Fellow South Dakota blogger Scott Ehrisman is seeking appointment to the Minnehaha County Commission. Commissioner John Pekas won election as Second Circuit judge this month, so the county needs someone to fill his term through 2016.
Ehrisman offers the commission a diverse blue-collar and creative work experience (and he grew up on a sheep and hog farm!) that would bring a healthy new perspective to county government. I whole-heartedly endorse his candidacy.
Whoops—make that 95%-heartedly. Ehrisman makes one promise that I can't back:
I know you have concerns. I maintain a controversial website about local government. It is my child. It’s premise is simple, to inform and to entertain through political satire and activism. I often tell people, “If you can’t laugh at politicians, you will only end up hating them.” I am not a hater. I have often tried to use the blog as a catalyst for change and activism. Sometimes it achieves those goals, sometimes it falls on it’s face. It has given me a very thick skin, but it has also made me aware of the public’s sensitivities. If appointed to this commission, I would stop the blog or pass on the reigns to another author. I HATE conflicts of interest with public officials, and I would find it necessary to eliminate them by ending my authorship. I believe it is difficult to stop ALL conflicts as a public official, but also believe we have clear choices, and unlike other candidates applying for this position, I would CHOOSE to eliminate as many conflicts as possible [Scott Ehrisman, "I Announced Today My Intent to Be Considered for Appointment to the Minnehaha County Commission," South Dacola, 2014.11.18].
I agree that Ehrisman's engagement with the public through his blog has enhanced his skills as a politician (I'm using the word in its best sense, Scott, meaning a practitioner of civic discourse and policy-making, an engineer of the polis). Blogging done right (i.e., reading, interviewing, thinking, and writing your own material, not regurgitating the press releases of one's patrons) improves one's understanding of the community. It improves one's ability to speak and to listen. Blogging has made Ehrisman a better public servant.
For those reasons, I disagree with Ehrisman's feeling that he must stop blogging if appointed as a potential conflict of interest. His interest as a commissioner would be to stay connected with his constituents, to hear their concerns, and to lead useful public conversations. Ehrisman's blog could play a vital rile in serving the public interest.
I recognize that Ehrisman would find himself unable to blog about confidential county business. Decorum would require caution in criticizing fellow commission members, commission decisions, and county employees. Some subjects might well be better handled by guest blog authors.
However, Ehrisman's blog would be a perfect forum for informing his constituents about issues before the commission, for soliciting public input outside the strictures of official meetings, and for developing and explaining his own thinking on county policy.
State Rep. (now State Senator-Elect) Bernie Hunhoff wrote and edited South Dakota Magazine during his tenure in the State House. He avoided any conflict of interest while still using his forum to connect with his constituents. Rep.-Elect Fred Deutsch has blogged as a Watertown school board member; we can only hope he will carry on the practice of Rep. Kathy Tyler, whom he unseated this month and who regularly and informatively blogged during her tenure in the State House.
Bloggers can serve in political office. Politicians can serve the public by blogging. Minnehaha County, put Ehrisman to work for the people. Scott, keep working for the people by blogging!8 comments