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Rickers clarifies role in R.J. Ranch discussion at council meeting

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 11:37 a.m. CDT

To the editor:

I’m writing to offer both clarification and rebuttal to a couple of statements made in the NDN’s August 12, 2013, article concerning Cardinal Hills Golf & Swim and the R.J. Ranch Subdivision proposal.  The article contains multiple comments from the golf course owner, Mark Davis.

Mr. Davis claims that I was given preferential treatment because my statements during the August 5, 2013, City Council meeting lasted about ten minutes.  The contention that public hearing comments are limited to three minutes in duration is simply wrong and based upon ignorance of the City Council’s procedural rules.  To my knowledge there has never been an arbitrary three minute limit on public hearing comments, and no such limit exists now.  The City Council’s official “Public Participation Guidelines” state that persons addressing the Council concerning items on the meeting agenda shall be given a “reasonable amount of time” to present their comments.  The Mayor (or Mayor Pro Tem) has the discretion to guide or limit public discussion as they see fit.  Both proponents and opponents of the subdivision proposal were free to address the Council without being subject to a three minute limit.  (A copy of the Public Participation Guidelines is attached.)

There is a three minute limit that applies only to public comments regarding items not on the meeting agenda.  Following my public hearing comments on August 5, the Mayor Pro Tem made a humorous comment about my presentation lasting more than three minutes.  I took the comment in jest, and it didn’t occur to me that the Mayor Pro Tem’s comments would be construed as proof of either a violation of a non-existent rule or a patently false indication that I received preferential treatment.

As a judicial officer, I’m required to be circumspect when publicly discussing issues or controversies that are pending before local government bodies.  In the August 12 article, I’m described as the “point man” for the residents of the neighborhood who objected to the subdivision proposal.  If the term “point man” is intended only to indicate that I was the most vocal opponent to the proposal during the Council meeting, then that description is probably fair.

However, if the term “point man” is intended to mean that I was assuming a role of advocacy for anyone other than my wife and myself, then I must respectfully disagree.  The comments that I made before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council were made only for my benefit and the benefit of my wife as landowners within the area potentially affected by the subdivision proposal.  While I mentioned my perception that other neighbors wanted the matter to be resolved sooner rather than later, I never stated that my public comments were anything but an expression of my personal opinions.

Other than receiving a tip about the Iowa DNR publication that recognized the historical significance of the Newton Larchwood Pine Grove, the comments and opinions that I expressed were researched and authored exclusively by me.  At no point was there ever a plan that I would be the  voice of all citizens opposed to the subdivision proposal.  Any resident who desired to publically oppose the subdivision proposal could have and should have spoken for themselves.

It’s true that many other citizens shared my concerns, but I provided no indication to those citizens that I was acting as their “mouthpiece”.  It is also true that I received thanks and compliments from a substantial number of neighborhood residents following the City Council meeting.  Those expressions of gratitude were appreciated, but they were not to be construed as an indication that I had assumed any advocacy role on behalf of others.

Iowa Court Rule 51:3.2 specifically allows me to appear before governmental bodies on my own behalf if my legal or economic interests are at stake.  As long as I avoid making any reference to my employment as a judicial officer during my public comments, I’m allowed to exercise my right to address City officials concerning issues that affect my private legal or economic interests.  (Official Comment #3 to Rule 51:3.2 specifically mentions zoning issues as an appropriate reason for me to address other public officials.)  Although my reservations about the term “point man” seem to address a subtle or innocuous concern, I believe that I am under an ethical obligation to make that clarification.

I stated at the Council meeting that I look forward to future development on the west side of Newton.  As long as the development is well thought out and truly conforms with the City’s regulatory, safety and comprehensive plan standards, I will welcome it.

Mr. Davis’ final comment within the NDN article lumps me in with other “rotten apples” because of my opposition to the proposed subdivision.  All I did was express my beliefs and opinions based upon facts that I ascertained through research.  I thoughtfully considered my comments before presenting them.  I celebrate the fact that we live in a free society.  We live in a country where civil debate and the open expression of our opinions is permitted and encouraged.  

I’ll just leave it up to the residents of this community to either agree or disagree with the assertion that I am merely overripe fruit.

Terry Rickers

Newton

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