The opponents of a planned windmill farm on Howard County’s east side have appeared in large numbers in front of the county commissioners for the past two months. Their arguments against the development have ranged widely in topic, validity, and delivery.
But last week, the remonstrators hit county government right where it hurts most -- its pride. Howard County officials are quick to lay claim to being the most transparent form of government in the community. And in many cases, those officials have reason to crow.
When it comes to how the windmill project is concerned, however, the remonstrators were able to demonstrate that Howard County government isn’t nearly as open and transparent as it would like to believe.
Dairy farmer Grace April has been a leader of the anti-wind effort since the contractor first approached Howard County about placing windmills locally. At each of the past four commissioners’ meetings, she has harangued the board and called for a moratorium on development.
On June 3, she changed tactics and went after the county’s failure to properly communicate with the public.
“You followed the legal law with the advertisements and everything,” said April. “But I just wanted to give you two examples of when I tried to go to the tax abatement meeting in June of last year, I had come twice to find an agenda to see if it actually going to be a tax abatement or whatever.”
April held up an agenda from that June 2012. Nowhere on the agenda was the wind farm abatement listed. She then held up a second agenda for the same meeting.
“This is the one that appeared on the table when I actually did come to speak,” said April. “One does not say anything about the Wildcat Wind Farm issue. This one, on the very top -- squeezed in here -- it says public hearing on the Wildcat Wind Farm.
“I have looked through minutes and agendas from 2012, and I couldn’t find anything on the agendas for Wildcat Wind farm issues. I wondered, is this one of the public hearings that were held?”
Commissioner Tyler Moore replied that the agenda was for a Howard County Council meeting.
“Yes, that would have been the public hearing for it,” said Moore.
April continued, this time referring to the Howard County Commissioners meeting on May 21, 2012. Again, she brandished a copy of the agenda for that meeting.
“The next one was May 21, 2012, the day before the EDA was signed,” said April. “I copied the agenda for that. If someone was trying to find out when they could go and hear about wind farm issues, they could go online and copy down the agenda, or they could come in here and get the agenda.
“But on here, again, it doesn’t say anything specifically about wind farm issues. I have come to understand that they could have a slot that said ‘Commissioner Issues,’ and it could be squeezed in there. I had no knowledge of that.”
April then referred to the official minutes of that meeting. On page five of the minutes, it shows that the commissioners recessed their meeting until 8 a.m. on May 22, “in order to consider the Wildcat Wind Farm resolution.”
“Unless you were here, you wouldn’t know that you could have gone the next day,” said April. “Legally, I’m not saying anything was done wrong. “I’m saying if you want people to come here and be part of the wind farm discussion, it’s almost impossible to find when you’re supposed to come to hear something.”
Speechless, the commissioners sat as April set up a final, embarrassing shot.
“I also want to mention to you that on your bulletin board outside, you have a list for the county commissioners meetings, but it’s from 2012,” said April. “You may want to put 2013’s up there.”
Guilty as charged.