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Out Here: Lee County chose controversial path

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 1:57 a.m. CST

If you live inside Dixon, Rock Falls or Sterling, you’ll probably never see an industrial wind turbine near your home. But that’s not the case in the country.

Many residents are concerned about wind turbines in their neighborhoods. They want all the information they can get about proposed wind farms.

Lee County, in the view of some, is not making that any easier.

Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power is proposing dozens of turbines for the southwestern portion of Lee County.

When the hearings started for the wind farm in July, the company, which hired a court reporter for the proceedings, provided transcripts to the county.

But then State’s Attorney Henry Dixon got into a high-profile battle with local attorney Frances Mitchell, who wanted to see the transcripts. He denied access to them, even though they were in the county’s custody. He said Mitchell would have to go to the court reporter to buy them – at a hefty fee.

The attorney general later said Dixon was wrong. By that time, however, the county had put the first transcripts online. Since September, it hasn’t received any more transcripts.

Why?

It depends on who you ask.

Here’s what we’ve heard:

- John Martin of Mainstream said his company understood the county didn’t want to take ownership of the transcripts any longer.

- The county’s zoning officer, Chris Henkel, said the county made no decision to stop accepting transcripts.

- Craig Buhrow, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which is holding the hearings, said at a meeting last month that the county would have to pay for the transcripts to obtain them. Given the cost of obtaining the transcripts, he said, the county chose not to do so.

- Doris Kennay, the court reporter, said she gave the transcripts to the county in error because the county couldn’t pay for them. She said she understood from a previous court reporter that she was supposed to send them to the county.

In Whiteside County, the zoning office required Mainstream hire a court reporter as part of the process. The county used the transcripts as the minutes and posted them online as soon as it got them.

Lee County chose a different, more controversial path.

It decided to do its own minutes, but scaled them back to almost nothing, even though the zoning board’s own rules require that the county provide an accurate summary of testimony.

Henkel said the county is simply following Robert’s Rules of Order, which are common procedures for governing bodies.

With the new version of the minutes, the public gets to find out the names of those cross-examining witnesses and the exact minute they wend their cross-examinations. And that’s it.

I looked at zoning boards for other government entities in the area, and all provide far more information about what is said during their meetings. That’s a greater help to those who make the final decisions – county boards and city councils.

Why is Lee County the exception?

No concession call

On election night, Mitt Romney called Barack Obama to concede. Shortly after, Romney gave his concession speech, Obama addressed his supporters. This is the tradition of every election, except 2000, which went decidedly off script.

Do such concessions happen on the local level?

Not necessarily.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he got the phone number of his 36th Senate District opponent, Bill Albracht, R-Moline, and put the scrap of paper in his front pocket on election night.

Jacobs said he was prepared to call his rival if it became clear Albracht would win.

As it turns out, Jacobs won handily with 55 percent of the vote.

Albracht, a Vietnam veteran and retired Secret Service agent, congratulated Jacobs on his website, but never called the senator, who has served since 2005.

Jacobs said that if he had lost, he would have resigned early so that Albracht would gain seniority over other freshmen. Such seniority could result in better committee assignments.

“It would have been important for our district,” Jacobs said.

We published a number of stories on the campaign because the 36th District includes most of Whiteside County.

One of my stories concerned a Jacobs campaign assertion about Albracht’s position backing Medicaid co-pays. While the assertion was true, it left out an important fact – that Jacobs had essentially supported the same thing earlier this year.

In other words, the story was arguably positive for Albracht.

I left message after message with Albracht. His campaign manager told me her candidate had many events and was too busy to talk.

Jacobs, on the other hand, was the opposite. I could reach him on his personal cellphone. If he didn’t answer right away, he’d call back soon after.

Would Albracht have become more accessible if he had been elected?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I couldn’t reach him.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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