Marion county commissioner locked horns during a special meeting Friday to consider which lawyer to hire to help the county work out a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Expedition Wind.
Expedition Wind is the company working to develop a wind farm in the southern portion of the county.
Friday’s dispute arose over county counsel Brad Jantz’s suggestion to hire Ellsworth-based Sherman, Hoffman, and Hoffman. The law firm worked with the proposed wind farm 11 years ago when it was called the Doyle project and was being developed by Florence resident Rex Savage.
The project was purchased in July 2018 by National Renewable Solutions, based in Wayzata, Minnesota.
Sherman, Hoffman, and Hoffman would charge $200 per hour and be available to begin work on the project immediately, Jantz said.
Commissioner Dianne Novak said she considered that a conflict of interest.
“I am very concerned the board would even consider an attorney who has even an appearance of conflict of interest,” Novak contended.
“There is no common ownership between us and the other group,” NRS CEO Pat Pelstring said.
Commissioner Randy Dallke said Novak has degraded the wind farm project even before NRS bought it.
Novak said she wanted the county to hire a lawyer with no ties to either wind farm developer or to a group of wind farm opponents suing the county commission.
Jantz asked Pelstring if he had any concerns about conflict of interest with the law firm he proposed.
Jantz said contract negotiations will not be turned over to the Ellsworth law firm.
“All they are doing is reviewing the documents and looking for something we may have missed,” Jantz said.
Commissioners passed a motion that Jantz could contact Sherman, Hoffman, and Hoffman by a split vote, with Dallke and commissioner Kent Becker in favor and Novak opposed.
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