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Schaunaman Ethics Scandal Results in Serious Conflict-of-Interest Ordinance

Travis Schaunaman’s use of his elected position as mayor of Aberdeen to publicly push his bid for the publicly funded city rebranding campaign was obviously unethical to everyone but Schaunaman and his partisanship-blinded supporters. And now that bid is clearly illegal.

On an 8–1 vote last night, the Aberdeen City Council approved the third and final reading of the city’s clarification of its conflict-of-interest ordinance. Unless the city council does Schaunaman a favor (which last night’s vote signals is unlikely), neither the mayor nor any other council member can do more than $5,000 worth of business a year with the city or any entity receiving more than $100K in funds from the city.

The Chamber of Commerce, which was considering using over $100,000 in city promotion funds to hire a marketer to revise Aberdeen’s pen logo and “Write Your Story” slogan, suspended its bidding process at the beginning of September when Schaunaman’s conflict scandal blew up. If the project is still on hold, last night’s vote signals that the Chamber will need to tear up Schaunaman’s bid.

Schaunaman’s little buddy on the council, rookie councilman Joshua Rife, whined that being serious about avoiding conflicts of interest would make it hard for businesspeople to serve on the council:

Council member Josh Rife voiced concerns that the wording would dissuade other business people from pursuing City Council positions.

Others, like Rux, said it wouldn’t prevent that, but in some cases, would mean more effort — for both the candidate and the council.

“It’s part of our job to make sure the city’s money is spent fairly,” council member Rob Ronayne said. “It’s going to be hard for me to ever find that the public interest is ever served by allowing one of us to provide those kind of services to the city of Aberdeen.”

“It may be a little more work all the way around, but it’s worth it,” Rux said [Erin Ballard, “Aberdeen City Council: Conflict-of-Interest Ordinance Passed,” Aberdeen American News, 2019.10.28].

Rux wins that point. Plenty of people find it difficult to run for and serve in elected office. Some people (like county and state employees) are even forbidden from serving in some offices (like Legislature). This conflict-of-interest ordinance does not prevent anyone from serving in local government; it just demands that those who do respect the taxpayers and the rule of law and not create even the appearance of profiting from their office.

And if you can’t handle that ethical work, Travis, maybe you should just step out and let someone willing to do the job ethically take your place.


  1. grudznick 2019-10-29 23:16

    Mr. H, does your job forbid you from running for the legislatures? It would be good if you could keep your job and then be able to take the vacation that government jobs give to go and make more money and be in the legislatures, where people get free housing and food every day. More importantly, what would be a fresh air breathing is that we could have a House of Representative person who was on the blogs every day and might even do bloggings from the floors or meeting rooms. This should entice you.

  2. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-30 16:58

    And…I think you forgot to mention Dave Bunsness who admited he had a conflict..

    And what about the $5 million in the bank that has Rob Ronayne as chairman of the board…a paid position?????

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-30 19:00

    If I mentioned everything you wanted me to mention, Barbara, I wouldn’t a coherent essay. I’d have the scattershot whataboutist muck that Trumpist Schaunamaniacs like you and Al Novstrup throw around to distract people from the core issue: Aberdeen’s mayor is woefully self-absorbed, ethically challenged, and ill-suited for public service.

    But at least you are tacitly agreeing that if Mayor Schaunaman fails to withdraw his bid for the city rebranding deal, he’s violating both common ethical standards and the new city ordinance against conflicts of interest.

  4. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-30 20:05

    I agree to nothing of the sort Cory. The major inadequacy of your piece is that you leave out at least two thirds of the facts.

    As for being a ‘Trumpist” I was a registered Democrat for more than 50 years and served as an advisor to the Democratic mayor of Hartford Connecticut for many years. I covered the national conventions of the major political parties for major newspapers. Learned politics at the knees of John Bailey and Katherine Quinn. I am sure you don’t know who they are.. I was a legislative reporter for more than 10 years and have more than a casual interest in politics.

    I was a major advisor to many winning Democratic campaigns here in Brown County.after my late husband and I returned to his family honr in Aberdeen You insulted me when you were seeking signatures for your first campaign in Brown County as you didn’t even bother to find out who I was.

    How many campaigns have you been successful with in Brown County?????? In South Dakota???

    The Democratic party us DEAD in South Dakota. The interesting stuff is happening in the GOP..

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-31 05:36

    When you fail to respond to the substance of the argument and instead turn to ad hominem arguments about other people and other issues, you leave the substantive argument unrefuted and thus agree. Thank you.

    I did not mention in my blog post that the sky is blue or that my dog has four legs. You may put those two facts in a basket with the fact that city ordinance now clearly aligns with ethical expectations in banning Travis Schaunaman from accepting the contract for the city rebrand and say, “Cory left out two thirds of the facts in my preferred basket of facts!” But that argument is (a) silly, (b) impossible to satisfy as you’ll just keep throwing in new facts that you expect me to waste my time on to deflect from the one fact you don’t want to talk about, and (c) nonrefutatory of that primary, relevant fact.

    You’re obviously more interested in carrying out your grudge against me than in serving the interests of public ethics and democracy. Please resolve your petty priorities and get back to supporting the ideals that are good for Aberdeen.

  6. Melanie Bobby 2019-10-31 07:11

    Who writes this crap?
    Why the bent to defamation of character?
    This is not journalism.
    The nature of a BID is to take the lowest, regardless of who is delivering it. It has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s position. The Bidding process is good for taxpayers.
    Clearly whomever wrote this has a chip on their shoulder over Mr Schaunaman.
    Too bad they can’t see past there blind rage, Aberdeen does not benefit from this type of thinking.

  7. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-31 08:50

    Cory. There is no substance to your argument about Travis.
    You are beating the wrong horse. Why don’t you just stop.

    I don’t harbor grudges, Cory. (Lesson from John Bailey) But it is extremely difficult to respect people who disrespect me–especially when you try to carry on an argument without relavant facts that are inconvenient to you. I. e. Bunsness admissions and Ronayne’ s vote on putting $5 million of city money into his bank. You seem to have trouble identifying what is a “fact” and what isnt. Just because you say something doesn’t make but so.

    If you really believed in good government you would learn to listen to people (lesson from Abe Ribicoff and John Bailey), treat everyone even handedly, seek unity, even if it means compromise and not fly off on every crazy progressive broomstick you can find. (That is what made the real Democratic party great). I know. I was there.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-31 12:43

    What do you mean “who writes this crap,” Melanie? You know it’s written by me, your neighbor.

    It’s not defamation of character to point out that an elected official should not and now cannot accept a major contract funded by taxpayer dollars. Even if the Mayor manages to be the lowest bidder, trying to get the bid is inappropriate and now illegal.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-31 12:44

    Melanie, do you think the eight commissioners who voted for the ordinance are all in a blind rage? Even Josh Rife agreed such actions are unethical and should be illegal. What chip does Councilman Rife have on his shoulder?

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-31 12:45

    Barbara continues to bore me with her grudge, not to mention her effort ton project the failings of her argument on my responses. She has not said one thing to refute the facts presented in the original post.

    It is extremely difficult, Barbara, to respect people who can’t argue effectively and honestly.

  11. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-31 13:00

    Cory. There were no facts in your original post…just opinion

    Good government means coming to a consensus once all pertinent facts have been carefully weighed. The council did not have all the information it needed to make a good decision. It insulted and ignored the many people who tried to provide the information. If You had actually been at any of the meetings and not watched them on tv or used second hand info You would know this.

    You seem to have personal vendetta against our new mayor and his supporters and are perfectly willing to overlook major failings of the rest of the council. You are fail to seek consensus and a negatuve, divisive force in our community. Most people here will never go along with your inaccurate and arrogant babble.

  12. Porter Lansing 2019-10-31 13:20

    … save the trees (I don’t live in Aberdeen (The Chosen City) but I have a personal vendetta against the Mayor’s “War on Trees”. A position like this easily carries over to a negative bias against the Mayor and his other policies. Not that I can’t be persuaded to change. My tourist dollars are my credibility for this opinion.

  13. Anne 2019-10-31 13:36

    Sometimes people cite resumes that can use a lot of fact-checking.

  14. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-31 13:44

    If Anne wishes to check my resume…go ahead. You will find it is accurate and reflects a very full and eventful life. By the way, you will find out I’m an old lady who has no political aspirations. Been there.. Done that… But I do care that so called journalists report the whole story, not selective pieces of it that are then used to support their agenda.

  15. Porter Lansing 2019-10-31 13:59

    You’re not old, Ms. Johnson. What you are is interesting. Your biography reads with zeal about a life well lived. Your accomplishments and expertise are a gift to Aberdeen. Thanks for sticking around when so many options and opportunities are open to you. No aspirations for public office, though?

  16. Barbara Johnson 2019-10-31 14:17

    Nope, Porter. No formal political aspirations other than saying my piece from time to time. Thank you for being interested in my life. It been quite a ride!!!

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