Webster, Calhoun drainage dispute put to rest

A dispute over how to pay drainage attorneys has apparently been resolved by the Webster and Calhoun County boards of supervisors.

The boards agreed to pay the Calhoun County attorney, David Wollenzien, out of the drainage district, not from the county as a whole, for the amount of $3,603.55.

The boards had been unable to determine how to pay after each board consulted with its own attorney during the resolution of a project in joint drainage district 70 Webster and 95 Calhoun, located southeast of Somers.

The Webster County board paid its attorney, Eric Eide, from the general county fund in the amount of $560. The joint board never voted to hire Wollenzien, said Webster County Supervisor Merrill Leffler.

Webster County Drainage Clerk Doreen Pliner said Wollenzien reviewed more of the project.

Webster County Supervisor Mark Campbell said in the future, the Webster board will establish a policy before it begins work in a joint drainage district, so that everything is clear up front.

“We will establish a permanent chair and secretary, we will establish who the engineer’s going to be, and we will establish who the attorney will be for the entirety of the project,” he said.

The two attorneys gave conflicting advice. Eide was hired because the Webster County Board thought Wollenzien’s advice was incorrect, said Webster County Supervisor Clark Fletcher at an earlier meeting. Calhoun County Supervisor Scott Jacobs said his board believed Eide’s advice was incorrect.

At the earlier meeting, Leffler said the district should not have to pay two different attorneys.

“I don’t feel you as a district should pay for two different attorneys to give two different boards advice,” he said.

Jacobs said paying for the attorney out of the general fund was not fair to all the taxpayers.

“So if I lived in town, I don’t have any property out there, I’m going to pay your attorney for advice on your drainage ditch?” Jacobs said.

Fletcher said Eide was hired to “ensure that the board makes their decisions based upon sound interpretations of the law.”

At a June 24 meeting, the three Calhoun supervisors voted yes and four Webster supervisors voted no on a motion to pay Wollenzien from the district. Webster County Supervisor Keith Dencklau was absent.

Iowa law states that in a joint district with different-sized boards, the members have proportional votes. This means if all members were present, a vote of no by five Webster County Supervisors and three Calhoun County Supervisors would result in a tie.

However, the boards could not agree on how the proportional voting system should work with one member absent, and thus could not agree on whether the motion had carried or whether it was a tie.

No agreement was reached at a July 1 meeting.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Webster County board agreed that the earlier vote would stand, and Wollenzien would be paid from the drainage district.

The disputed advice concerned the wording needed in setting a meeting. Wollenzien and the Calhoun board said improper procedure could lead to the board being obligated to follow the engineer’s recommendation even if the district’s landowners wanted to do nothing.

The drainage project had run over its original bid because of the discovery of an unknown sand seam in the ditch.

John Milligan, of MHF Engineering, said certain areas of the ditch needed further work to be avoid future problems, above and beyond what was already done on the project. That further work could cost between $194,000 and $486,000, he estimated.

At the June 18 meeting, most landowners in attendance said they wanted to wait and see what would happen in the ditch, not spend the money immediately. The joint board agreed, saying the ditch was not currently in disrepair.