press did run a story on Schaunaman’s conflict of interest. He has continued to deny thef acts of his self-promotion from the mayor’s platform.

    So far, Bunsness is honest; Schaunaman is not. We’ll see if Schuanaman follows through and files a complaint against himself with the Board of Ethics.

    Yes, the mayor has violated the code of ethics. He used his position to secure for himself an advantage in the competition for the bid to rebrand the city. He used his office for personal gain. Pretty simple. That violation has nothing to do with Ronayne or anyone else. The mayor’s action, in promoting his company’s bid, stands on its own as a violation of the code of ethics.

  3. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-09

    How do you know the mayor violated the code of ethics? Has the ethics committee voted on the complaints? What is the source of your information on the disposition of the complaints, or is this just your unsubstantiated opinion!

  4. DR 2019-10-09

    Got it. Dave admitted it. He’s good. Cool!

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-09

    I don’t think I said he’s “good”. I did say that filing a complaint against himself is a “noble concept,” but I said that because such a complaint would establish an important ethical concept that Schaunaman’s supporters are working really hard to ignore: that elected officials must behave with the utmost concern for even the appearance of a conflict and should submit to punishment when they fail to act with that utmost concern.

    Bunsness should file a complaint against himself. He should receive punishment as prescribed by the code of ethics and city ordinance for his bad behavior. That accountability is good.

  6. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-10

    Cory. You are not a member of the Board of Ethics. They, not you, will decide if there is a conflict. Since they haven’t made their decision public it is disingenuous of you to continue to state that the Mayor has a conflict as indisputable fact. You are not judge, jury or executioner. Please let the process work and report the outcome when the decisions are made public.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-10

    Barbara, your point is specious. Of course the Board renders its own rulings. But that doesn’t render it wrong of me to say, indepedent of whatever may be in the two complaints the Board says it has before it, that Travis Schaunaman is abusing his elected office. I have every right to say that and to support that position here, just as you have the right to keep coming here to make excuses for your favored if corrupt golden boy.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-10

    By Barbara’s logic, it is disingenuous for all of Travis’s Republican friends to be shouting that Donald Trump has done nothing impeachable. All of those Republican friends are not members of the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives, not Travis’s Republican friends, will decide if there are impeachable offenses. It is thus disingenuous for local Republicans to state an absence of impeachable offenses as indisputable fact.

  9. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-10

    Heh Cory. I have studied formal logic and logical fallacies too. You are begging the question, presenting many non sequiturs and to top it off tossing in the red herring of Trump.

    You have engaged in many other formal logical fallacies. I provide this link for your review.

    Your readers and the people of Aberdeen are not stupid. We can read too.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-10

    Wow, Barb—are you Travis’s great aunt or something? You’re really working hard to defend Travis’s effort to scrawl his self-enriching Trumpism all over our fair city.

    You threw your big words around, but you didn’t respond to the charge. I didn’t beg any question. I pointed out that your claim that no one can utter an ethics charge but the Board of Ethics is silly. I could just as easily say you are positing your opinion as fact without substantiation, but I don’t waste my time with the game you’re trying to play.

  11. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-11

    No, I am not Travis Schaunamab’ s great aunt. Cory, you are entitled to your opinion, but please label it as such. You can make all the irresponsible charges you want, but the only decision that really counts is the ruling of the ethics commission and any court that might subsequently become involved.

    Do you believe in the rule of law, Cory? If you do, please let the process play out to its conclusion.

  12. Porter Lansing 2019-10-11

    I think she’s been to close to the lead in all that stained glass, for way too long. Dr. Johnson (South Dakota Humanities Council) does seem to know who’s in positions to give her more grant money, though …

  13. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-12

    Yeo. I have received small grants from the South Dakota Humanities Council for several years for the stained glass project. I give Humanities programs in South Dakora, Nebraska and North Dskota.

    I have inventoried stained glass throughout the country and some of the information Kevin a data base at August and College. I was also the vob s luring Scholar for the SDPB documentary Light of the Prairie which was nominated for an Emmy Award. I am three-point if the Givernir’ s History Award and my work has been honored by the National Park Service.

    All of my grants are public records and every program I present is extensively evaluated

    So..what does my Stained glass research have to do with the Conflict of Interest Ordinance in Aberdeen??!

  14. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-12

    Some of the information is contained in a data base at Augustana College. I was also the consulting Scholar for SDPB documentary Light of the Prairie which was nominated for an Emmy Award. I am a winner of the Governir’ s History Award and my work has been honored by the National Park Service

  15. Porter Lansing 2019-10-12

    It’s good to know where someone sits before we can judge where they stand.
    -What’s your reason for being so overly involved with this obvious conflict of interest by the Mayor?
    -Why is your animosity toward Cory clouding your sense of equity?
    -What do you really want?

  16. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-12

    I am not convinced the mayor has a conflict just because he wrote an op ed piece for the local newspaper. He obtained legal advice from several sources before he bid on the logo project. He has not voted on any matter involved with the monetary appropriation for the project and since the bidding process has been suspended has received no gain.

    The councilmen who raised this issue have been on the council for many years and at least one, Mr. Bunsness, have admitted they have engaged in votes that may constitute a conflict. There are several more councilors in similar or worse situations who have not come forward.

    Cory has only focused on the mayor and has ignored or refused to look into these other conflicts.

    Why do Cory and some of his Democratic colleagues have a personal vendetta against the new mayor?

    i have no personal animosity towards Cory. As a professionally trained journalist with many years of reporting experience for publications such as the Hartford Times. The Hartford Courant, the New York Times and as a state capitol and legislative correspondent for several small town and national trade papers, I am frustrated by Cory” s conduct as a legitimate newsman.

    I want Cory to practice the very high standards and ethics of a real journalist—and to be more thorough in his investigations and reporting.

    That means separating straight reporting from editorial opinion and keeping a objective distance from what is being reported. That means not making your personal views and opinions the story.

    Cory has intelligence and talent that is sadly diminished by his histrionics.

  17. Anne 2019-10-12

    In her excess of modesty, Ms. Johnson neglected to mention that she is a nominee for the Donald J. Trump I-Am-The-Only-Stable-Genius-And-World-Authority-On-Everything Award.

  18. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-12

    I have not indicated a preference for any presidential candidate and was an active registered Democrat for 50 years. I recently changed my registration so I could vote in a primary since South Dakota does not have an open primary law. I was excited to vote for Hilary because she was the first major woman candidate.

    Anne. It is easy for you to insult people. What have you done with your life that makes you resent my successes and accomplishments?

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