As Mitchell elections near, who can run? And what's a conflict of interest?
According to state law, an elected city official shall remove themselves from “voting or discussing” an issue if the official has a “direct pecuniary interest in the matter" or "financial interest.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mitchell Republic in late-May plans to feature the candidates running for Mitchell City Council, Mitchell school board, along with stories on two ballot measures that will all be decided in the June 6 election.
MITCHELL — Each year, the Mitchell City Council considers approving subsidy funding requests from a variety of local nonprofit organizations.
An employee of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, Mitchell Area Development Corporation (MADC), Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, that all receive city subsidy funding on an annual basis, is running for a seat on the city council. How does that work?
While annual subsidy funding requests involving the organizations that the ward 3 city council candidate, Kimberly Lofgren, works for is one example that Lofgren would be expected to remove herself from voting on due to conflict of interest, City Attorney Justin Johnson said there are plenty of other agenda items she would be capable to vote on without being in a conflict of interest.
As the chief financial officer for the chamber, MADC, CVB and Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, Lofgren oversees the finances of each organization. If those organizations request subsidy funds from the city this year as they have over the past decade, Lofgren, if elected to the council on June 6, would be expected to remove herself from voting on the respective subsidy funding requests due to conflict of interest.
“I could definitely see there being some issues with conflict of interest, but I don’t think it would be so pervasive that they wouldn’t be able to vote on anything,” Mitchell City Attorney Justin Johnson said of Lofgren.
According to state law, an elected city official shall remove themselves from “voting or discussing” an issue if the official has a “direct pecuniary interest in the matter before the governing body, including any financial interest.”
Among other agenda items that Johnson said could be an issue for Lofgren are any transactions between the city and the MADC or Chamber.
“Every once in a while there have been transactions between the city and MADC, and I could see those potentially being an issue,” Johnson said.
Over the past few years, there have been a handful of real estate transactions between the city and MADC. And those transactions are voted on by the city council.
A few examples of city and MADC real estate deals are the sale of the former Casey’s lot on Main Street that the council approved selling to the MADC for $1 a few years ago to allow the organization an opportunity at getting it redeveloped, along with the former Crafty Fox building in downtown Mitchell that was transferred over from the city to the MADC for redevelopment.
While working for a nonprofit organization that has a working relationship and some funding ties with a city government does not prohibit such a candidate from running for a seat on the city council, there are some positions that do.
According to the state’s municipal league, there are positions considered “incompatible” for a candidate seeking office in specific city elections. The state’s Attorney General has determined four instances that are considered instances when offices are incompatible, which include “when there are statutory prohibitions; when one is subordinate to the other; when one has supervision over the other; when the duties of the two offices are conflicting.”
Among the list of incompatible positions are a city council member also being a member of school board, a municipality board member being janitor of a municipal building, a county judge being a city attorney, a mayor being a school board member and a county director of equalization serving as a school board member. Johnson said the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office makes a determination on whether a candidate seeking office in a city election holds another position that prohibits them from running.
“When those decisions are made, someone will ask a question whether these positions are compatible or not. The Attorney General will then usually put an opinion out saying if they are or not,” Johnson said of the process.
Board of education candidates
The website for the South Dakota Secretary of State notes that eligible candidates for boards of education in South Dakota must be a resident voter and not hold an incompatible office.
When it comes to boards of education, South Dakota state law states candidates for a seat must reside inside the boundaries of the school district, according to an email from the South Dakota Secretary of State office.
“A person resides in the school district if the person actually lives in the school district for at least thirty days each year, is a full-time postsecondary education student who resided in the school district immediately prior to leaving for the postsecondary education, or is on active duty as a member of the armed forces whose home of record is within the school district,” according to SDCL 13-7-4.2 .
The candidate must be able to vote, which itself has a number of requirements. Those requirements state a candidate:
- Must be a United States citizen.
- Must reside in South Dakota.
- Must be at least 18 years old on or before the next election.
- Must not be currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction which included imprisonment, served or suspended, in an adult penitentiary system.
- Must not be judged mentally incompetent by a court of law.
Meeting the above requirements is a must for school board candidacy, but there are other restrictions based on the “incompatible office” phrase.
The South Dakota Secretary of State office cites several state laws that can determine what is meant by “incompatible office.” Among those are:
- No elective county, municipal, or state officer or the holder of any other office, the duties of which are incompatible or inconsistent with the duties of a school board member, shall be eligible for such membership.
- No person employed to teach or to draw public money as a teacher may serve as a board member in the same school district.
There are also restrictions on running for more than one office in the same election, though there are exceptions to that rule. Exceptions include that a person may be the candidate for any public office and the office of the President of the United States, vice president of the United States, director of a water development district, or director of a consumer power district. Those candidates are not prohibited from seeking election to one or more party offices.
Candidate eligibility is vetted at the school district business manager level when the required nominating petition is circulated and returned.
“The finance officer and business manager are in charge of city and school elections. They check registrations of the candidates and the voters who sign petitions and verify the information on the petitions,” the South Dakota Secretary of State office said in an email to the Mitchell Republic.
Boards of education also cannot add any additional requirements for member candidates beyond what is required by state law. For example, a board of education cannot make a rule requiring anyone who serves on that board to be 30 years old or older.
The South Dakota Secretary of State office does not track the number of candidates who are rejected based on eligibility requirements, it said.