Former City Attorney on SF City Council seeks legal guidance for councilors doing what she did in last election

Let me make sure I’m understanding this.

Sioux Falls City Councilor Janet Brekke – a former Sioux Falls City Attorney – is seeking legal guidance regarding Sioux Falls city councilors endorsing candidates in the city election… just like others did for her when she first ran?

Councilor Janet Brekke wants some legal guidance on what she calls “an ethical minefield” when it comes to politicians using their influence and money in city elections.

The first-term at-large councilor this week filed paperwork with the City Attorney’s Office asking for an advisory opinion from the Sioux Falls Board of Ethics on whether public officials can support other Sioux Falls office seekers using their official titles, political action committees and hosting fundraisers.


In 2016, then-candidate Theresa Stehly used an endorsement from the late Kermit Staggers on campaign mailers she sent out, which included his title as city councilor. And last year, Councilor Christine Erickson used her title in a campaign fundraising announcement for Alex Jensen, who is running for Stehly’s seat in this year’s election. She also made a campaign contribution to Jensen.

Brekke herself received a $300 donation from Stehly in her 2018 campaign, which is noted in her request for an advisory opinion.

Read it all here

There’s an ethical minefield here?  I’m not sure what would be unethical about city councilors expressing their constitutional right to free speech..

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s a pretty simple concept, which is also a position advocated by Sioux Falls City Councilor Christine Erickson in the article.   Not sure why a person with a law degree needs a panel to weigh in on it to figure it out.

It was legal when she and others did it. It’s legal for others. (Let freedom ring!)

5 Replies to “Former City Attorney on SF City Council seeks legal guidance for councilors doing what she did in last election”

  1. Tamara

    For that matter Pat Starr was publicly endorsed by then city councilor Kenny Anderson. He even campaigned against me and went door to door with Pat so…yeah….let freedom ring.

  2. Troy

    In what world would anybody think the voters don’t want input about city councilors from their colleagues?

    In what world would anybody think councilors waive their free speech rights when they become councilors?

    Brekke has an opportunity to wear an important hat on the council. Living in the land of crazy is only going to get her fit with a tinfoil hat.

  3. a friend of education

    I agree with Tamara. In my experience, governmental bodies are drawn to create manifold speech codes in the name of civility and ethics. In theory: great. We could stand more civility; we all want ethical leadership. In practice, these codes tend to be disastrous. What’s allowed and what’s forbidden gets lost amid weasel words and vagaries. Forbid “endorsement” and people begin expressing tacit preferences without explicating “endorsing.” No matter the rules, folks find ways to signal approval and disapproval.

    The better, cleaner policy is allowing councilmembers old and new to express themselves on political topics, including elections, just as the 1st Amendment guarantees. When someone contributes to a campaign, report it. Document it. Voters deserve transparency. If you want to endorse a candidate, go for it. Just be honest and open.

  4. mhs

    ALL ethics laws are unconstitutional, period. An elected body may vote to censure or scold a member, but anything beyond that restricts the power of a duly elected official to execute their office and impedes the rights of the voters who elected them.

    Only voters have the power to restrict an office holder, and that’s by showing them the door at the next election.