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.