Zoning Board’s empty hot seat

Tama Co. supervisors opt not to elect Backen to Commission

Toledo resident Duane Backen pictured Feb. 24 at Traer City Hall while working as a poll worker during special election satellite voting. Backen’s appointment to the Tama Co. Zoning Commission was tabled by the board of supervisors last week. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

During the Monday, Feb. 27 Board of Supervisors meeting, heated discussions unfolded between community members in attendance and the Supervisors over the potential appointment of Duane Backen to the Zoning Board.

On Sept. 9 of last year, the Board of Supervisors advertised to fill the vacancy of Ross Peterson on the Zoning Board, who resigned on Aug. 25. The deadline to submit these applications was Sept. 16.

When asked by community members when Backen applied for the position, Supervisor Curt Hilmer, after reading the application, announced Backen applied on Feb. 20 of this year.

Richard Arp and Jon Winkelpleck, two leaders of the Tama County Against Turbines coalition, expressed outrage with the board over its handling of the matter.

“For you to appoint somebody who put in an application on Feb. 20 when you gave us a deadline of September, that’s not transparent,” Arp said during public comments at the meeting.

“The morals of this county are swirling in the toilet,” Winkelpleck said when speaking of the late application acceptance.

Supervisor Dan Anderson responded.

“The applications that we got, we all pretty much felt they were biased, most of them from your group,” he said. “We want a range of people with different ideas that could be balanced out.”

Heather Knebel questioned the Supervisors’ decision on this issue.

“Why can’t there be one of us? I’ve probably read the ordinance more than anybody in this county. I’ve read Butler’s, I’ve read Worth’s, I’ve read Tama’s. I applied as well, how does that not make me qualified just because I’m a part of the TCAT group?” she asked. “Craig [Sash] has a turbine. That doesn’t make me not qualified just because I’m trying to protect my family and get ordinances updated.”

When asked about the neutrality of the current Zoning Commission members, Supervisor Anderson had this to say.

“Well, we’ve talked about that. Then we decided not to. We thought we just leave Wade [Mitchell], Doug [Dvorak], and Craig [Sash] on there. I don’t know if [Darren] Thiessen [will stay], he told me that he wasn’t sure,” he said.

“Our intent is to get this Zoning Board filled today and then call the Zoning Board together to start talking about solar,” said Supervisor Bill Faircloth.

When asked why they chose Backen, who previously served on the County’s Board of Health, to fill the Zoning Board position, Supervisor Faircloth replied, “We just feel he is the best qualified we got. He’s not biased.”

The pressure has been on for months for the Board to appoint someone, but citizens of Tama County are concerned at the possible neglect of Iowa Code 69.16A, which states:

“1. All appointive boards, commissions, committees, and councils of the state established by the Code, if not otherwise provided by law, shall be gender balanced. No person shall be appointed or reappointed if that appointment or reappointment would cause the number of members of one gender to be greater than one-half plus one of the board, commission, committee, or council is composed of an odd number of members.”

“2. All appointive boards, commissions, committees, and councils of a political subdivision of the state that are established by the Code, if not otherwise provided by law, shall be balanced as provided by subsection 1 unless the political subdivision has made a good faith effort to appoint a qualified person to fill a vacancy-for a period of three months, but has been unable to make a compliant appointment. In complying with the requirements of this subsection, political subdivisions shall utilize a fair and unbiased method of selecting the best-qualified applicants.”

When discussing the gender imbalance and neglect of Iowa Code 69.16A, citizens reminded the Board of women landowners and farmers, and the need for equal representation and difference of opinions.

“The applicants you have been given are exceptional. They’ve met your requirements. Yet, you continue to disregard the Tama County taxpayers, continue to disregard the laws you guys have imposed for your own benefit,” Winkepleck said before claiming nepotism by the Board.

Supervisor Hilmer later offered an explanation on the process.

“We didn’t seek him out. Dan knew him, and Dan was pretty passionate about how good a guy he was. So I felt pretty comfortable not thinking about the woman thing,” Hilmer said. “I was freaking out. I want this solar thing done now. Dan is the same way. We felt like we had to get this thing going. He had applied, and Dan asked Karen if she thought he would still be interested. That’s exactly how it went down.”

Supervisor Hilmer noted a recommendation to remove Craig Sash from the Zoning Board due to him signing a contract for a turbine with Salt Creek Wind and favoring to fill this position in accordance with Iowa Code 69.16A.

Knebel reminded the Board of the true purpose of the Zoning Commission before public comments closed.

“Zoning makes recommendations, you guys are the ones that decide. If I’m on that board and the group of the five of us make a recommendation, then present it to you. You let it go through, or you don’t. It’s just a recommendation board, that’s it,” she said.

Moving into the agenda, the Board of Supervisors opted not to appoint Duane Backen to the Zoning Board and has tabled the discussion for a later, undetermined date as of now.

The Board of Supervisors has felt the pressure to fill the Tama’s Zoning Commission and will likely continue to feel it until the position is filled.

“We feel a real need to get this position filled, get the Zoning Board up and running to address solar. We’re trying to do what you folks have asked us to,” Anderson said.