Art Cullen
Art Cullen

September 27, 2017

It bewilders us why the Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac County boards of supervisors would even think about meeting in closed session to discuss how to pay bills for the dismissed Des Moines Water Works lawsuit that several months ago bedeviled them. We have spoken about this for years. This is public business. Citizens for two years have been treated as a common nuisance.

Last spring, just after we won The Pulitzer Prize for our editorials on the opaque and arrogant way in which the lawsuit was handled by the counties, the Buena Vista County supervisors attempted to enter into a closed session to discuss paying bills for the lawsuit, which had been dismissed several weeks earlier. They were warned by The Storm Lake Times, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, the Buena Vista County Attorney and the staff attorney for the Iowa Public Information Board not to enter that closed session. They heeded the advice and avoided a formal complaint by not going into closed session. They used the occasion as an opportunity to complain about our advocacy for transparency in legal funding of this lawsuit, which was a matter of public interest and carried a potential liability for taxpayers.

Late last week, the county supervisors jointly issued an agenda for a meeting that advertised “possible” closed sessions to discuss paying legal bills and to discuss “insurance.” Again, we and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council warned the supervisors on Friday not to enter a closed session and expose themselves to liability. We asked in advance how they could justify a closed session to discuss a defunct lawsuit; we received no reply from anybody.

Times Reporter Tom Cullen drove to Sac City on Monday to report on the meeting. The boards did not enter a closed session to discuss paying bills. When Cullen asked why they considered it on the agenda, Sac County Drainage Attorney Colin McCullough replied, “That’s all I’m gonna tell you. That’s all you’re gonna get.”

Which is nothing.

No explanation is made to account for why they would continue to attempt to meet in secret to discuss a lawsuit that has been dismissed. We can think of two things: a thick skull or stubbornness.

Turns out, there was absolutely no reason to advertise a “possible” closed session other than to keep the public away, or to show their contempt for the public. All they did was sit around and tell each other that they still owe lawyers $40,000 and that they don’t know where to dredge the funds. No secret about that.

As for the second item on the agenda:

The Sac and Calhoun county supervisors did enter into a closed session to discuss its insurance claims against their common insurance carrier. Buena Vista County has a different insurance carrier, so the BV supervisors did not attend the closed session. The Sac and Calhoun county supervisors are led to believe that their insurance company promised them $50,000 jointly but never paid up. If the insurance company was not covering them on the water works claim, why would it offer $50,000? Because the insurance company felt bad for them?

The public would have bought tickets to hear the absurd discussion going on as they continue to dream of owning a pony.

The BV County supervisors should not bank on Sac and Calhoun shaking down the insurance company to pay the remaining $40,000 in legal fees from the case. They probably will have to rely on the Farm Bureau, Corn Growers and Iowa Drainage District Association. Which is fine. They were the ones urging the counties to dig in, and the counties won. So their cheerleaders should hold a bake sale.



The pastor speaks

A tip of the biretta to Father Tim Friedrichsen of St. Mary’s, who noted on Facebook the other day that the children of undocumented immigrants have committed no crime by being brought here by their parents, so to offer them relief from deportation is not “amnesty.” He then admonishes a critic who demands that the law be satisfied. The pastor replies that you do not give a speeding ticket to the four-year-old strapped in the back seat, you give it to the mother. He suggests that mercy leads to justice, which is so often forgotten by those who want only to satisfy the law. In this case, he uses that old Aquinas method of deduction to disclose the truth from a shroud of facts. He held his ground and would not let go, asking people “Where’s the outrage?”

They should ask themselves. He is no slouch. He’s thought it through, and he is taking it to the people. This is a human rights issue. If you think you have thought through the moral righteousness of shipping out children to Honduras or El Salvador, consult the man with the funny black hat. Or your conscience.