BY ART CULLEN
Buena Vista County taxpayers should feel gratified that someone is watching over the board of supervisors. County Auditor Sue Lloyd told the board that it should not enter into a closed session to discuss a lawsuit that has withered into the ether. She and County Attorney Dave Patton warned the board that it could violate the Iowa open meetings law by secretly discussing how to pay its attorneys from the recently deceased case of Des Moines Water Works v. Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties.
We thought you should know about two county officials who take the law and their duties seriously. They are good people who are watching out for you.
The board knew this and finally heeded Patton’s sound counsel. They left the doors open.
And then they said they still don’t know how to pay the Belin McCormick Law Firm hundreds of thousands of dollars in back bills.
That important, potentially secret business handled, they proceeded to post sort of a thesis/indictment on reporter Tom Cullen’s forehead. Led by Drainage Attorney Gary Armstrong of Storm Lake, who is paid by the Iowa Drainage District Association and not the electors of this county, they crowed about how they were right, they knew it all along and they have been open as a breeze through the spring kitchen window.
Hey, they won the case. A judge threw it out. See?
They made their snide remarks about Patton and chastised the reporter and his father, the editor.
But they should know that Patton saved their hides from $1,000 fines each with the Iowa Public Information Board. Not Armstrong, but the supervisors he advises. Patton at least saved them the hassle of a hearing before that board. They were about to violate Iowa law.
They stood in violation of Iowa law when they refused to release donor records held by their agent, the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, which was paying the counties’ defense costs. Patton could compel AAI to release those names through a lawsuit, if he were not trying to keep the board out of a real pickle. They should treat him better.
One point they made to us: This newspaper urged a settlement, which was preposterous. We would respond that if Patton had been able to meet with the water works and talk about common challenges and solutions we might have been able to forge a political sentiment that would heal a certain cleavage among friends in Iowa.
Buena Vista County could have had an important voice in protecting Iowa agriculture and the environment by entering into a bipartisan discussion that shaped terms of a consensus. But the secret donors did not want that conversation to happen. It has not happened. If Patton could have begged off the water works — and we think he could have — with the cooperation of what was then a bipartisan legislature we might not have to be figuring out in a secret meeting how to pay off the Des Moines lawyers.
They wanted to win and fend off any regulation of excess and stray nutrients from agriculture.
They won. And the Raccoon River nitrate levels are still off the charts.
But Buena Vista County still has open government, so long as Dave Patton and Sue Lloyd are in the courthouse.
Just when Iowa farmers are really getting on board with sustainable practices — see Etta and Seth Smith’s 2017 Environmental Stewardship Award from the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association for their efforts along the Raccoon — the legislature moves to completely defund the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. A former ISU vice provost for Extension told us it was, “a dark day indeed.”
It was a political statement, pure and simple. The state stripped the center’s $400,000 in funding. ISU will lose $3 million in research grant revenue as a result. The legislature could have taken $400,000 out of the water quality account. It wasn’t that much in the scheme of things.
But as independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan said, the Republicans have wanted to kill the Leopold Center for years.
It’s about what it represents: an agriculture that explores something other than the corn-bean-hog-petrochemical way of doing things as they have been done. Agri-industry does not want to hear about native grasses they cannot patent. It dcoes not want to hear about planting corn on fewer marginal acres and replacing it with cattle. It does not want you to know about integrated pest management that might not require you to plant Bt corn. That’s what the Leopold Center does: it looks at how to reduce inputs and costs for farmers while improving soil tilth, water quality and on-farm profit.
Nobody wants the farmer unshackled from that supply chain that controls Iowa. And that’s why the Leopold Center was defunded.
A dark day indeed.