Entries Tagged 'Ethics' ↓

Councilor Neitzert could end the ethics circus

As we all know by now, Councilor Greg Neitzert is in the center of an ethics challenge. Let’s recap;

• While Greg was at a partisan political event in Texas he decided to email the entire council about the trip. Mind you, he did this WHILE attending the event, NOT before. He also didn’t ask his colleagues in advance if they thought it was OK to attend an event paid for by the event sponsor. And here is the kicker, he still has NOT given a written or oral report to the entire council of what he learned.

• A citizen, John Cunningham obtained a copy of the email Greg sent. Which, BTW, was not marked confidential and sent to the councilors official email addresses. In other words, public property. Anyone had a right to read or obtain a copy of the email.

• As understand the situation, Mr. Cunningham was so upset about the blatant ethics and code violation, he filed a complaint to the Board of Ethics. Unfortunately, he filed the complaint siting the chapter in ordinance that pertains to city employees and NOT elected officials. Instead of the BOE correcting the chapter mistake at the first hearing by simply making a motion, they threw it out, so John had to refile it with the correct reference.

• Neitzert asked for confidentiality in the matter from the beginning, I assume because he was running for re-election. Since the City attorney had a conflict, they used outside independent counsel. Which has cost the taxpayers around $7,000 and maybe more before this is all done.

• After the correct chapter was referenced, the hearing began behind closed doors. The BOE met three separate dates in private before rendering a letter that basically said that Greg was in violation, but it wasn’t a big deal. Saying it was common practice. This part in the letter continues to confuse me. I’m trying to figure out what other councilor or elected official has done this (not asking permission and taking partisan money). I could find only ONE official that has done this for the past two years on repeated occasions; Mayor TenHaken.

• After the city council received the letter they claimed to be confused about what to do with it, Council Erraktison said it was ‘clear as mud’. I will admit, the first time I read it, it was pretty murky, but after a couple of times, it was clear to me that Greg was in violation of city ordinance. They returned it to the BOE for clarification, which didn’t sit well with them and they said to re-read it.

• Days before the BOE thru the letter back at the Council, Nietzert stupidly sent a letter to the BOE asking for it to be thrown out, without the advice of his attorneys. He also went on The Greg Belfrage show and spewed all kinds of things like suggesting that Cunningham (a private citizen) colluded with other councilors to do a political hit job on him before an election. As far as I know, Mr. Cunningham had nothing to do with Greg’s opponent’s campaign, and further more John is a retired municipal employee who has worked for several cities across the country. He simply was concerned about integrity and ethics. That’s it.

So where does it go from here? My understanding is that there will be a pre-hearing to give Neitzert the opportunity to call witnesses and for Mr. Cunningham to do the same. Than a hearing will proceed.

If I was still giving Greg advice, which I have not in several years, I would tell him he could end this circus and make this less expensive and less painful for all involved. If I was Greg I would do this next week;

• Admit guilt and apologize to the citizens, fellow councilors and especially Mr. Cunningham for trying to lay the guilt on them.

• As part of the punishment, I would pay back the partisan group for the trip and resign as council chair.

• And lastly, I would tell the council who the others were that attended the trip with him. We already know the mayor was one of these people, but who was the city staffer that Greg mentions in the Belfrage interview?

• Oh, and give us a report already of what you ‘learned’ at this event.

Ultimately, I think Greg will fight this to the bitter end, which will be a sad episode in our city’s history. And he will lose, big time.

When will the Sioux Falls Board of Ethics reconvene

Remember a few weeks ago when the BOE met? They still have not reconvened to make a final decision (they must vote in public). In fact, they didn’t even make a decision on when to reconvene, which should have been done in public before escaping out the bathroom windows.

I still have no idea what the complaint is and who it is against. Oh yes, I have my guesses, but since everything was behind closed doors and ‘confidential’ the public has no idea what is going on. This is extremely egregious.

It will be interesting to see if and when they reconvene. My guess is that they will wait until after July 14. Why is that date important? That is when the newly installed council gets sworn in and that new body picks it’s leaders (chair and vice chair). Like I said, not sure if these two issues have anything to do with each other, but trust me, I’m not naive either.

UPDATE: Sioux Falls Ethics Board meets Friday to discuss the ethics of some mysterious Mickey Mouse city official

UPDATE: After a brief public input session the BOE met for approximately 4 hours in executive session with the accused being represented by what seemed to be two attorneys who were in the room before the session started. As I understand it the person who filed the complaint and the accused attorneys left the meeting two hours into it and they met for another two hours then recessed. In other words the BOE did not emerge for a public vote which means they are still in discussions about the validity of the complaint. It seems odd to me that 5 people can’t make a simple decision in a matter of 4 hours. Of course we still don’t know who Mr. Mouse is, and we don’t even know what the complaint is. Will we ever know? The BOE of course will have to reschedule a later time to finish deliberations. Who knows when that will be?

Another interesting tidbit is that one of the attorneys representing the accused seems to be the same person representing the Jensen camp in the re-count next week. Of course, this is not surprising since there probably isn’t a lot of attorneys out there willing to wade into the waters of election recounts and ethics complaints.

First, let’s pretend for a minute that Mickey Mouse works for the city, and let’s just say, Mr. Mouse took a trip paid for by a partisan group. Then let’s say that this same Mr. Mouse already had a violation thrown out on a technicality, which cost taxpayers in outside counsel $3,750. Then let’s say the city council met last night to approve another expenditure for Mr. Mouse from the SAME law firm that could not exceed $7,500. But for some reason none of us seem to know who Mr. Mouse is? Could we assume that the first Mr. Mouse is the same Mr. Mouse that is being looked at a 2nd time around? Or could it be his friend Donald Duck? Or maybe it is from another department? Maybe Mr. Pooh. Or Waldo? Or the Grinch? Oh, it’s probably Rat Fink!

Here is my take. If you are a city official, and an ethics complaint is filed against you, and you think your are innocent, why hide behind confidentiality? As Porky Pig would say, ‘That’s all Folks!’

Sioux Falls City Councilor Erickson thinks it is a ‘Mystery’ that Councilor Neitzert is costing taxpayer’s up to $7,500 to defend him against an ethics complaint, a second time

I often chuckle when Erickson accuses Stehly of being the crazy one on the council. Kettle meet black. Tonight at the city council regular meeting when councilor Starr pulled the consent agenda item about the potential $7,500 legal fee for Neitzert’s ethics complaint for outside counsel defense Erickson accused Starr of releasing confidential information.

I about died laughing.

Starr encouraged her to read the Argus Leader. It is all there in black and white.

Once again, I was laughing.

Christine seems to think that since the public already knows there was an ethics complaint against Neitzert that was thrown out on a technicality that the public doesn’t know the 2nd time around it is also against him. Who did she think the 2nd complaint was against with the proper legal reference this time around? Bugs Bunny?

While none of us have seen it in writing it is against him, isn’t the writing on the freaking wall?! Duh!

But I guess we are all conspiracy theorists. Nope. We are realists.

The Unethical, Sioux Falls Ethics board Chair receiving honors for Ethics & Integrity

So am I the only one finding this SD Hall of Fame Honor a little ironic after his performance at the SF Ethics Board Hearing on Thursday in which there was TWO very evident open meetings violations. I guess Jack thinks it’s OK to be ethical, but those rules don’t apply to him.

Jack Marsh
Sioux Falls, SD | Business

A Champion of Ethics and Human Rights in South Dakota.

Jack Marsh has been a champion for ethics and human rights in South Dakota for decades. 26 years ago, he first moved to the state and took the role of editor of the Argus Leader for Gannett companies. In this role, his commitment to journalism, and ethics, were evident. His long-time mentor, Al Neuharth, often stated “The First Amendment guarantees a free press. We in the media must make sure it is a fair one.” Through his work, he has held a constant commitment to mentoring individuals both inside and outside the world of journalism. Coupled with his life-long commitment to diversity and the elimination of prejudice, Jack Marsh is a hero of the people.

I have had a handful of interactions over the years with Mr. Marsh, all have been uncomfortable and confrontational. Mostly because he is an arrogant ‘P’. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he thinks he is acting with the highest level of integrity and ethics.

The other odd part about their dismissal on Thursday is that they know this will reappear later (but see, it will be after the election, so it won’t matter).

I suspect the second round of complaints won’t only include Neitzert, but also Mayor TenHaken for his participation in the conference and also his participation in the Bloomberg Institute;

Participation in the program is fully funded—including tuition, accommodation, meals, and airfare. Please note that public officials, including any employee of a government entity, should consult applicable rules and regulations to ensure that their attendance (including the acceptance of related costs) complies with such rules and regulations.

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is made possible by a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of their Government Innovation portfolio, which focuses on building problem-solving capacity within local governments and spreading innovations that work.

As you can see, our Unethical, Ethics Board is going to be very busy over the next couple of months, better stock up on masks.

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.

UPDATE:Sioux Falls Ethics board to meet tomorrow, April 30, 2020

UPDATE: The Ethics board threw out a complaint against councilor Neitzert today based on a technicality. The person who filed the complaint had the wrong chapter number listed for what he was accused of violating. He listed the employee chapter instead of the councilor chapter. Basically Neitzert was accused of taking money from an organization to go speak at a conference in Texas with mayor Paul. He admitted to doing it already to the council. The Ethics Board could have fixed the error in a motion and then proceeded with the hearing, but of course they didn’t. More to come.

Funny how Neitzert claims there was nothing wrong with what he did, blames the messenger, yet chose to keep the complaint ‘confidential’ until after the hearing. That’s because he was hoping for an April election, and the hearing would not have happened until after that. So who is playing politics?

Not sure what this is about because it is confidential, but you can guarantee it is about someone who collects a paycheck from the city and has obvious close ties to the city attorney (in other words not someone who puts out fires or mows the parks). The recusal of the city attorney by one of the leading attorneys at Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun to replace him tells me that it is someone city attorney Kooistra advises directly. (You can figure out the handful of people who fit that criteria – I will give you a hint, it is less than 12 and more than 1).

While the person(s) being indicted have chosen to keep this confidential, that doesn’t mean after the decision is granted it remains confidential, it is free game for media consumption.

I also find calling this an ‘executive session’ interesting. Is that even legal? While I understand the meeting being closed to the public and media, wouldn’t the person filing the complaint be included to present evidence? I don’t know, this is all really suspicious.

But I can say something for certain, and I don’t even need a magic 8-Ball, whoever it is, they will magically (no pun intended) be found innocent. I also will guarantee you that that decision has already been pre-determined. But don’t take my word on it, just look at the record of this board going all the way back to Mayor Munson . . . patsies.

In a Crisis, Good Government is very important

What are those principles? There are four I always go back to;

• The obvious

• Integrity (and ethics)

• Common Sense

• Transparency

Like tying your shoe, good government is easy. The problem is partisan hacks and people with ‘ideals’ often want to wreck a good thing. Nothing ever comes from new ideas about how people are governed. What do I mean by that? I often tell people that the toaster has never really been re-invented since it’s inception. Why? Because it works. Why mess up a good thing? Philosophers, including my favorite, Plato has laid a road map that works. Anytime we sway from that map, it turns out badly.

So let’s review’

• The obvious. Like a toaster, if something works, and works well, why change it? If history teaches us something that is effective, let’s keep doing it until it is not.

• Integrity.  Having a moral compass that says helping yourself really means helping  others in an honest method can only result in trust. Unethical people are not trusted. To that I say ‘duh’.

• Common Sense. Some call this No nonsense, but it really doesn’t matter how you frame it. If a commonly held idea works, run with it. There is no reason to change something based on simply wanting change. If something works, you roll with it. I have been mostly going to the same barber for almost 20 years. Why? Because she cuts my hair the I want her to.

• Transparency. And while I leave this as my last point, it is the most important. Nothing for the common good can happen in darkness. Mark Twain says it best;

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

Giving truthful information to the public in a timely manner will never bite you in the ass. You can always say later, ‘I told you so.’

I know I am wishful thinking right now that our elected officials will do the right thing, but they won’t unless they apply simple rules. Now excuse me while I enjoy some peanut butter and toast.

Sioux Falls Ethics Board opinion about city election campaigning and finance

Please find the attached Board of Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 20-1


Sioux Falls Ethics Board Meeting, March 6, 2020

Be warned, this is a 3 hour meeting, so you may have to watch in segments. Also, we have never had much luck recording audio in this room, so there will be some echoing, etc., bare with us.