DIXON – For months, people have asked for transcripts from public hearings involving a proposed wind farm in southwestern Lee County.
Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power hired a court reporter to transcribe the hearings. The company handed over the July and August transcripts to the county, but stopped doing so in September.
People wondered why.
Mainstream’s attorney has an answer: Former Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon said the county didn’t want them.
That’s a policy that new State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller, who took office Dec. 1, seeks to reverse.
In an email last week, Mainstream attorney Doug Lee explained the situation to Sacco-Miller, who had asked for the transcripts. Lee gave the missing transcripts to the county, which will post them online.
“I hope that you understand that Mainstream was not at any time withholding these transcripts from the county but instead was following Mr. Dixon’s direction that he did not believe it was appropriate for the county to possess the transcripts,” Lee wrote.
In August, Lee County resident Frances Mitchell, a former assistant state’s attorney, filed a public records request for the transcripts. Dixon denied it, saying Mitchell should go to Mainstream’s court reporter and pay for the documents, which would have cost more than $1,000.
Mitchell appealed the issue to the state attorney general, who issued an opinion saying Dixon should release the transcripts because they were in the county’s custody.
In an interview Friday, Dixon said Mainstream didn’t want to give the transcripts to the county because the company’s privately hired court reporter needed to get paid each time a new copy went out.
However, Lee said the company was only following Dixon’s request. Lee said Dixon had expressed concern about whether the court reporter was being compensated fairly.
Sacco-Miller said Dixon must have confused two laws for court reporters – one for those who work for judges, and the other for those hired by private parties. Dixon apparently was operating under the belief that the law regulating courtroom reporters applied; that law restricts the copies that go out, while the other law does not.
Some people who attended the wind farm hearings have complained that the county scaled back its minutes of those sessions. The minutes used to provide much detail, but in the last few months, they have included little other than the names of those who cross-examined witnesses and the exact minute they ended their cross-examinations.
Sacco-Miller advised that the minutes should include what zoning board members say and refer to the transcripts for details of witnesses’ testimony.
The recent attorney general’s decision on Mitchell’s complaint was the third time in the last 2 years in which the agency has found Lee County on the wrong side of laws that regulate government openness.
Sacco-Miller said she would seek to make all county information publicly accessible, unless it falls under one of the exceptions in the state Freedom of Information Act. She described herself as “completely different” from Dixon on open government issues.
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