The rumblings regarding the city administration's event center presentation push has been going on since the mayor announced the big push to "educate" the public on his vision. The mayor stood before the Downtown Rotary Club on Monday and said "I am going to advocate for this. I am." When challenged on his proudly stated advocacy, he said things have changed and then immediately threw the hot potato to the City Attorney.
This train of advocacy at City Hall left the station back in 2010. The mayor had a vision and all the minions were told to get on the train or get off. It was the message of my way or the highway, people.
The advocacy started 18 months ago and continues today through the one sided event center presentations lead by the mayor and his city directors.
I looked at the presentation. There is no pro/con positions stated in the presentation. Even the ballot on the "advisory" special election pontificates/advocates no new taxes. The thing is the city published the presentation materials with taxpayer money. City staff produced the materials on city work time. City staff attend the presentations on city work time. City expenditures are being used to "advocate" the building of an event center.
The attorney general's opinion on this matter answers the questions:
Can a municipality, county, or school district expend public funds to advocate a position on an election measure?
ANSWER: Upon review of the South Dakota statutes I can find no statutory provisions that may in any manner be construed as explicitly giving adivision of local government the authority to expend public monies for purposes of influencing election results. In fact, any claim that the expenditures are impliedly authorized under statute would be unreasonable.
Can a municipality, county, or school district expend public funds to provide information as to the impact of an election measure on the respective entity?
ANSWER: Assuming that the use of public funds for such purpose is authorized, to avoid any claim of misappropriation the governing board involved must be careful to ensure that the published information constitutes a fair presentation of the relevant facts on both sides of the election issue. Along such lines, it would not be sufficient to merely refrain from exhorting a yes or no vote. Other language or statements prepared and designed to influence public opinion would also be improper. Any determination of the propriety or impropriety of the publication and ultimately the expenditure would turn on a consideration of various factors, including the style and tenor as well as the timing of the publication.
Hmmmmm, you be the judge. I am just relying on the words of the mayor when he said on Monday, that he was advocating for the event center.