Crawford County Auditor Terri Martens spent time this week figuring out how much public money has been spent on the construction of a radio tower near Ridge Road.
At the November 26 Crawford County Board of Supervisors meeting, Peggy Staley, a Charter Oak City Council member, asked the supervisors if they knew how much money had been spent on the Ridge Road radio tower.
“We know how much we spent on it,” Chairman Kyle Schultz said while Staley was speaking.
“Yeah. Zero,” said Duane Zenk, who was at the meeting representing the board responsible for developing Crawford County’s new land mobile radio (LMR) system.
“We know how much this board has put toward that tower,” Schultz said. “We’ve got the receipts to show that.”
“Ours is $100,000,” Schultz said.
“Yeah, $100,000 from the grant,” said Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer.
He was referring to a grant Zenk applied for and received for the tower project.
As it happens, all three gentlemen were off by a significant margin.
Martens told the Bulletin and Review on Thursday that she came up with a total of $280,079.32 expended on the project from the E911 Service Board account.
Schultz is the chairman of the E911 Service Board. Zenk is paid $1,500 per month to be the E911 Service Board consultant.
E911 is a state-mandated program organized under the oversight of county boards of supervisors and the funds collected for the program are public funds.
Staley has been a vocal critic of the county’s new land mobile radio (LMR) project since she uncovered an application for a $100,000 state E911 grant that was used, in part, to pay for the new tower.
Zenk signed the application as the chairman of the Crawford County E911 Service Board, which was his position at the time.
Zenk wrote that “Crawford County” needed the funds, which were to replace “our” tower.
His signature certified that he understood that the funds request was being made in accordance with Iowa Code Chapter 34A, which states, in part, “These systems are to be operated under governmental management and control for the public benefit.”
Since before its construction, Zenk has claimed that the tower, purchased with E911 funds, belongs to the Crawford County Firefighters Association (CCFFA), a private nonprofit organization of which he is a leading member.
The CCFFA, through their lawyer, initially told the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) that the E911 board and CCFFA had a sponsorship agreement for the grant. When asked to produce the agreement, they said no written agreement exists, but an oral agreement exists.
E911 board meeting minutes do not appear to support that assertion, either.
An agreement would be extremely problematic even if it did exist because most of the E911 board members are also CCFFA members.
Even if there had been a sponsorship agreement for the grant, it certainly wouldn’t have explained the other $180,000 of E911 funds that were siphoned off for the project.
At the November 26 meeting, the supervisors received a piece of information that should have landed with a large bang, but instead didn’t even merit discussion.
Staley said she had uncovered a $48,000 bill, paid by Crawford County E911, for removal of the old CCFFA tower on Ridge Road and for moving equipment from the old tower to the new tower.
A copy of the invoice in question, dated December 6, 2017, was provided to the Bulletin and Review by the Crawford County Auditor’s Office.
Whatever excuses Zenk and Schultz might give for looking the other way when a public asset was handed over to a private entity without any discussion whatsoever, the county E911 board had no interest in paying tens of thousands of dollars to remove the CCFFA’s old radio tower or to move any equipment not owned by the county.
It’s also unacceptable that CCFFA is charging two county entities – Crawford County Secondary Roads and Crawford County Memorial Hospital – thousands of dollars per year to use an asset purchased with public funds.
To this point, the supervisors have acted as if they believe the situation is just a misunderstanding.
The $48,000 invoice turns that idea on its head; the E911 Service Board did not accidentally pay to remove a private organization’s old tower.
The E911 Service Board did not just accidentally spend $280,079.32 of public money on an asset for that same organization.
None of this was an accident and no one would be aware of it if Staley had not spent countless hours requesting and comparing documents.
Supervisors Cecil Blum and Jeri Vogt seem to want to properly resolve the situation, but the others still seem willing to look the other way.
The supervisors will meet with CCFFA representatives at the board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday, December 17, to discuss the issue of tower ownership.
It seems unlikely that rank and file CCFFA members had any awareness of the situation; they likely believed Zenk’s assertion that CCFFA applied for the grant and all the other E911 expenditures were above board.
This is not an issue about firefighters.
This is about a person abusing his public position, for which he is well paid, and about the supervisors who have, so far, turned a blind eye.
It’s time for the supervisors to represent the public on this matter.