To the Editor:
Every time it seems like there might be some progress and improvement in how our county government handles zoning issues, something happens that sets everything back to zero. That’s what happened at the county board meeting on January 23rd.
It unfolded as a discussion about appointing members to the Board of Adjustment (BOA). There have been three lawsuits filed against the county in two years over decisions made by the BOA, the most recent being a lawsuit by the city of Houston over the approval of a feedlot expansion near the city. It was supported by only two members of the three-member BOA. Clearly reasonable people could see that there should be more than two people making a final decision that would allow a smelly feedlot to impact an entire community.
The county board recently decided to enlarge the three-member BOA to five members as it replaced two members whose term had expired. There was an application process open for anyone to apply who was interested in being on the BOA. It was a fair, unbiased process in which four thoughtful, well-informed people were selected after a thorough screening by an impartial committee.
What played out was the same kind of manipulation and abuse of zoning that we have put up with for years in Houston County. Commissioner Scott Connor came up with a phony smokescreen argument to undercut the previously made decision to appoint four people, something about wanting to have “input into the process.” The truth is he just didn’t like the people nominated so he offered a motion to ditch the earlier decision and only appoint two new members to the BOA.
Connor’s actions were predictable. He wasn’t fooling anyone in the room. It certainly seemed like he was advocating for the pro-frack sand mining residents who turned out for the meeting in force.
The real disappointment was commissioner Fred Arnold. The vote was split 2-2 with Arnold being the final one to vote. As the room stood silent for what seem like five minutes Arnold struggled with his decision, looking down and with his face turning red. In the end he caved in and voted “yes” to Connor’s motion to only appoint two members.
After the vote commissioner Justin Zmyewski said it exactly right; “There was a fair and impartial process agreed to before-hand to appoint four people, but when it produced people that some people didn’t like then the process gets scrapped.”
After the meeting Arnold indicated he voted the way he did to ensure that there would be staggered terms. But if he really thought staggered terms were that important, all he had to do was move to appoint two people to three year terms, one to a two year term and one to a one year term. So it’s really hard to believe that was his real reason for completely destroying the process decided on earlier.
How are people to have confidence in government when elected officials act like this? This is yet another example of why we have so much controversy over zoning in this county. People like commissioner Arnold can’t be relied on to be fair and impartial.
La Crescent Township