David Lias

David Lias

The farmer and the cowman should be friends,

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,

But that's no reason why they cain't be friends.

Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmers' daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals.

(From the musical Oklahoma!, music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein)

The lyrics of The Farmer and the Cowman came to mind as I sat at a Clay County Zoning Commission meeting earlier this week. (You can read about the meeting in this issue of the Plain Talk).

If this wondrous songwriting duo could visit Clay County today, I wonder if they might consider adapting the song just for us and change its title to The Farmer and the Townman.

Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the song to reflect the friction felt between ranchers, who preferred the wide-open range for their cattle herds, and farmers, who were breaking sod, planting crops and putting up barbed-wire fences.

Here in Clay County, farmers and city dwellers (or to be more accurate, townsfolk) need each other.

There's just one problem. Many times, it seems, these two distinct segments of the county’s population forget that.

The zoning commission met Monday in the small room in the basement of the Clay County Courthouse that serves as the meeting chamber of the county commission and the room was filled. There wasn’t an empty seat available when I arrived. Thankfully, a friendly soul, who saw me standing in the doorway, struggling to hear what was going on, offered me his chair.

Monday’s meeting dealt with a zoning change request and the recommendation of the county zoning commission will eventually go to the Clay County Commission which will make a final decision on the issue. It was a tense meeting and by the time a decision was made by the zoning board on this issue, one could say that many of those attending were unhappy and many were pleased.

Another example of the tensions currently being felt throughout Clay County became apparent on the night of Nov. 16, during a joint meeting of the county planning commission and the City of Vermillion’s Planning and Zoning Commission held in Vermillion City Hall.

At issue was a request to rezone AG Opportunities, located on the western outskirts of Vermillion in the Joint Jurisdiction Zoning Area established a decade ago. Kevin Myron, owner of the business, wants his property rezoned from A-1 Agricultural to HI Heavy Industrial.

This, again, was a meeting where I eventually ended up standing in a doorway to better hear the conversations from the public rather than sit way in the back of the room in the only seat available. It was, again, a packed house and after two-and-a-half hours, nothing was accomplished. The county zoning board voted in favor of the zoning change; the city’s planning and zoning commission voted against it.

Both boards need to agree for action on the zoning to take place. The lack of action may maintain the status quo, but I think it’s safe to say that no one will be satisfied until this issue is solved. That may be a challenge because a rift between the county zoning board and the city planning and zoning commission appears to be growing.

Clay County Commission Chairman Travis Mockler has indicated a desire for the county to be less cooperative with the city when it comes to zoning issues in the Joint Jurisdiction Zoning Area. He expressed frustration with the city at the conclusion of Monday’s county zoning commission meeting and his fellow members of that board indicated they agreed with him.

At the Nov. 16 meeting, a woman loudly proclaimed that “Nobody reads the Plain Talk” during a moment when discussion turned to local government informing the public of upcoming meetings and such, so maybe I’m just wasting my time right now.

But:

The county ending all cooperation with the city will likely make things worse and enhance the creation of a “no man’s land” as Jerry Sommervold, while serving as chairman of the county commission 20 years ago, described a problematic extraterritorial zone around Vermillion that I’m assuming the Joint Jurisdiction Zoning Area has helped eliminate.

My statement above, describing townsfolk and farmers as two distinct segments of the local population, is not accurate, after further thought. We’re all residents of Clay County, whether we live in Vermillion or make our living on a farm outside of the city limits.

We need to do a bit of soul searching and renew efforts, locally, to work together to solve pressing issues.

We also need to remind ourselves of this simple fact: Elections have consequences.

The county and city zoning commissions are made up of local people who have been appointed to those boards by people we elected to the county commission and city council.

What’s been happening policy-wise in recent months on the local level is really a reflection of we, the people. Think we’re spinning our wheels? Think wrong decisions are being made by local officeholders? Look for new leaders who are willing to take on the complex problems of our times. Urge them to run for office. Support their candidacies. On election day, vote, for crying out loud.

We can do all of that while following the advice of Rodgers and Hammerstein. We should “stick together.”

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