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Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon: Lawyer tries ‘legal extortion’

DIXON – Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon contends that an attorney representing objectors to a proposed wind ordinance is attempting “legalized extortion” – or maybe just “coerced compromise.”

In an April 18 letter to County Board Chairman Jim Seeberg, Dixon said Hamilton and Willow Creek townships had failed to properly submit their objections to a proposed wind energy ordinance.

If the objections are deemed valid, a supermajority of 75 percent of the 28-member board must approve the ordinance for passage. Otherwise, only a simple majority is needed.

Dixon’s letter said Rockford attorney Rick Porter, who has helped Hamilton Township with its objection, was trying “legalized extortion, and I don’t mean that in a bad or evil sense.”

He said Porter was using the objection process to get the board to amend the proposed ordinance to Hamilton’s liking.

“I suppose rather than ‘legalized extortion,’ I might more delicately use the term ‘coerced compromise,’” the state’s attorney wrote.

Dixon couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

The County Board is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance at its May 15 meeting.

Dixon’s letter recommended that Seeberg call for an up-or-down vote on the ordinance, which includes more regulations for wind farms than exist now.

“If it passes, then you can work on amending it to include changes you want in that ordinance,” he said. “What I see now is a bunch of folks saying they want to amend the ordinance when it is not even an ordinance yet. Does that make sense?’

Top county officials say the two townships never properly submitted their objections to the county clerk’s office. Rather, they presented their resolutions against the ordinance at the March meeting of the County Board, giving copies to the state’s attorney, the county clerk and some board members.

The state law governing the process says objections must be turned in to the board, but it doesn’t specify a process.

The county clerk’s own meeting minutes indicate the objections are on file, but County Clerk Cathy Myers said the documents should have gone through the formal filing process in her office.

In his letter, Dixon said Hamilton’s objection wasn’t signed. He didn’t say whether Willow Creek’s was.

Earlier this week, a special committee designed to review the proposed ordinance, which was drafted by the Zoning Board of Appeals, disbanded after Dixon told members that the panel had not been “properly constituted.”’

In the letter to Seeberg, Dixon wrote that he didn’t know where the Shippert committee came from, referring to its chairwoman, Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon.

He also said he was disappointed that no one on the committee asked him to attend to provide legal advice. That panel met a couple of times before he found out about it, he said.

He said that when he heard that Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel was “strongly urged” not to attend, “I realized not informing me of those meetings and not inviting me to attend was not accidental.”

Shippert said Thursday that she informed Henkel through his office that he was welcome to attend the meetings, but that he wouldn’t sit at the head table as he has at Zoning Board meetings.

As for Dixon, she acknowledged she hadn’t specifically asked the state’s attorney to attend, but said that wasn’t intentional.

His opinion on whether the objections were properly filed likely would stand, Shippert said.

“He’s the legal expert of the county,” she said. “We have to go by his word.”

She disagreed with Dixon’s statement that attorney Porter was attempting “legalized extortion.”

“I’m not going to use those terms,” she said. “I think these people [of the townships] are sincerely concerned about this, and they feel that their issues weren’t adequately addressed by the Zoning Board.”

Porter said Dixon used a poor choice of words when he suggested Porter was attempting “legalized extortion.” Told that the state’s attorney said he didn’t mean it in a “bad or evil sense,” Porter said, “I don’t know how else extortion could be construed.”

Porter said he would have to look at Hamilton’s objection to see whether it was signed.

“Why is it that the County Board doesn’t want to respect Hamilton Township’s comprehensive plan?” asked the attorney, who represents residents in Hamilton, which is in the county’s southwestern corner.

The township’s plan calls for a longer setback for wind turbines than what the proposed ordinance calls for. A wind farm is planned in the township.

Meeting May 15

The Lee County Board will meet at 9 a.m. May 15 on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon.

The board is expected to vote on a proposed wind farm ordinance.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings, or more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call 815-288-5676.