This is how you settle

By ART CULLEN

Residents of the Southwest Shoreline Sanitary Sewer District should be gratified by the work of their attorney, Dave Jennett of Lakeside. The local lawyer was able to wrest $600,000 in a settlement with Lessard Contracting and I&S Group (originally Kuehl and Payer of Storm Lake) over construction defects of the system. Jennett says that the sum should cover all repair and redesign costs to get the system working right for every home on the south side of the lake.

He went up against the big-city lawyers for the insurance companies and bonding agent, and came out on top while avoiding a costly trial.

Jennett was able to muster the preponderance of facts to his side of the argument. It’s simple as that. He advocated and persisted and never burned a bridge. Mainly, he communicated with the other side.

Would that Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors engage Jennett to settle a claim brought by the Des Moines Water Works against drainage districts in BV, Sac and Calhoun counties. He might be able to bring it to an end.

The supervisors have said they do not want Buena Vista County Attorney Dave Patton trying to negotiate a deal. Maybe they are right, because Patton as county attorney might not have the same interests as a drainage attorney. The existing team of drainage attorneys has not indicated that settlement is in any way a part of their strategy. Supervisor Dale Arends of Newell, who said Tuesday that he believes that President Obama was born in Kenya, also believes that the county can prevail over the water works on claims that drainage tile are exempt from the Clean Water Act for pollution regulation.

Jennett is a former Sac County Attorney who knows as much about drainage law as anybody. The Early native has been covered in manure and bailed hay and threw feed bags. He knows the Sac County supervisors and they respect him. He is a good trial lawyer and is pretty good on appeal, having clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Louis Lavarato.

And he knows how to reach a settlement in the public interest.

Let the existing drainage lawyers make their case as they are. Meantime, let Jennett seek talks with the water works to see if they have common ground. Maybe they could come up with a legislative strategy that would get the counties and their drainage districts off the hook while holding the water works harmless from nitrate pollution. The state’s political leaders and interest groups are falling all over themselves trying to come up with a buy-off using a sales tax increase. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack aches to get involved. He and Gov. Terry Branstad already are on the same page.

The counties could hire Jennett and emerge in three months as geniuses who showed Iowa the way to a harmonic convergence between agriculture and clean water. Or, they could continue to go 15 rounds with the water works and run a 50-50 chance of getting rolled in federal court.

The sewer district board opened with a demand for an entirely new sewer system, or about $2 million. It settled on a repaired system for $600,000, one that should work to everyone’s satisfaction. Level-headed negotiations that explore the facts and the law are in order. We can see how it served sewer district customers. We can imagine how a constructive settlement could serve drainage districts, Iowa agriculture and even the Gulf of Mexico if we just sit down with a mediator (Hugh Perry, are you terribly busy?). You don’t need $450 lawyers from Des Moines or $500 lawyers from Washington, DC, and you would not need to go begging for funds from Monsanto and the Koch Brothers to pay them, when a perfectly capable Early boy is at the ready.

Relent with firefighters

The Alta City Council has gone and done it. A council member accused the fire chief of not telling the truth about a survey on use of public buildings. The fire chief insists that he is telling the truth. Alta-Aurelia School Supt. Lynn Evans backs up the fire chief. You now have an angry fire chief and several angry firefighters behind him who believe they have been maligned. The city council cannot win but to allow firefighters to use the fire station for occasional parties (birthdays, baby showers, we don’t know or care so long as it doesn’t involve a keg of beer) for free. Otherwise, Alta will have a fire department that thinks the town doesn’t give a darn about it.

Another council member rubbed salt in the wound when demanding some sort of fee in any policy. Which is the whole point for the firefighters: They barely get paid enough on a fire call to rent the fire hall. Why not say thanks with free use of the building for which the firefighters worked hard to raise funds? Instead, we are getting to the point of no return. Harm is being done for no good reason. The Alta city budget will not be made on fire house rentals for birthday parties. Insisting on rent is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Give the volunteer firefighters their due, and remember that it is Alta, where everyone is supposed to be a neighbor. Policies that work well in Storm Lake or Des Moines might not work in a town of 1,800 that never has enough volunteer help.