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Sioux Falls city councilor claims Mayor TenHaken is attempting to intimidate her

Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 6:39 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken is being accused of intimidating a city councilor up for re-election.

City Councilor Janet Brekke says the mayor sent her a text message Monday morning threatening to expose what he calls an ethics violation in her campaign practices, but Brekke claims, it’s all in an effort to intimidate her.

TenHaken’s message to Brekke reads: “My staff and city employees continue to get text messages from your campaign asking to place signs at their homes. I am choosing not to expose this ethics issue but if it continues I will have to do so.”

The Federal Communications Commission and the Sioux Falls City Charter have restrictions on campaign practices.

According to the FCC, text messages generated through auto-dialing – are considered a type of call and fall under all robocall rules.

However, political text messages can be sent without prior consent if the sender manually dials them. Those messages must also contain an “opt-out” mechanism.

Both of which, Brekke says her campaign firm, Red State Inc., out of Washington DC, has done.

“Let’s go to the ethics board because I know everything I’ve done is completely legal and completely ethical,” Brekke said.

But, Mayor TenHaken’s message specifically pertained to city employees, and Brekke’s campaign asked them if they’d place signs at their homes.

The Sioux Falls City Charter states:

“No person shall knowingly or willfully solicit or assist in soliciting any contribution for any political party or political purpose to be used in conjunction with any city election from any city employee.”

Additionally:

“No city employee shall, directly or indirectly, contribute money or anything of value to or render service on behalf of the candidacy of any candidate for nomination or election to any city office.”

Dakota News Now spoke with City Councilors Christine Erickson and Pat Starr about the city’s regulations Tuesday. The two have different interpretations of Brekke’s actions.

“It’s important for the mayor to protect his employees, to make sure they’re not violating charter or city ordinance. Councilor Brekke should know the rules and, unfortunately, has continued to violate that ordinance and the charter,” Erickson said.

Starr argues that city employees have the right to interact however they choose in elections.

“If she had been asking them for money or a campaign contribution, that could have led to some problems. She’s not doing that from what I can tell,” Starr said.

Brekke says it’s more than just about the campaign rules, but the mayor’s actions toward city councilors who don’t align with him.

“This has become personal from him and I think he went a step too far, and I decided, really on behalf of myself and other women, there’s been a practice of this in previous campaigns,” Brekke said.

Councilor Erickson starkly refutes Brekke’s accusations.

“As a woman myself, and being on the council for the last eight years, I have never been subjected to intimidation from the mayor,” Erickson said.

Starr, on the other hand, echoes much of what Brekke has said.

“The mayor has been very active in this campaign, not only in his own campaign but in the campaigns of other councilmembers,” Starr said.

What Starr is referring to is a post from Mayor TenHaken last week in which he laid out who he would vote for in the upcoming city election.

“These are baseless allegations and honestly, way beneath what we should expect from our leaders,” TenHaken said in a statement to Dakota News Now. “Those who know me can see through them for what they are--false, misleading and a desperate attempt for headlines a week before an election. I look forward to continuing to discuss issues like housing, public safety and infrastructure rather than publicity stunts like this.”

This all comes as the Sioux Falls City Council is set to hear the first reading of an ordinance that would implement mandatory ethics training for all city employees at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The amendment is sponsored by Councilor Brekke and Starr.

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