This must end

BY ART CULLEN

The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors has not learned much, if anything, about Iowa’s open-government laws. As this was written, the supervisors were scheduled to meet in closed session on Tuesday after this edition went to press, presumably to discuss the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit. The one that doesn’t exist. The one that the federal judge dismissed. The one that the water works board voted last week to abandon.

There is only one thing the supervisors could be talking about: how to pay off the lawyers.

They can’t be talking about a slip-and-fall case on the courthouse sidewalk, or someone suing the health department. County Attorney Dave Patton would be involved in any discussion of litigation except for one, specific and unique county responsibility: drainage districts.

And the only litigation involving drainage districts is the water works’ litigation.

Which is not litigation anymore.

But there is this pesky residual issue: The county’s attorney in the drainage case, the Belin McCormick Law Firm of Des Moines, has not sent bills since last summer. They could easily exceed $300,000 for Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties. The county supervisors, last we knew, had no idea how to pay them off. Farm Bureau has made sounds, but that isn’t as sure as a signed check.

We wonder what they might be talking about.

So does Patton.

He was running over to the courthouse Monday afternoon to find out.

The supervisors elbowed Patton out of the water works discussion early on. Patton said he would warn the board not to meet in closed session. The supervisors seldom have listened to Patton before, at least in regards to their obligation under the public records and open meetings law. They might have an epiphany that we could not prophesy.

If they do, we will report back on Friday.

While we appreciate that the supervisors helped us win the Pulitzer Prize last week over this very subject, it is hard even for us to conjure what sort of arrogance and stubbornness drive the supervisors in their contempt for the public and its right to know how county business is conducted.

They are doing everything they can to hide from the public how they intend to sort out the legal bills from the dead lawsuit.

We don’t know why they are trying to hide the information. Maybe it’s because they don’t have a clue about how to pay those bills. With the lawsuit dead, maybe all their agri-industrial pals lost their phone number. What legal bills? What promises do donate? Do I know you?

Once again, on Monday we rounded up the posse.

We emailed the Iowa Public Information Board, which could hold each supervisor personally liable for fines if they hold an illegal closed meeting. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council offered its full support to sue on behalf of the public. The Hamilton Law Firm is on alert again. We hope it doesn’t get that far.

But the chutzpah of it.

To even consider going into closed session while the world — literally, the world, from Switzerland to South Dakota to New Hampshire — is watching. To even give a passing thought to holding a closed meeting to talk about how to pay off lawyers is an affront to good government. Worst, it is an insult to the taxpayers of Buena Vista County who want to know what the supervisors are up to. We have made do with one-sentence statements from drainage attorney Gary Armstrong, who is not elected as Patton is. Armstrong is paid by the Iowa Drainage District Association, Patton is paid by the people.

Patton was to tell these hardheads Tuesday to give it up. Conduct the people’s business in front of the people. We hope they take his advice and come out from behind the curtain. If they do, we assume they will do what they are well-trained at doing: have an open meeting but talk about cockleburs and not the Belin bills. Wait us out. Talk about it over the phone with the boys from Sac and Calhoun. Hash it out good. Don’t embarrass yourselves. Don’t let the public know you are just letting someone else handle it while you cash a county paycheck and sign onto its health plan.

And then someday The Storm Lake Times will find out about it and report it.

This has to end.

It will end.