At last Tuesday’s Crawford County Board of Supervisors meeting, questions were raised about the funding of the Ridge Road radio tower, which is one of the primary towers in the county’s new land mobile radio (LMR) communications system.
Peggy Staley, a Charter Oak City Council member, said, “It’s my opinion that you gave a tower away on Ridge Road.”
The supervisors did not engage substantially in a discussion of the issue last week, but the question has come up several times in previous meetings.
At issue is a $100,000 state grant and other funds used to construct the Ridge Road tower, ownership of which is now claimed by the Crawford County Firefighters Association (CCFA).
In March of 2016, Duane Zenk, acting and signing as the chairman of the Crawford County E911 board, applied for a $100,000 grant for “replacement of primary communications paging tower.”
In the grant application, Zenk wrote, “Crawford County is proposing to replace our primary 320 foot communications tower which was identified as our first step to update our emergency services Land Mobile Radio system in accordance with our Needs Assessment that was completed in 2015 by G.J. Therkelsen and Associates’.” (sic)
The Therkelsen study was an early step toward identifying the need for a new communications system in the county.
The grant application form included this requirement: “As the Chair of the County E911 Service Board, I certify that this request for funds is made
in accordance with Iowa Code Chapter 34A and Iowa Administrative Code Section 605 Chapter 10 and that I fully understand those laws, rules, and associated grant application guidelines.”
Iowa Code Section 34A.1 states, in part, “These systems are to be operated under governmental management and control for the public benefit.”
The grant was approved and the tower was constructed with the funds.
In March 2016, the Denison Bulletin ran a story about the new tower that would be constructed.
“Firefighters Association acts to replace primary tower,” was the headline of the story.
Zenk was quoted as saying that the firefighters association, of which he is a member, applied for the grant.
According to Iowa Code, the CCFA was not eligible for the grant.
At the September 24 board of supervisors meeting, which Zenk attended, the Bulletin and Review asked if any paper trail exists explaining how the E911 funds went to the CCFA.
“The money was never given to anybody,” Zenk said.
“The money was never given to the fire association,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Kyle Schultz, who is a member of the CCFA.
The Bulletin and Review then asked if an agreement exists between E911 and CCFA specifying how an asset purchased with public funds became private property.
“I guess in my mind it was a cooperative project by a lot of different agencies,” Zenk said.
Zenk said it was a question for County Attorney Roger Sailer.
“The 911 Board approved it and also the supervisors approved every expenditure, and the state auditors look at that every year,” he said after further questions.
Asked if E911 officials could simply give the asset away, Zenk said the grant application included the Therkelsen report, which was initiated by the CCFA and paid for by multiple agencies.
The report was attached, but the grant application form stated the funds were for “Crawford County” to replace “our” communications tower and signed in Zenk’s capacity as E911 chairman.
“Crawford County Firefighters Association” does not appear on the application form.
Rick Franck, representing the CCFA, recently told the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) “Crawford County 911 Board made an agreement with the Association to sponsor a grant to replace the tower.”
The Bulletin and Review asked Franck for a copy of the sponsorship agreement.
Franck said the (E)911 board discussed applying for a grant to replace the fire association tower if it would qualify, that the new tower would replace the old tower on CCFA land and the tower would be owned by the association.
However, Franck also wrote that “No formal written agreement was prepared.”
No such discussions appear in the E911 board minutes, which were collected by Staley and provided to the Bulletin and Review.
Franck wrote that “After the grant was approved, the 911 Board held a budget amendment hearing in May 2016 to account for the expenditure of grant funds to replace the Association tower.”
The E911 board minutes from May 2016 state, “The reason for the increase was for the construction of a communications tower, and to increase expenditures to be paid from grant funds and assigned funds.”
CCFA currently leases use of the tower to Florida Light and Power, NOAA, Crawford County Memorial Hospital and Crawford County Secondary Roads, according to Franck.
Those funds go to CCFA, which claims its books are private and not subject to public disclosure.
Additional E911 funds have been used to support the Ridge Road tower, such as paying for an individual to maintain and start the site generator, which appears to be owned by the CCFA, according to the 2016 Denison Bulletin story.
Staley has made a request of the Iowa State Auditor to look into the situation.
Denison Mayor Jared Beymer has made a similar request to IPIB.
Crawford County Attorney Roger Sailer was asked by the Bulletin and Review to lend his support to a state audit of the county’s handling of the Ridge Road tower, which he did on October 4. Sailer clarified in his letter to Andrew Turner, executive assistant to the Iowa Auditor of State, that, “According to my knowledge of the facts, which is admittedly limited, I do not believe any misconduct or irregularity has taken place.”
The Bulletin and Review will also ask the Iowa State Auditor to investigate the matter.
E911 Board facts
At state direction, the Crawford County E911 board was established by the Crawford County Board of Supervisors. The purpose of the E911 board is to “plan, implement, and maintain” the 911 notification system in Crawford County and “provide for the governance of funds collected from persons living within the confines of the Crawford County E911 Service Area,” according to the board bylaws.