WATERLOO – The swing vote supporting the controversial Washburn Wind Energy project was appointed to her position on the morning of the hearing.
The Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to appoint Diane Depken to fill a vacancy created by the recent resignation of Della Cafaro on the five-member Board of Adjustment.
Depken was part of a 3-2 board majority later that night in voting to approve a special permit for the 35-turbine wind farm.
Other applicants and vocal opponents of the wind turbines condemned the supervisors’ decision to appoint Depken, a rural La Porte City resident and associate professor for health promotion and education at the University of Northern Iowa, just hours before the vote.
“We feel that appointing a new member … with this level of haste is not good government,” said Greg Cory. “Appointing any candidate on the day of a very important and life-altering vote does not serve all the citizens of Black Hawk County.”
Greg and Kathy Cory, who have opposed the wind turbines near their home, were among seven applicants for the Board of Adjustment post, which by law had to be filled by a woman living in the unincorporated area of the county.
Harold Youngblut, another wind farm opponent who also applied, questioned whether Depken truly lived in the rural area. She listed a Cedar Falls address when she was arrested two years ago for harassment and marijuana possession during a landlord-tenant dispute.
“Have any of you researched into her whatsoever?” Youngblut said. “Or have you just said this is the person that’s going to vote the way we want, and we’re going to put her on the board?”
Depken was one of two applicants interviewed over the weekend by supervisors Frank Magsamen and Linda Laylin.
Dr. Ellen Sakornbut, whose home abuts the proposed wind turbine field, was the other applicant interviewed. She asked for a public explanation of why she was passed over given her background as a medical doctor and researcher with a focus on rural communities’ needs.
“I think my record is outstanding,” Sakornbut said. “So I want to know how this individual was superior to me.”
Magsamen said he wasn’t going to debate the qualifications at the meeting.
“I’m not going to get into comparing resumes between individuals that applied for the board,” he said. “We do our best to try to select individuals that we feel will serve the entire Black Hawk County.”
Laylin said both candidates interviewed were excellent. She also said board members struggled with whether to fill the vacancy on the day of the wind turbine vote.
“For the integrity of the process, the project and (Board of Adjustment) it needed to be a five-position board … rather than four,” Laylin said.
Board chairman Craig White took issue with what he believed to be an attack on Depken’s character over the misdemeanor arrest.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life; everyone makes mistakes in their life,” he said. “We don’t do background checks on (board applicants).
“I don’t think it’s proper to dig into people’s lives myself,” White added. “If a person’s big enough to step forward and say they want to serve the county, that’s good enough for me.”
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