The charade of the Clay County Board of Adjustment regarding chairman Travis Mockler’s Permit for a large combined hog and cattle feeding operation 50 feet from the slope to the Vermillion River is over. After several months and five hearings (two before the county planning commission and three before the county commission acting as Board of Adjustment) Mr. Mockler has failed to (a) meet commission imposed deadlines, (b) supply requested clarifications of his plans, and (c) comply with the Clay County Ordinance—the Ordinance that he successfully fought to water down. But from the beginning, the outcome seemed certain.
Acting chairperson Phyllis Packard announced the rules for the August 27 final “public hearing”—three minutes per person, and a very limited time for all public input. When the chairperson of the Sierra Club, the group that appealed the permit, posed a question, Packard turned to Mr. Mockler’s lawyer for an answer, a pattern she repeated throughout the hearing. Incredibly, the Sierra spokesperson was then denied the opportunity to resume her presentation. As she closed the hearing, Packard misstated the requirements of the county Ordinance, and falsely characterized citizens worried about river pollution as “anti-farmer.”
Zoning Administrator Aden consistently defended Mr. Mockler’s sloppy and incomplete application, as well as her own lack of oversight. State’s Attorney Alexis Tracey played her part by falsely claiming that “both sides,” Mockler and those who appealed the Permit, missed deadlines for submission of materials, a claim that the record shows applies only to the applicant.
Only Commissioner Dick Hammond seriously studied the issues and did what he could to mitigate the potential for environmental damage. Commissioner Mike Manning took every opportunity to advocate for his chairman, and Commissioner Leo Powell seemed mostly disengaged until he could finally move to deny the Appeal. Throughout the proceedings, it was apparent that with the exception of Hammond, the eventual outcome was a foregone conclusion.
One conclusion is apparent to concerned citizens: We need commissioners who are willing to take citizen and environmental concerns seriously, as the Ordinance requires, and who will do the work taxpayers pay them to do.