COLUMBIA CITY — A former member of the Whitley County Board of Zoning Appeals is questioning the ethics and legality of the panel on which he formerly served.
“I challenge the Whitley County Commissioners and the County Council to look into this seemingly rogue BZA and their lawlessness,” wrote Mark Roach, a former BZA member.
Roach’s entire letter is published on page four of today’s Post & Mail.
Roach’s issue involves BZA member Dave Schilling, who came under fire late last year when it was learned he received payment for a lease agreement from a company seeking to possibly erect windmills in Whitley County.
That company, Wind Capital Group, is erecting meteorological towers to test wind to see if windmills are feasible here.
The company is also paying landowners for the possible rights in the future to put windmills up, should the research prove Whitley County as viable for those structures.
Schilling, who also serves on the Whitley County Plan Commission, signed a lease agreement and received a payment.
In the meantime, the Plan Commission was considering an ordinance designed to regulate wind farms.
News of Schilling’s agreement created an uproar both from members of the public as well as members of the commission and the board voted to take the wind ordinance back to the initial planning stages.
Roach took exception to Schilling’s involvement on the BZA in a related matter — the approval of petitions for the installation of meteorological towers on properties owned by George Frazier and Richard Cox.
“They (the BZA) have engaged in behavior that is corrupt, and continue to cover up a conflict of interest issue by one of its voting members. It is troubling to me, because I was a member of the BZA,” wrote Roach.
At the Dec. 28 BZA meeting, attorney Dawn Boyd told the board there was no impropriety by the company applying for the petitions.
“I understand that there were a lot of landowners in the area that had entered lease agreements with Wind Capital Group,” said Boyd.
“Wind Capital did meet their public notice requirements. They recorded the lease agreement (with Schilling) with the Whitley County Recorder on Aug. 3, 2010.
“So as far as disclosure is concerned, Wind Capital Group did what they were supposed to do. The duty to disclose the conflict of interest is on the board. There is no duty on a petitioner to disclose.”
Roach asked why Schilling was allowed to be a part of this discussion and was dismissed.
“You as a board have to discuss, with this particular zoning matter, do you believe factually, looking at the facts and circumstances, did Mr. Schilling have a direct or indirect financial interest in that zoning matter?” asked Boyd.
BZA chair Michelle ‘Mike’ Judd called on the BZA members, excluding Schilling, if they would change the original vote. After polling the members, Judd determined the petitions would still be approved, should another vote be taken. The original vote was 4-1, with Roach voting against the petitions.
“The outcome is not going to change,” said Judd.
Judd took an opportunity to come
to the defense of Schilling.
“He’s basically been made a scapegoat from a perceived conflict of interest, whether it’s real or not,” said Judd.
“And several of you in this audience, and on this board, have jumped on a bandwagon and have tried to hurt his good name and hurt his reputation for your own agenda.
“Dave has been a good and loyal servant in Whitley County and he has served this community well. He did not do anything malicious. His intent was not to harm anyone.”
Judd finished by making comments directed at Roach.
“You used this board as your own vehicle for your own agenda,” she said.
When Judd concluded, board member Danny Wilkinson asked for the issue to be concluded while taking a final shot at Roach.
“We will leave the previous decision stand ... so I think it’s time to move,” said Wilkinson.
“I think that with Mr. Roach, his actions and decisions have already sealed his fate on this board.
“Effective Jan. 1, 2011, he will no longer be on this board, so I think that discussion is moot. He might have something to say, but I think that discussion is moot since this is his last month on this board.”
Roach said he felt Wilkinson was implying that his (Roach’s) actions as a BZA member were the cause for his (Roach) replacement on the board.
Roach was elected Union Township Trustee and is required by law to step down from the board.
Roach was given an opportunity to speak after the conflict of interest discussion.
“I have never made a personal attack against Mr. Schilling,” said Roach. “I did not use this BZA as a soapbox a month ago.
Roach said he made a motion that carried unanimously that the issue of the petitions be readdressed.
“As a matter of fact, my discussion with the board ended up in a motion on the floor that you (Judd) agreed with, and it passed unanimously. And, the motion that I made, which I’m disappointed that the minutes didn’t reflect, was to have a decision at the December meeting for the revocation of the two Met tower petitions ... I don’t know who has done it but I have been sandbagged and that is fine,” said Roach, to the chagrin of Judd.
“I will not do tit for tat with you,” said Judd.
“Government has to be held to a higher standard than regular folks,” said Roach.
“I don’t have a dog in the fight. When I see something that is required by us statutorily that isn’t being done by us, I’m going to bring it up,” said Roach, asking Judd why his motion was left off the minutes and the Dec. 28 agenda.
“Truthfully, I think it was because you were pushing it at us,” she said.
“You give me way too much credit,” answered Roach.
According to the Public Access Counselor’s Office in Indianapolis, alleged illegalities conducted by a county board of zoning appeals would be enforced by that county’s prosecutor’s office.
The Whitley County Prosecutor’s Office said Friday there were no charges pending against the Whitley County Board of Zoning Appeals.