Port Authority Update

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The Port Authority met in open session on Wednesday. This was their first meeting since June, so we figured this would be a good time to update our readers on what they’ve done, and what they’re doing.

What they’ve done
In case you don’t remember, or if you never quite understood in the first place, the Port Authority is basically a body of government created by Winnebago, Worth, Cerro Gordo and Mitchell counties.

Essentially, Iowa law allows this “Port Authority” to have different abilities than it allows an individual county board of supervisors to have, for example.

So in 2016, these four counties decided it was in their best interest to create this entity to enable them to work together on what ever projects they identified in the future.

One of the first things the new board identified was the lack of natural gas infrastructure available to industry in our area.

Based on that reasoning, they decided to commission an engineering study to come up with a plan, a proposed route, and what the price of building a pipeline would cost.

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They sent out bids, and ended up commissioning the study from a company called Montana-Dakota Utilities at an estimated cost of $800,000.

To help pay for the study, Port Authority chairman Merlin Bartz and the Port Authority managed to get $250,000 from the state legislature.

The Port Authority will get this money once they sign a contract with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The rest of the cost will be split between Mitchell and Worth Counties.

What they’re doing
Simply put, they’re waiting for the study to be finished. Drafts of the study have been completed, but the Port Authority is waiting until it’s complete before releasing the information to the public.

“Usually if it’s a draft or in preliminary stages, there isn’t anything put together to where it’s an actionable item for the board to look at, then it’s not subject to the open records law.” said Michael Moeller, an attorney representing the Port Authority.

The study could be finished as early as the end of 2018, and preliminary cost estimates for the proposed pipeline are between $35 million and $40 million.

A portion of the public has been skeptical about the Port Authority’s motives, with some believing that the entity is engaged in corruption or is at least acting unethically.

These concerns have manifested in a series of conflict of interest complaints filed by Al Winters, who also happens to be on the ballot for Mitchell County Supervisor on November 6.

The complaints were filed against Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk, Mitchell County Supervisor Stan Walk, and Worth County Supervisor Merlin Bartz.

As previously reported in the EJ, the Bartz complaint was dismissed after being reviewed by Worth County Attorney Jeff Greve back in July.

More recently, Mark Walk had sent the complaint against him to he Bremer County Attorney, Kasey Wadding, for review.

In the complaint, Winters had accused Walk using his “duties of office” to twist facts and conceal the actions of the Port Authority, and therefore created a benefit for Bartz and the Port Authority.

However, Wadding’s review dismissed the complaint, and pointed out that County Attorney Walk does not provide legal representation for the Port Authority, he is mentioned nowhere in any of its minutes, and essentially has had no involvement with the Port Authority since its inception.

Winters’ complaints against the three officials did not meet the form requirements by the state, and while the complaints are filed as violating Iowa Code Chapter 68B, Winters fails to identify what part of 68B any of the officials have violated.

Mark Walk said during last week’s supervisor meeting that he has contacted Dunton Brown Law Firm for a possible filing of a defamation of character law suit against Winters.

2 COMMENTS

  1. DON’T ASK TOO MANY QUESTIONS
    Bremer County Attorney Wadding’s opinion on the Iowa Code 68B complaint I filed naming Mitchell County Attorney, Mark Walk is one step in a long process to bring transparency to Mitchell County government.
    Mr. Wadding and I discussed the case in his office on August 23rd. One of the primary questions we agreed that needed to be asked during his investigation was not. An oversight I suppose. Regardless of the outcome of this step in the process the Iowa Ombudsman accepted this case for further review in early July. It is scheduled for investigation. They made that decision based on the same information I provided to County Attorney Wadding.
    The Iowa Ombudsman prefers that matters involving county government first be addressed at the local level and a solution sought. Iowa Ethics Board Director, Megan Tooker, advised me their agency had no authority in the matter. She did provide assistance in understanding the steps to move this issue forward based on the details I discussed with her in June.
    A note should be made regarding the “extensive three and one-half month investigation” that was reported in last weeks paper. Mr. Wadding received the information sometime in mid-July. His schedule was busy so we didn’t meet to discuss the case until August 23rd. At that time he had only scanned through the material and had not watched the video because it was missing. I had to mail another copy of the video to him. The following week Mr. Wadding had a conference to attend. The next week was Labor Day and he advised he had a case to prepare for. Instead of and extensive three-month investigation is was more like a three-week investigation.
    County Attorney Walk has contacted a firm in Waterloo to begin the process of suing me for “Defamation of Character”. The investigator I am working with at the Ombudsman Office calls the action, “impertinent”. He writes, “It’s your right as a citizen to question public officials and express opinions on them”.
    I suppose this could serve as a warning to others who dig to deep, ask to many questions, or use an Iowa Code that affords a citizen the opportunity to hold their government accountable.
    Al Winters

    Listen, the fact of the matter is the original question Mr. Wadding and I decided that Mark Walk should be asked wasn’t addressed here. Additionally, the Worth County Attorney freely admitted in his replies to me that a conflict of interest issue could indeed exist. Both the Worth County Attorney AND the Bremer County Attorney stated they found no reference in the Port Authority minutes that talks about trying to “find other buyers”, That simply doesn’t exist. You know, I can’t help what does or doesn’t exist in the minutes. I can’t help that people say what they say and I happen to get it recorded. It would be nice before taking a swipe at an individual hat you may call to ask his “side of the story”.

  2. Here’ another hot tip for you. I have the recording of the June 28 Port Authority Meeting. Stan Walk states that the daft copy of the Engineering Report was completed about three weeks prior to that days meeting. He also stated the final version should be done by the end of July or very early August. Walk also states that as soon as he receives that report he will forward it to the PA Board AND RELEASE IT TO THE PUBLIC BECAUSE, WELL, IT IS A PUBLIC DOCUMENT. So, that means the copy he was sent on September 1, 2018 from David Yexley would be the report he intended to distribute to PA Board members and it ought to have been made available to the public by his own words. Do you want to hear the recording Mr. Charlson? If I were Stan Walk and I knew this information was out there and it ALL now sits in the hands of the professionals in Des Moines I don’t know if I’d sleep all that well.

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