Ford County State’s Attorney confirms board members cannot be compelled to complete the Wind Energy Conflict of Interest Survey
On November 8, 2019, Andrew Killian, the Ford County State’s Attorney, penned a lengthy letter to Ford County board members who received legal advice from an outside attorney in regards to a conflict of interest survey composed by Killian.
The board members subject to Killian’s letter included Deb Smith, Tim Nuss, Ann Ihrke, Tom McQuinn, and Cindy Ihrke. Apparently, the board members considered the “conflict of interest survey” as a fishing expedition which included baited questions that had more than one correct answer and possible misinterpretations. These board members contacted an outside attorney by the name of Phillip A. Luetkehans from Itasca, Illinois. Luetkehans recently represented a group of citizens named “Ford County Citizens for Property Rights.”
In this letter, Killian chastised Luetkehans and said: “the State’s Attorney of any county in Illinois is the sole legal representative of the county board, officers, and elected officials.” While actually, the State’s Attorney is the “statutory legal representative” of the county board, officers, and elected officials (there is a difference). With this issue, and in keeping with the AG Opinion cited by Killian, his job is to make sure the board members have issues common with other property owners – we take that to mean, for instance, if a board member had a contract with a wind company, that board member would not have issues common with other property owners (other than those with contracts, clearly not the vast majority of property owners). In this instance, board members were trying to affirm that they would be allowed to vote to protect citizens from bad wind turbine noise limits and dangerous setback distances – which is common with other property owners. They wanted to make sure they would be allowed to represent the citizens who elected them.
On page 3 of the letter, Killian cites an AG Opinion that talks about a county board member abstaining from a vote, however, county board members may only abstain when the statute permits it, and there is no permission granted for abstention in the Counties Code. Therefore, any alleged conflicts must be removed from consideration – IE: conflicted County Board Member resigns, or the measure to be voted on is taken off the agenda.
Killian’s letter includes attacks against board members who testified at wind energy hearings. “For over two years, Board Members have made statements regarding the WECS amendments, including at least three Board Members who made statements while under oath at Board of Review Hearings.” Killian paints a picture that regular citizens who then later become elected as board members cannot vote on controversial policies which caused them to get elected. Cindy and Ann Ihrke have advocated for safety for rural residents for nearly a decade. The third board member who testified, Tom McQuinn, testified about his experience regarding noise problems as he currently lives near existing turbines while under oath during hearings.
It is perfectly legal for citizens and board members to testify at public hearings, however, Killian makes the accusation that this might be a conflict of interest. Killian writes: “In your letter you assert that the survey “attempts to create the appearance of a conflict of interest where none exists.” This is circular reasoning. It is analogous to arguing that you can avoid getting cancer by not recognizing it and not going to the doctor for check-ups. A conflict, like the cancer, either exists or it doesn’t, and its existence is not depended upon acknowledging it. To suggest that the Board Members not participate in the survey is nothing more than asking them to stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best.” (Killian should use this logic against the wind energy representatives who insist turbines don’t cause health problems and deflect the harmful low-frequency noise which causes sleep deprivation. The existence of health problems from wind turbines cannot be ignored just because wind companies and politicians refuse to acknowledge it.)
Although Killian is the State’s Attorney and there to give legal advice, he writes, “I would think that you agree if a Board Member planned to vote on the WECS amendments with thought that doing so would create a windfall through an increase in their property values without consideration of other factors, that Member would be acting improperly.” (Even though Killian is wrong about what is a conflict of interest, he is right that wind turbines definitely impact property values. Residential properties safe distances away from wind turbines are shown to have higher property value and sell more quickly than compared to homes near or surrounded by wind turbines which eventually finally sell at significant losses.)
Killain also makes an assumption that the Ford County Citizens for Property Rights members do not include any current board members. In many counties in the Midwest, MANY citizens’ rights groups have been successfully elected to county government. Just because a citizen from a citizen’s group becomes elected does not mean that they suddenly lose the legal ability to continue to seek legal advice against issues presented by a State’s Attorney.
The remainder of the letter is a diatribe about which attorney has the right to represent which board members. Killian writes, “As you are aware, Chairman Lindgren and the other members of the County Board that did not seek a legal opinion from you are represented by an attorney, namely the Ford County State’s Attorney.” As so it goes, all further contact and correspondence with the balance of the Board Members must filter through the State’s Attorney, Andrew L. Killian.
The Ford County Board has an attorney for each camp, roughly split down the middle, with pro-wind energy company friendly board members trying to reduce setbacks to 1.1 x tip height from property lines and allowing sleep-impacting noise limit allowances represented at the taxpayer’s expense, versus the pro-property rights board members who must pay out-of-pocket for their independent legal representation.
Those folks who say that wind energy projects bring attention to local government corruption and dirty politics at the expense of citizens are certainly not lying. Most likely, there will be huge changes foreseen in the upcoming primaries to cleanse Ford County and many other wind-energy-impacted communities.
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