MITCHELL COUNTY, IOWA – In December of 2020, it was announced that the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) welcomed Joshua J. Byrnes to the board. Now, a former Mitchell county supervisor is announcing his reservations about Byrnes’ appointment to the board.
Joshua J. Byrnes joined the IUB on December 14, 2020, as a new Board Member. Governor Kim Reynolds appointed Byrnes to the IUB on November 30, 2020, to fill the vacant seat and term of Nick Wagner, who departed the IUB in July. Byrnes’ appointment, to a term that runs through April 30, 2025, is subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate during the 2021 Legislative session. Byrnes is the former General Manager of the Osage Municipal Utilities.
Now, a former Mitchell county supervisor, Stan Walk, is expressing serious reservations about this appointment by the governor and the impending Senate Confirmation. Stan Walk shared the following letter to NIT that he wrote to his state Representative, Todd Prichard.
Dear Representative Prichard,
I am writing you regarding the appointment of Josh Byrnes to the Iowa Utility Board.
My name is Stan Walk and I just finished up my 20th year as a Republican Mitchell County Supervisor. I won five previous elections as a Republican, but lost this year, in large part, from Josh Byrnes working hard to have me defeated.
I first met Josh Byrnes as he was the Department Head of the Industrial Division for the North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC). After a few years Mr. Byrnes announced for the Iowa House of Representatives. I worked on his campaign, garnering over 500 e-mail addresses to send out positive information. I also donated to his campaign.
In approximately 2008, I was one of the individuals who figured out how to make Tax Increment Financing (TIF) work for wind farms. Mr. Byrnes always had “issues” of Mitchell County using TIF for various county projects; the new courthouse, the Port Authority and our Industrial/Commercial projects being three of those. When it came to Mitchell County projects that would enhance economic development, Josh Byrnes publicly would always come up with comments on why projects should not move forward.
In around 2011 structural engineers determined our 150 year old courthouse was no longer safe to be occupied. Mitchell County proposed a bond issue twice and twice it failed. The third time the Board of Supervisors floated the idea of using TIF. Josh Byrnes was livid. Byrnes would call me up and chew me out for proposing using TIF, claiming the legislature did not intend for TIF to be used for courthouses (we had economic development offices included in the design). I explained to Mr. Byrnes it was legal to use TIF under Iowa law. Byrnes did not care if our use of TIF was legal. He was adamant it should not be used. I explained to him that if the Legislature was against TIF being used, the law should be changed. Mr. Byrnes was not happy.
Mitchell County is one of Iowa’s counties that lacks an abundance of natural gas. Worth County is another. The two counties will never attract large industries with good paying jobs if an abundance of natural gas is needed. Former Senator Merlin Bartz and I had been working on this issue. For a couple of years, we could not find a “vehicle” whereby counties could pool their efforts to work on a common problem like natural gas. A 28E agreement would not work.
In a joint meeting in Des Moines with Allen Williams of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, staff of the Iowa Utility Board, and Iowa Department of Revenue, it was decided counties could form a “28 J Port Authority”. This we did, Mitchell, Worth, Winnebago and Cerro Gordo Counties.
Once again Josh Byrnes was upset. He advocated Worth and Mitchell Counties had adequate supplies of Natural Gas. Byrnes would be correct if our goal was to construct four hundred new houses. Byrnes was not correct for industrial growth. Even today, Grain Millers in St. Ansgar can be requested to turn off their natural gas valve during extremely low temperatures. LP transports have had to be brought in to keep Grain Millers operating in these conditions. Stacyville is maxed out on natural gas and Riceville is the second largest city in Iowa not being served by natural gas.
Josh Byrnes would call me up around 9 at night (I believe alcohol was involved on his part) to demand Mitchell County drop out of the Port Authority and then Mr. Byrnes would explain Mitchell County should be using our TIF monies to support fiber optics in the county, which Byrnes supported big time. I normally go to bed around 9 and did not appreciate Josh wanting to argue for up to 90 minutes at a time. After one of these sessions where I became super upset, I later sent Byrnes an e-mail explaining that if he continued his harassment, the “gloves would be coming off”, meaning I would go public with his threats and accusations. Josh beat me to the punch and took this e-mail, and went to the KIMT TV station and the Mason City Globe Gazette and claimed I threatened his life. He even went further, explaining his 10 year old daughter could not sleep at night due to that “evil Stan Walk” threatening the life of her father. Byrnes knows only too well how to play the “victim” card.
The Port Authority was considering building their own natural gas line from Joice, IA to Manly, IA and over to St. Ansgar, IA for starters. Since both counties had TIF monies, the project was feasible and the Port Authority could own and operate a natural gas line. Again, Byrnes was publicly opposed to us owning a natural gas line and more than once explained to the public there were no issues of shortages of natural gas in Mitchell County and he would quote Black Hills energy as his source. I believe Black Hills did not want the counties owning a natural gas line.
At this time voters in Mitchell County were having a difficult time understanding TIF and how TIF could greatly benefit the taxpayers of Mitchell County. I organized a meeting at our County Conservation Building, inviting the public to attend, to have TIF fully explained. We had a full house with over 100 in attendance wanting to learn all about TIF. Mr. Jeff Heil of Northland Securities (PHONE NUMBES REMOVED) and Mr. Joe Myhre from the North Iowa Area Council of Governments () were the guest speakers. The rules were explained this was a meeting to learn all about TIF. TIF was the ONLY subject that was to be discussed.
About 45 minutes into the meeting, Josh Byrnes began raising issues about the Port Authority, did Mitchell County have a need for the Port Authority and claimed Mitchell County had adequate natural gas, to the point members of the public were fed up with Byrnes interruptions and began leaving the meeting. The meeting got out of control and soon abruptly ended. Josh Byrnes accomplished his goal, disrupting an important informative meeting, one where the public desired to fully understand TIF. Byrnes was feeding misinformation, in my opinion, to a few select others to stir the pot against our use of TIF. (Former County Supervisor for 24 years Betty McCarthy and former State Senator Merlin Bartz were in attendance and can confirm these concerns).
Around January of 2015, right after Josh ran against Linda Upmeyer for Speaker, Byrnes was appointed manager of Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU), with no utility or even private business experience. According to employees at OMU, Josh was seldom in the office attending to business. Individuals desiring to visit with Byrnes had difficulty making the connections. I have been informed that the OMU board secretary, Stacy Walsh, actually was the one managing and overseeing the operations of OMU. Since Josh Byrnes resigned, Ms. Walsh has been named manager.
About three years ago as manager of OMU, someone convinced Byrnes that there was a better high speed fiber connection in Minnesota and that this fiber came as close to Osage as Lyle. Byrnes believed this connection would be very profitable and that OMU could continue the high speed fiber first to Charles City, then Waverly, Cedar Falls and beyond. Byrnes spent $315,000 to make this connection. I was informed by both the managers of Omnitel and WCTA that their organizations would make connections free of charge to a good high speed fiber for OMU. I was informed a few months after completion, Byrnes had one user of his $315,000 project and sustains a large financial loss each and every month. When I questioned Byrnes about this, I was informed it was none of my business and to keep this private. Byrnes explained it would not be in my best interest if I informed the public.
In order to run this fiber from Lyle, MN to Osage, Byrnes requested permission from the Board of Supervisors to run the fiber in the county right of way, which we had no issues. When it was time for the groundbreaking ceremony for this fiber project, Byrnes invited and the Governor attended the groundbreaking. The Board of Supervisors was not invited.
Also, Byrnes obtained a grant to bring high speed cable to Mitchell, a $5,000 grant. The manager of Omnitel explained to me that $5,000 would be lucky to make two connections in Mitchell. This grant was awarded around a year ago, so far there has been no activity as far as I have been able to determine. Recently OMU received a $300,000 CARES Act appropriations for Broadband. This grant is supposed to connect Mitchell and Orchard plus a few rural folks. I was informed the project was bid, but the bid came in substantially higher than what Josh Byrnes had for an estimate. So far, no progress has been seen under Byrnes leadership to connect Mitchell and Orchard.
It is my understanding that as a governmental agency, OMU is subject to annual financial audits. According to sources, the annual audit is never presented to the overseeing city council per protocol. Apparently the Osage City Council has OMU as part of the council’s budget. Why isn’t this audit presented to the Osage City Council?
Around the middle of November2020 Josh Byrnes sent out an e-mail badmouthing two of our local contractors who build spec houses, because these contractors were using the Mitchell County Industrial/Commercial program that provides to a house buyer (not the contractor) up to $30,000 to purchase a three bedroom spec house. This word got back to one of the contractors who in turn explained to CUSB Bank (Josh Byrnes was a director) that he, the contractor would pull all of his business out of this bank if this ever happened again. The bank apparently reprimanded Mr. Byrnes because soon thereafter, he sent an e-mail to at least one contractor explaining that he was no longer in politics and would not be advocating any political views in the future. The names of the contractors are Tim Schulz, () and Lynn Hemann, (). Both contractors may be willing to visit.
I received from a very reliable source that Josh Byrnes missed many CUSB bank board of director meetings and there was a concern how to handle his absenteeism but the problem solved itself as Byrnes resigned from the board of directors upon his appointment to the IUB Board.
Kevin Kolbet is a highly respected realtor, President of the Osage Development Corporation and past President of NIACC. Kevin would have a lot to contribute to this conversation but I understand Kevin is hesitant to become involved due to the harm Josh could cause Kevin if Josh remains in Des Moines. In any event, Kevin’s cell number is (). Two other resources concerning Josh Byrnes conduct here in Mitchell County would be Jeff Heil of Northland Securities (), and Bobby Mayer (), Transportation Director of the Osage Community School District. Mr. Mayer has been part of the Osage School system for decades and has a good understanding how Josh Byrnes has operated over the past decades here in Mitchell County. It is my understanding these individuals may be reluctant to say anything about Josh Byrnes for fear of repercussions.
Another reference concerning Josh Byrnes’ character would be Teresa Nicholson, former Win/Worth/Betco Economic Development Director. Her cell is (). Two others would be Ben Walk, who Josh would frequently e-mail Ben downgrading others and Betty McCarthy, a 24 year former Mitchell County Supervisor5. Ben’s cell is () and Betty’s phone number is ().
CONCLUSION: In my opinion, Geri D. Huser, Chair and Richard W. Lozier, Jr., Board Member have impressive credentials on the IUB Board. Josh Byrnes puts on a good show but has no substance, all hat and no cattle, an empty suit. Byrnes had no utility experience prior to being named Manager of OMU and had little practical knowledge when he left OMU. Byrnes had no business or financial experience in the public sector. Byrnes openly opposed the Port Authority and would be prejudicial against the Port Authority if it ever decides to move forward with owning a natural gas line. Mr. Byrnes is a very poor choice for the IUB board due to his negative attitudes about Mitchell County Economic Development and demanding Mitchell County should not use TIF to build the courthouse, which was legal. Byrnes understood the rules at a public meeting about TIF but chose to muddy the waters and cause the meeting to adjourn prematurely. Byrnes’ opposition to the Port Authority and additional natural gas for North Iowa and Byrnes’ opposition to industrial growth in Worth and Mitchell Counties should be huge red flags.
Thanks for taking the time to consider my opinions as I have seen it. Give my cell a call if you want to discuss this further or if you need contact information to verify parts of my statements.
Stan Walk, Former Mitchell County Supervisor