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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 23, 2014

KEEPING WATCH - GLANCING BACK AND GOING FORWARD

By Steve Wilson | May 30, 2012

HENRY COUNTY COURTHOUSE —
6/26/2012

I enjoyed meeting with the Supervisors today. It is always a pleasure to stand up for the likes of Marty Fraser. What ever happens in the near term, in the long term Marty will be remembered as a courageous champion of the forested parks of Henry County at a critical time. In time the attention of the Conservation Board will once again come to focus on conservation and when it does those dedicated to the preservation of the diverse life of the forests and the conservation of the trees and the soil will remember Marty much as I remember Conservation Board member and bird bander, George (Pete) Crane. 

I remember Kent White as a conservation board member saying at a public hearing that he took no pleasure in selling off the small parks but we had a once in a life time opportunity to purchase the property across the road that demanded sacrifice. However, when the sale of the parks was nixed no effort was made to go after REAP funding or to organize local fund raising. Those who opposed selling the small parks were not, in the main, opposed to purchasing the proposed development site and I for one had offered to assist financially. As it turned out the primary motive for selling the forested parks was not the urgent need for cash but the desire to centralize.

The last thing we need is the centralization of conservation. We need conservation spread from corner to corner across the county. We need a Crooked Creek Wetland and we need county wide water quality monitoring. If there is to be a bright future the likes of these elements are essential ingredients.

I gained access to a a tape of a Conservation Board meeting at the conservation office upon which Conservation Director John Pullis was seeking to convince Conservation Board members to first log the forested parks and then sell them. When one of the board members objected saying the public would not hear to the logging of the parks John came back with, "We will not call it logging. We will call it timber stand improvement." Our forests and our freedoms both require constant vigilance as silver tongues weave nets of deception.

I asked  board member Jim Onorato if he would keep that tape safe for me for future reference and he said he would, however, when I asked to listen to it again it had mysteriously disappeared. I accept that Jim is as puzzled by that as I am.

I remember talking to Supervisor Gary See one morning in the courthouse about the decision to deny Marty Fraser's request for his second term on the conservation board. A request with an unbroken tradition of being granted.  I remember asking Gary - why lie about why Marty is being denied the opportunity to serve a second term? 

You see, Marty refused to walk in lockstep with John Pullis and Kent White and he rattled some cages as he was being drug along and he successfully broke the momentum to sell the parks. That is why his request was not granted. Had he bowed his head and toed the line and walked quietly along behind, any other infraction real or contrived, would have been forgiven. The line about gender parity requirements did not wash then and later was openly contradicted in how other posts on other boards were filled.

As for Gary's answer... I do not remember that he offered me one.  So, You might want to ask him again...

Any way, the sooner we can put all of this behind us and get busy working together to conserve the resources of the county for our grand children, the better. It is not too late for all of us to be the heros who turned the tide on soil erosion and environmental degradation. It is not to late to learn how "to live on a piece of land without spoiling it." Aldo Leopold.

  

 

6/25/2012 FOCUS ON THE WORK

Joy says, " Enough! Cut the posturing and keep your focus on the work. "

So tomorrow I will present a request to the supervisors during public comments to put a discussion, held with the intent to rectify the decision to deny Martin Fraser's request for a second term on the Conservation Board, on the agenda of an open meeting to be held within the next 30 days.  I will also be calling for a plaque or Letter of Commendation to be hung where ever the Conservation Board regularly meets to recognize Marty's extraordinary dedication to conservation and the preservation of our parks during his term on the board.

 

6/24/2012 ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH?

 

Mr. White has extended to the public a formula for the opportunity to challenge the character of the Supervisors - You must be "man enough" to address them in person. I accept, do You?

That is an interesting WELCOME mat.

It would go nicely with, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? I heard that when I ran for supervisor.

Or, HOW DARE YOU? Which is the message I got when I crashed the party at closed business meetings where all three supervisors were in attendance.

It reminds me just a bit of Ron Osborne's Skunk Rug that says GO AWAY. Only the pleasant irony of Osborne's UNWELCOME MAT always makes me smile. As he bellows GO AWAY in response to my knock on the door - NO WAY! - I always stay for a pleasant visit.

There is plenty of irony at the courthouse too, but unlike at the Osborn's, it is not covering up good will.

6/22/2012

Thursday 6/21/2012 approx. 9:10 am

Asking for “Public Comments” and hearing none, Supervisor Kent White looked hard at me and then said he wanted to address the public.  

“I had a few phone calls,” said Mr. White, “implying that on another public forum, that perhaps You (Steve Wilson) are challenging our (the supervisors) character…. “

“When You challenge our character,” Mr. White continued, “if You were man enough, I think You would talk to us in person and I am affording You that opportunity now.”

I assured Mr. White that I wanted to respond but I wanted to do it thoughtfully at a later time. I asked him if he had read my thoughts in this forum and he said he had no interest in doing so. The point is obviously not the information per se but a call for direct straight forward communication. What a wonderful challenge! I hope we can all live up to it with enthusiasm and integrity. I think it should be listed as an agenda item to allow for a thorough discussion, as anything less would be contrary to the apparent need.

So for now, I will save my direct response to Mr. White, seeking to share it with all the supervisors in person at the next opportunity.  In this forum at this time what I want to share is the very pleasant and challenging realization that the supervisors have asked me to be more bold, direct and courageous.  What an opportunity for personal growth this is all the way around!

Mr. White has challenged my character with the words, “if You were man enough” and I accept that somewhat sexist challenge as on target in this context and thus appropriate.  I will seek to rise to the occasion with a new level of appreciation for the community value of more courageous and open communication. I am beginning to see opportunities I failed to consider in the past. I am indebted to Mr. White for his call for this enhanced level of communication and I will do my best.

 

6/20/2012 ITS BEYOND THE LAW

The Ombudsman clarified that the three supervisors can secretly meet in a dark basement, or in a county car, with or without staff to discuss any and all county ordinances and enforcement actions and, so long as there is no discussion of changing those ordinances but only of the administration of them, it is perfectly legal.  

The three supervisors in such secret meetings are not required to keep any records of what is said or done and therefore what they do is purely their private business no matter if it is purely ministerial or social or not. That is unless one of them has the courage to stand up and say “Wait a minute this is wrong!” Just imagine a supervisor in the courthouse gang with that kind of commitment to transparency! Instead we have supervisors looking for holes to hide in.

The Sunshine Law is not worth the paper it is written on unless there are at least two, a quorum of supervisors,  who are men of character, like Marty Fraser, who will stand up and walk out when he smells a rat seeking to hole up... and We all know what the three current supervisors did to Marty after that.

I recently asked Gary See, with his many years of experience, if he would consider serving as the parliamentarian for the board.  He declined. When Kent White led Gary See and Marc Lindeen into a secret meeting, purging the office of the Assessor to do so because I declined to leave the supervisor’s office, Supervisor See followed along (even though he later confessed to the Ombudsman in a telephone conversation that he silently questioned the action). What was discussed is moot, but how it was done speaks volumes.  

A person who will openly serve all the people of Henry County is not currently serving on the Board of Supervisors. The insiders are in the know.  Become one of them and get the inside scoop. The rest of Us are blissfully ignorant and strangely enough, We seem to enjoy the fog.

I was wrong on points of law and I apologize.  I no longer look to the law for a legal remedy.  I am done playing lawyer.

 Democracy is the government where people get what they deserve.  Vote for someone who would say, “Hey, we are not going to talk about Bob Batey, without inviting him to participate!"

He served his country well. He deserves that respect.

 

6/19/2012

Rev B

Oh, wow, it looks like I might have made some serious mistakes! The first order of business must be to apologize - as best I can out of my confusion.

I have learned yet again that it is when I think I am right that I make my most serious mistakes. The violations were obvious to me and thus obviously I need better training from the Ombudsman's office. I am a slow learner. Stick with me here and lets learn together.

I honestly thought that in this situation and in several others the Supervisors had violated the law. It looks like I could be wrong on this one. How could I be so stupid?

Lets look at the three criteria for a violation given to us now by the Ombudsman.

The board deliberated or acted on a matter

He agrees that happened. (This was in the training too)

The board had the authority to act

Here I failed to appreciate that the authority the board of supervisors has to change the language of the zoning law  (the law upon which the enforcement actions in question rest)  does not, according to the view of the Ombudsman, establish "the board had the authority to act" on the enforcement questions at hand. I think we are splitting hairs here and the Ombudsman has given the supervisors the opportunity to move away from the cutting edge. Gary See, in his revealing humor, referenced the power of the supervisors to change the rules. Over time they can, have and will. Over time they do in fact have the authority to act.

If the zoning law was written by the state or better yet for the purposes of example, the federal government so the discussion was purely about established compliance and enforcement procedures then I could see the supervisors did not have the authority to act legislatively. Not having the authority to act in such a fashion leads to the next consideration. 

The board intended to circumvent the law’s purpose

Iowa Code: 21.2.2. "Meeting" means a gathering in person or by electronic means, formal or informal, of a majority of the members of a governmental body where there is deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body's policy-making duties. Meetings shall not include a gathering of members of a governmental body for purely ministerial or social purposes when there is no discussion of policy or no intent to avoid the purposes of this chapter ."

The first thing to note is the requirement that the meeting is for purely ministerial or social purposes, only then are we to consider intent.

Definition of Ministerial: relating to or being an act done after ascertaining the existence of a specified state of facts in obedience to legal and esp. statutory mandate without exercise of personal judgment or discretion. http://research.lawyers.com/glossary/ministerial.html 

One's view on the authority to act discussed above spills over directly here.

 If the supervisors have no authority to act on the law then any deliberations are meaningless beyond effecting compliance with rules they cannot control and thus their motions are purely ministerial? Those who blindly follow the law are legal "ministers". At that point the question of their motives moves to the forefront. Even if they have authority but take the utmost care to avoid any discussion / deliberation on policy so their discussion is purely ministerial they may come in under the wire.

It is always difficult to prove intent. Maybe the board has come to the point that they are no longer intentionally ignoring open meetings and open records laws. No longer intentionally pushing the envelope. Maybe I have been working the issues too long and thus I am failing to appreciate their change of heart.

If the lack of intent stands alone as a determining factor the plea of innocense is essentially one of ignorance. When does it become too late for that? It is hard to tell the difference between those thumbing their noses at the law and those who are ignorant and those who want You to believe they are ignorant when it suits their purpose.

I am a slow learner but these laws are easy to comply with if You embrase their intent. The fact that we are working the edge is evidence the supervisors are still not seeking to get an "A" in transparency.

Keep in mind:

21.6.4. Ignorance of the legal requirements of this chapter shall be no defense to an enforcement proceeding brought under this section .

 

And finally,

 
Iowa Code 21.1 Intent — declaration of policy.

 

 

"This chapter seeks to assure, through a requirement of open meetings of governmental bodies, that the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people. Ambiguity in the construction or application of this chapter should be resolved in favor of openness."
 
The Ombudsman has spoken. I am obviously confused. I question if he has come down in favor of openness. Does he really expect the supervisors to implement his recommendations?
 
If they do, then we may all agree they are in compliance. The answer is in the future.
 
 But the supervisors sound to me like they are celebrating their own interpretation of the regulations while thinking the Ombudsman is agreeing with them, even as they teeter on a tight rope that was only intended to buy enough time for them to effect stable policies well positioned in the green zone of best practices in transparency.
 
 
So for now I find (1) they deliberated, (2) they have the authority to act and (3) they did not hold a purly ministerial or social gathering and thus their motives are a moot point.
 
I accept the line that connects the dots is fine and a bit wavy. They may not be found guilty of breaking the law. How well they implement the recommendations of the Ombudsman on a timely basis will be telling. After all, if Mr. White is sincere about wanting to obey the law We have climbed the mountain.
 
The point of law was never to criminalize our supervisors or our children, the point in this case is transparency in county government. In that regard I hope the supervisor will offer up a convincing guilty plea.
 
I apologize for my confusion.
 
I will be seeking professional help while...
 
Keeping Watch
 

 

6/18/2012

With over 50 hits YouTube has allowed many county residents to watch their government in action. The regular reporting of the Mt. Pleasant News has improved as well. The Sunshine Laws are going to work in Henry County now just as well as the residents want them to. The self-appointed watch dogs can bark treed in the night but it is up to the people get up and take action or to roll over and go back to sleep.

As I watch I have come to appreciate the level of expectations the people of Henry County have for their supervisors. I also realize officials in general have a tendency to rise or fall to the level of those expectations. 

When Marty Fraser revealed that he was denied his second term on the conservation board for fallacious reasons (the supervisors lied) there was no public outrage. He was removed because he held his ground as he sought to contest the secrecy and deception that was business as usual. He was removed because he wanted to protect our parks and save You money. He was removed because he had the courage to be an out spoken outsider telling the truth. And how did the people of Henry County reward him?

I am past that now. I do not expect to win friends and influence people in Henry County by asking our supervisors to obey the law.  I do not expect the people to demand their elected officials to follow the law. I just want to stand for a moment with the likes of Martin Frazer and Ron Osborne and Pete Crane and Bob Batey. I want to stand with characters who are characters because they have the courage to be.  I want to have the courage to hold my ground and to dare see what is happening around me and then to respond honestly. I know now that I have the courage to do that. I too appreicate the limited influence any one person should have in a democracy where no one should attempt to get in the way of people getting the government they deserve. So now its time to grab the binoc's and head for the hills to celebrate what is winged and wonderful in our world.

 

6/8/2012

I am a slow learner. I have been all my life. My brother and sister did great in school - I embarassed my English teacher Mom by getting Ds in recreational reading in sixth grade. I did better in college. I learned by taking only one or two classes at a time I could get A's. I finally graduated Suma Cum Laude with a degree in slow learning in my early 60s. 

Seems every day now I have senior moments. It is nice to have a new name for them. I could never remember names and dates in history class. Back then I was just plain stupid, but now I am old.

Among the things I have been slow to learn is that fighting strangers under the banner of freedom in some distant land is far more important to most folks than exercising freedom among their peers at home. Bob Batey is an exception. When he lied about his age to get into the Marine Corps in WWII he knew what he was going to fight for and he expects now to see it in action in county government at home. He is one of those characters of character who have enriched my life. He stands up while others cover up.

6/4/2012

The question is was it a meeting?

Note early on:  "We are adjourned?" asks Mr. Lindeen. 

Followed by "Yes we are adjourned." answers Mr. White.

Remember the three components of a meeting

1.Gathering of the majority (obviously)

2.Where there is discussion, deliberation, or action or recommendations (any one will do)

3.Regarding any matter within policy-making duties (so what do You think?)

Click on the links and go.

If there is any problem copy each link individually and paste it in your URL address bar (box) at the top of your home page.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95-TGW2FrqY Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwmZvKuJzIc Part 2

 

6/4/2012

My technical skills are being honed by my Grandsons and they are finding Grandpa to be a slow learner. I will let You know when I have successfully posted the supervisor meeting on You Tube.

6/1/2012

 

Once we can determine if a meeting has indeed taken place the question is, Was it a legal meeting?

The meeting in question fails to meet all the legal requirements for an Open Meeting since it had no Posted Agenda and no Published Minutes.

The meeting in question fails to meet all the legal requirements for a Closed Session since there was no Prior Public Notification and no offical recording and no justification given for holding a Closed Session.

The meeting in question fails to meet all the legal requirements for an Emergency meeting as no justification was given for holding an emergency meeting and no minutes were taken.  

The meeting was not held for the purpose of collective bargaining planning.

The Supervisors had the opportunity following the presentation of Robert Batey's Attorney to contest his finding that the meeting was obviously a violation of Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code . They offered no legal justification for the meeting.

Therefore if the criteria for a meeting as noted below was met and yet the meeting fails to meet all the criteria for any form of a legal meeting (see above) then attorney Marc Roberts was correct in finding the meeting to be in obvious violation of the law.

In that case the only definition of the meeting that is a perfect fit is "an illegal meeting."

 

The Sunshine Laws have been called the people's law. So let's look  at the law and see what constitutes a meeting. http://www.state.ia.us/government/ag/sunshine_advisories/

When is a Gathering an Open Meeting?

"But, we were just having breakfast . . ."

How does Iowa law define an "open meeting?" Are breakfast gatherings of a quorum of a governmental body at a local café "meetings" subject to Iowa's Open Meetings Law?

"Most Iowans who serve on city councils, school boards, state licensing boards, or other governmental bodies know that meetings require prior public notice so citizens can see what's on the agenda and attend if they wish. This is a basic "sunshine" open-government principle of Iowa law. But, in order to comply with the law, every one needs to know what constitutes a "meeting."

Iowa's Open Meetings Law says a governmental body "meets" when there is:

  • any gathering in person or by telephone conference call or other electronic means, whether formally noticed or informally occurring,
  • of a majority of the members,
  • at which there is any deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body's policy-making duties. (Iowa Code, Chapter 21.2)

A governmental body "meeting" does not include a purely ministerial or social gathering at which there is no discussion of policy or intent to avoid the Open Meetings Law, even if a quorum is present. For example:

  • A quorum of a school board gathering for breakfast at the local café, would be a meeting IF members discuss or take action on school business.
  • A quorum of a school board gathering for breakfast at the local café would not be a meeting IF members only chat about the Hawks, Cyclones or Panthers, or other matters that are not within the scope of the board's business.

Remember the basic rule: a quorum of a governmental body may gather informally, IF the conversation is social and discussion of business is saved for scheduled meetings."

 end of quote

The following summary was presented by the Iowa Ombudsman's Office at the Henry County Courthouse in Open Meetings training material.

"Three components of a ―meeting

1.Gathering of the majority

2.Where there is discussion, deliberation, or action or recommendations

3.Regarding any matter within policy-making duties"

end of quote

I hope to get the recording of "the meeting" put on You Tube over the week end so the People of Henry County can watch "the meeting" and looking at the three criteria above  decide for themselves if a meeting was held.  

 

 

5/31/2012

Robert Batey's attorney, Marc Roberts of the Simmons, Perrine, Moyer, Bergman PLC law firm of Cedar Rapids spoke to the Henry County Supervisors this morning on Mr. Batey's behalf. Noting that the meeting in question was "obviously a violation of the Iowa Code." Mr. Roberts closed with this summary of Mr. Batey's intentions. "He wants to be a good citizen and he wants to have a county government that follows the law."

5/30 Bob Batey is on the Henry County Supervisors Agenda that is currently posted at the Henry County Courthouse. Mr. Batey is scheduled to meet publicly with the Supervisors at 10:30 tomorrow morning (Thursday May 31). Mr. Batey seeks to discuss a de facto closed meeting wherein subject matter pertaining to and of concern to Mr. Batey was discussed by the three Henry County  Supervisors, without his knowledge, without public notification, without minutes being taken, without the press being present and after the formal meeting had been adjourned.

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