Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Notice is hearby given ?

Those are the first four words of a public notice published in the March 24 and March 31 editions of the Vermillion Plain Talk and Wakonda Times concerning a public hearing held Tuesday by the Clay County Commission.

The notice announced, clear as day, that the commission would be continuing its hearing on the second reading of a proposed ordinance regarding concentrated animal feeding operations and fee schedules.

But many of the 30-or-so farmers and other people who work in the agriculture industry who gathered in the courthouse Tuesday didn't see it that way.

The county commission, in their estimation, was keeping them in the dark. They were up to no good. They were plotting against the agriculture industry in Clay County by not personally informing them of the public hearings they have held on this issue.

Emotions were running high, and that can interfere with rational thought. Some of the statements made by farmers clearly were coming straight from the heart. Their claims, however, don't stand up to scrutiny. They have little foundation.

It appears that many farmers in Clay County were unaware, until Tuesday, that the county commission has been directing their energies to this zoning issue for much of the past year.

The commission and other county staff members have worked hard on the current draft of the ordinance. We know that for a fact.

We've been to the hearings.

We've heard the input the commission has received.

We've watched as commissioners have amended, then changed, then altered the document time and again with the goal of protecting the agriculture industry, the county's water (much of which is in shallow aquifers) and rural property owners.

We've written stories about the progress that has been made, and the issues that are of concern. Those stories have appeared in the Plain Talk, and on our web site.

In the past year, the commission has held two public hearings on the ordinance. Only a small handful of people showed up at each hearing. The commission listened to their input, but included a fair share of their own. Keep in mind that this governing body includes people from various walks of life, including farming.

In the two weeks prior to each meeting, as required by law, the commission published notices in the Plain Talk and Wakonda Times informing citizens of the hearing. Each notice contained this key statement: "? any person may appear and be heard upon all matters pertaining to the zoning change."

Public notices apparently aren't satisfactory to a number of the farmers in Clay County. It appears they would rather take their chances and simply rely on word of mouth instead.

They talked of having county officials go to the trouble of mailing them invitations to the hearings, or calling them by phone in advance of the meeting. Those two options are about as impractical as hiring a skywriter to etch a wispy message among the clouds during a calm day for everyone in the county to see.

The problem doesn't lie with the commission. They've done exactly what state law requires.

One of the farmers provided a pretty strong clue to the cause of so much confusion. He stated that he didn't read the Plain Talk (he included a rather derogatory description of this publication, but that's not important).

What is important is that this individual, without even realizing it, admitted that he is part of the problem. The Plain Talk and Wakonda Times are the official newspapers of record for Clay County and a host of other local government entities. Those who ignore their hometown newspapers are more likely to be ignorant of their community's important issues.

In this case, citizens were offered plenty of opportunity by the county commission to be informed and participate in the zoning hearings. It was unsettling to hear citizens nearly accuse the commission of conspiracy Tuesday.

There is no excuse for the citizens' ignorance of such an important issue as ag-related zoning.

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