Aberdeen Mayor Travis Schaunaman has violated the city’s conflicts of interest policy again.
Evidently unhappy with seeing his self-dealing and other bad ideas shot down by the large majority of practical, sensible, and nonideological city councilmen, Schaunaman went out and petitioned for local brewer David Welling to replace Dennis “Mike” Olson in a southeast council seat. Councilman Olson sternly criticized Mayor Schaunaman’s conflict of interest in bidding for the city’s rebranding campaign.
In the midst of coronavirus social distancing, Mayor Schaunaman collected signatures from 24 people on two petition sheets on March 29:
23 of those signatures are valid; Jon Schaff’s signature was tossed because he lives in the southwest council district.
Schunaman’s petitioning violated Aberdeen City Charter Section 7.02(a)(5):
No city employee shall knowingly or willfully make, solicit or receive any contribution to the campaign funds of any political party or committee to be used in a city election or to campaign funds to be used in support for opposition to any candidate for election to city office or city ballot issue. Further, no city employee shall knowingly or willfully participate in any aspect of any political campaign on behalf of or opposition to any candidate for city office. This section shall not be construed to limit any person’s right to exercise rights as a citizen to express opinions or to cast a vote nor shall it be construed to prohibit any person from active participation in political campaigns at any other level of government [emphasis mine; Aberdeen City Charter Section 7.02(a)(5)].
Circulating a nominating petition is an aspect of a political campaign on behalf of a candidate for city office. This subsection allows city employees to express opinions and cast votes, but it does not allow this level of active involvement in a city council campaign.
Section 7.02(b) says the penalty for this violation is forfeiture of office and banishment from municipal positions for five years:
Any person convicted of a violation of this section shall be ineligible for a period of five years following such conviction to hold any city office or position and, if no [sic?] officer or employee of the city, shall immediately forfeit his or her office or position. The city council shall establish by ordinance such further penalties, as it may deem appropriate [Aberdeen City Charter Section 7.02(b)].
Home Rule Charter Section 2.06(b) also says any council member, including the mayor, forfeits his office by violating “any express prohibition of this charter.”
Mayor Schaunaman may be eager to replace Councilman Olson with someone more willing to vote Schaunaman’s way. But whatever the outcome of the election in June, Schaunaman has created the strong possibility that he won’t be in office to enjoy that councilperson’s support.