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Editorial: “A” team fails miserably in lobbying landfill board

by Matt Marquardt –

The North Iowa Landfill Board was heavily lobbied by Mason City leaders, business owners and even city staff to vote “yes” on the ERS contract, that much was apparent as Thursday’s vote drew closer.  All that talent and effort got them nowhere, as the board shot it down.

I was alerted early Wednesday that the “A” team was putting on a full court press ahead of the vote. The “A” team started with their media, getting the quotes and slant they needed there to work over any board members unfortunate enough to read it.  Then the phones and internet were worked.

“Travis Hickey is making phone calls and emails,” to small town people with influence on the landfill board, one caller told me.  Hickey later confirmed this.  Hickey is a politician and has every right to lobby for an issue he feels strongly about.  He spoke at the landfill meeting in favor of approving the contract.  I was told others were making calls as well.

The Darth Vader of the “A” team, Brent Trout, was busy doing the dirty work of the Grand Puppeteer, Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, working their media and preparing to speak to the landfill board in person in his capacity as City Administrator.  Bookmeyer wanted no part of getting his hands dirty publicly on this issue; he is already thinking about his shaky re-election chances.  The best he could do was show up at the meeting and sit in the back row, confident that his trash plant would win approval (see photo above).

Trout has become Bookmeyer’s bouncer, carrying the load, the face man, fighting the fight, stepping way out of bounds of his job description, a soldier and talented member of city staff reduced to a lobbyist for a lame-duck mayor.  Bookmeyer has become the prized dancer to Trout; you can look but you can’t touch, and if you do, he might throw you out on your ass.

“If you want to have your little site,” Trout told me after the meeting, and “come after my bosses, we will have a problem.”

Yikes.  Sorry Brent, will be open for business 24 hours a day.

Minutes earlier, Trout had presented Mason City’s case to the board.  “We have the most to gain,” he said.  “This is a project that will create investment in our community, create jobs, and we feel that this is something we need to have in our community.”

To the landfill board, 90+% of which do not live in Mason City, none of that matters; they were going to do what was best for the landfill.  The “A” team never got that; perhaps they thought the board would roll over if it was blitzed; plus it had an automatic 19 votes from “A” teamer  Scott Tornquist, who seems to have a string from Bookmeyer’s right index finger attached to the top of his head.  Victory was assured until Bill Rowland wrote a letter stating he did not recommend approval of the contract.  The “A” team then panicked; I wrote about that Thursday morning.

There was talk before and after the meeting that Scott Tornquist, representing Mason City on the board, should recuse himself of voting on the deal for the very reasons Trout offered.  One board member told me that the Iowa Ombudsman Office may be notified on the matter.  Of course Tornquist did not recuse himself, and offered his one and only word of the entire meeting: “Yes.”

Tornquist had offered his best sales pitch to the board a few weeks ago; a direct, terse, wordy diatribe on how the landfill should not miss this “opportunity.”  The board wasn’t buying it. Whether he was directed by the Grand Puppeteer to keep his mouth shut this time is anyone’s guess.

Several Mason City business leaders showed up and tried to make a case to the board to OK the contract, but that went nowhere as well.

They were out-done by a steadfast group of North Iowans who out-thought them, out-worked them and out-talked them consistently over the past weeks.  Regular people like Sandy Servantez, Carol Patnode and Max Weaver hit home-runs over and over Thursday night, poking holes in nearly every “A” team argument, probing for explanations and answers that had many “A” teamers red-faced.

In the end, the landfill board was not swayed by the fancy talk, and saw through the morphing labyrinth of fact and fiction that ERS and its supporters presented.  It did not allow itself to rushed, bullied or hoodwinked; it was no one’s puppet.  It did what any good business does: It held off until a better tested, more thought-out and beneficial plan to use its commodity (trash) could be brought forward.  One day that will happen and the landfill will be glad it waited.

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