Coming off an election-day victory against Democratic incumbent Jerry Crutchfield, new Randolph County Western District Commissioner John Hobbs, a Republican, addressed some of his campaign promises and made clear his position on the controversial Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
“I want everyone to fully understand that I oppose Grain Belt 100 percent,” Hobbs told the Monitor-Index. “And as long as the two other commissioners keep their word and their promise, I will not do anything. … I am not standing neutral; I will fight tooth and nail.”
The Grain Belt Express Clean Line, a roughly 780-mile direct-current transmission line meant to deliver wind energy from Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and other states, has faced opposition over the last several years.
The Missouri Public Service Commission recently determined that it would not promote the interests of the public, saying the burdens of the project on landowners may outweigh the benefits of the project. The PSC denied the company’s application.
The proposed line would go through Randolph County. In 2014, Randolph County commissioners expressed their support for the clean energy line but have since walked that back to a more neutral stance.
Crutchfield said at a recent candidate forum that the commission has no official position on the matter.
Many locals are concerned that the line would obstruct farming and reduce productivity. Proponents say it would generate tax revenue and promote clean energy production.
Hobbs recently expressed his opposition to Grain Belt Express at a Randolph County candidate forum hosted by the local League of Women Voters. After his victory in the election, Hobbs maintained his opposition.
“Over my time campaigning, I knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors, and over, I’d say, 90 percent of people I was in contact with were against the Grain Belt,” Hobbs said. “I will do everything I can to keep it from happening.
“There will be no changing of my mind.”
During his campaign for election, Hobbs identified several of his goals as Western District commissioner for Randolph County. One of those goals was to make the workings of the Randolph County commissioners more transparent to the public.
Hobbs told the Monitor-Index that the regular meetings of the commissioners are at inconvenient times for much of the working public. And the meeting minutes, he said, are not usually posted online in a complete or timely manner.
“After I first said something, they started to fix it,” he said. “But if you go on the website, they are not up to date with their minutes. You really don’t know what’s going on. They’re trying to get them updated now, and I applaud that.”
Hobbs is proposing a twice yearly public forum to increase the transparency of the Randolph County commission.
“They have had some meetings with the (Randolph County) Pachyderms; they’ve had some updates on the radio about the courthouse,” Hobbs said. “Basically, all I’m asking is that, if you’re going to spend an hour on the radio or writing an article at the paper, how hard is it to make arrangements to use the (Moberly) Municipal Auditorium or college to have a two-hour public forum?
“You were voted in by the voters and taxpayers – they’re your boss. My feeling is that, as an elected public official, if you can’t give a few hours of your time to visit with Randolph County residents, then we’re in trouble.”
Despite the problems Hobbs sees and wants to change, he said he first needs to settle in and learn the ropes.
“I’ve got a lot of learning to do for (the office),” he said. “But with the experience and knowledge I have gained over the last 35 years with various companies, I feel I can fit right in.
“I don’t want to come in and try to change everything. I want to try to fit in first. Then, once I get established, then I might have some suggestions. I’ve got to learn the ropes first.”
Outgoing commissioner Crutchfield, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2011 to fill the vacancy created when former commissioner Randy Asbury was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives, said his post-election plans are up in the air.
“I have a little farm, I trade some real estate and I’m getting old enough that I am maybe not too interested in doing a lot of new things anymore,” he said.
Crutchfield said he hopes to see the legacy of the new Randolph County Justice Center building continue.
“I hope the cooperation between the elected officials all continues and that they pull it together as a team,” Crutchfield said. “I would like to see as well that, when we get to the new building, we can communicate better and that there’s efficiencies in all of that.
“I wish no one anything but the best and hope that they get along very well.”
Hobbs and Crutchfield thanked the voters and taxpayers for their support.