Supervisors defend decision on County Farm land lease

by Bob Beach

During public comment time at the regular meeting of the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, December 16, Kevin Selberg asked the Board why the second-highest bid was accepted for the lease of the tillable land at the County Farm rather than the highest bid. Chairman Larry Schellhammer said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss the Board's decision, saying that while The Standard's report on that decision was accurate, it did not reflect the weeks of discussion that went into that decision. He added that the Board made the decision with full awareness that the per-acre value of the lease sets a "marker" for the rest of the County both in terms of how much renters may be willing to pay and how much land owners expect to be paid per acre.
Schellhammer then reviewed the bid review process, which began with the letting of bids October 14. After hearing public comment about how the County Farm was being farmed, the Board invited bidders to its October 28 meeting to discuss possible changes to the lease contract, primarily to "add some teeth" to the contract to give the County leverage when it comes to enforcement of the attached conservation plan. Schellhammer said that the lease for the County Farm land appeared on the Board's agenda for several consecutive weeks after that October 28 meeting, which only three of the bidders attended. He said that all bidders were given the opportunity to withdraw their bids after the terms of the lease were finalized and that one bidder did take that option. He said that ultimately his decision on who would be awarded the lease was based on what he views as the Board's responsibility to improve the farm, noting that the chosen renter agrees with that. "Time will tell if we made the right decision or not," he said.
Supervisor Dennis Koenig, who made the motion to accept the second-highest bid, said that his decision had not been made at the spur of the moment. "It's hard to give up that kind of money," Koenig said, referring to the difference of $12,700 total between the high bid and the second-highest bid, "but I would take that much less [for my own land] if it would be farmed the way I would farm it."
Supervisor Sherry Strub said that Schellhammer and Koenig put a lot of effort into improving the lease contract. She said that her vote against Koenig and Schellhammer's decision reflected her wish to follow the County Attorney's recommendation to accept the highest bid, but added that, "It comes down to a gut feeling. Dennis had a gut feeling and sometimes you have to go with your gut."
The Board also met with County Attorney Jill Kistler, who asked the Board to pass a resolution to appoint a special prosecutor in order to avoid the "appearance of impropriety" or possible conflict of interest for the Allamakee County Attorney's Office. The Board passed the resolution appointing the Winneshiek County Attorney's Office as the special prosecutor for case number OWCR12310 regarding the December 7 drunk driving arrest of Lansing Police Officer Conrad Rosendahl.
In other business, the Board approved the plans for four separate projects to repair damage caused by flooding in 2013. County Engineer Brian Ridenour said that bid letting for the projects would be in March or April of 2015. The Board also re-appointed Marilyn Clark to the County Conservation Board.

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