What Good is an Ethics Board?

Our Sioux Falls Board of Ethics once again found a way on April 30, 2020 to NOT do their job and they decided to do it in a private, secret (questionably legal) Executive Session. Our City Attorney’s office has decided, any time there is a decision to be made by a board requiring a discussion with a city attorney; it will be done in private. On top of that, the decision was decided in the secret meeting and then makes it look legal, by voting on it unanimously after the secret session ends.

The Board of Ethics seems to have a problem. The Board of Ethics is not created to decide law. The members are to be stellar members of Sioux Falls community who are charged with helping find the right solution to sticky questions. The body was setup years ago to deal with ethical issues employees and elected officials are faced with.

In theory, the board has two functions:

  1. Be presented with questions written and presented by people who need help thinking through the process of what is ethical and right for the completion of their job.
  2. A jury of our citizen peers who will assist with the resolution of possible ethical lapses by city employees and elected officials. These lapses could include conflicts of interest or gifts. These lapses may not have sunk to legal questions but could be perceived issues of corruption needing to be investigated and then turned over to the City Council as a quasi-judicial hearing matter.

The complaint 20-A was filed March 4th, 2020 and had to be heard by the Board of Ethics within 60 days or by May 4th. This confidential complaint was held off as long as legally possible and then was dealt with (for the first time known) in a completely private manner in violation of South Dakota Open Meetings laws. Not only was it held in a completely secret manner, it also found a way to violate the Open Meeting laws by having the normal jurisdiction discussion and vote in secret without public or interested party testimony.

So why was this board meeting held? Councilor Greg Neitzert proudly took a trip to Texas in October of 2019. Why should we care? Well there is a story to go with it that should make every voter and citizen of Sioux Falls question not only what is fitness for office but our system of ethical review.

Neitzert wrote in an email sent from the meeting “I wanted to make sure to note and be clear, I was invited by them, as was Mayor TenHaken, to attend.”  He also stated “They booked all of it and paid all costs.  Nothing was booked or coordinated by the city, our Council office, no city funds, resources, or staff time was involved, and there is no travel forms or city reimbursement.  I worked directly with the organization that took care of everything and sent me the hotel and flight reservations.“

In other words, he received a junket trip for “free” and then claimed erroneously “They consider themselves a similar concept to the National League of Cities, and so far it has been, just on a smaller scale.” Neitzert seems to be confused here, the National League of Cities is a truly non-partisan membership organization versus the partisan Republican tax-exempt [501(c)(4)] shadow organization who invited Greg Neitzert and Paul TenHaken to Frisco, Texas to learn how to use their positions to make Sioux Falls city government a political party based entity.

The organization, called Community Leaders of America (527) and their Forum for Community Leaders (FCL) (501(c)(4)) uses their tax-exempt status to train future party leaders. Part of their mission statement clearly spells it out:

The Forum for Community Leaders (FCL) comes alongside Republican local leaders in their constant effort to….

The FCL is a political lobbyist organization privately funding gullible local officials with trips to places in order to win over their allegiances, decisions and votes. In other words only Republicans attend.

To add to the problems with the meeting, the attorney’s office did not have a complete agenda when they “missed” having Public Input on the official agenda. The Chair decided to deal with this infraction by announcing at meeting close there would be Public Input. The problem here? South Dakota law requires complete agendas 24 hours in advance of the meeting start. Do you remember the City Council agenda problem from a few years ago when the Clerk “forgot” to post the agenda as required by Ordinance and they called the special meeting with the regular agenda at the regular time? Here we go again.

How do we answer these questions:

  1. If this organization was non-partisan and the trip was funded by the city with other members attending, would there be less questioning?
  2. Where in the financial reporting documents does it show how the expenses paid for by someone else or a filed paper trail or report given to the Council documenting what was accomplished?
  3. Was the Board of Ethics and the city attorney’s office dragging this out for months to prevent the discussion from being made public during the April campaign?
  4. Why does the city attorney insist on having secret meetings when a similar confidential complaint was handled more correctly a couple of years ago? (In that similar case, the BOE decided it had jurisdiction)
  5. Why does the citizen have to be an expert in law, knowing intimate details of ethics, Charter and ordinance in order to have an ethics question considered?
  6. Why does the Ethics Board always (and we do mean always) throw these cases out on technicalities and not offer a motion to fix the technical issue when they clearly have that option as stated in their rules and procedures?

Watch the video and decide if we really need to waste our time with the Board of Ethics in its current form.



13 comments ↓

#1 Steve on 05.01.20 at 7:45 am

Does this surprise anyone? What did you think would happen to this Mayor’s golden child? Just another questionable action being swept under the rug.

#2 D@ily Spin on 05.01.20 at 9:53 am

Frisco is Dallas suburb. Our city leaders deserve some line dancing and a good 32 oz. steak. American Airlines is a nonstop flight from here and it’s the George Bush tollroad straight to Frisco. Maybe they’re extras in a western movie or maybe they’re members of a secret society of republicans.

#3 anonymous on 05.01.20 at 10:11 am

If there was nothing inappropriate about this trip or even the appearance of anything being inappropriate, why would Councilor Neitzert (and PTH) request that the Board of Ethics hearing be held out of view of the public?

Given his history on the Council, Neitzert is not typically the type to keep quiet about such a trip. I would have expected a ten-page report to the Council on Community Leaders of America from Councilor Neitzert.

#4 Not impressed on 05.01.20 at 12:27 pm

This is just a lame attempt to make Greg look bad while running for re-election.

#5 The Guy From Guernsey on 05.01.20 at 12:52 pm

If he is successful to seek higher office as a ‘Republican’, PTH will be the biggest surprise in Conservatism since the Souter Surprise on the Supreme Court.
But then those grooming PTH as a future standard-bearer of the party are registered as Republicans simply and only because it is the Kool Kidz Klub and THE method for election to office in SD.

#6 l3wis on 05.01.20 at 3:10 pm

Greg has only one person to blame for this, himself. He knew it was a violation of city ordinance to go to this conference, but he did it anyway, and told council he did, he admitted to the guilt. How can you blame the messenger?

#7 "Very Stable Genius" on 05.01.20 at 4:30 pm

“But then those grooming PTH as a future standard-bearer of the party are registered as Republicans simply and only because it is the Kool Kidz Klub and THE method for election to office in SD.”

Yes, the Democrats are trying to act like Republicans, while the Republicans are trying to look like Republicans.
Oligarchy politics are already here. Or, is it look and act?

#8 SouthernExposure on 05.02.20 at 12:12 pm

For a guy that is convincing at coming across as thorough and deep thinking, you have two choices. Super novice and amateurish or slick and smarmy guy who asks for forgiveness rather than permission.

#9 "Woodstock" on 05.02.20 at 12:23 pm

“Maybe we could use an ethics board for the ethics board”…. “Because any ‘good organization’ has built in redundancy”…. “But then again, the ‘good’ might be the real problem here after all”….

#10 The Guy From Guernsey on 05.02.20 at 12:44 pm

Greg needs no assistance to look bad.

As the winner of the City Council’s much-coveted John Kerry “I Was For It Before I Was Against It” Flip Flop Award – Greg looks bad.

As the champion for and advocate of an internal audit manager candidate with a clear conflict of interest, hiring of which Greg streamlined/fastracked – Greg looks bad.

And the permanent monument to Greg’s service on City Council, the Bunker Ramp! Didn’t Greg have more than one chance to get this one correct? Yet, with each vote to approve this financial fiasco – Greg looks bad.

#11 "Very Stable Genius" on 05.02.20 at 2:10 pm

The 5RS were very prophetic. Come fall, the Bunker Ramp will make a handy field hospital.

( and Woodstock adds: “You meant are pathetic, right?”)

#12 Warren Phear on 05.02.20 at 8:25 pm

Mayor and council. Non partisan my ass.

#13 Agitator on 05.03.20 at 8:12 am

This ethics board serves the mayor and city attorney is just an extension of the RS5. They are all incompetent failures. I think in the next couple of years this will show up on the games the city attorney is playing. We will see.