BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – As the controversy surrounding Lee County duck hunting on the Mississippi River continues to gurgle, a West Point resident dug up some 1996 bylaws as part of peeling back the layers of the board and operations of the district.
At Tuesday night’s regular Lee County Conservation Board meeting, about 15 hunters sat through the meeting and questioned the board again on duck hunting, but also deer hunting, uniforms, and the residency of district Director Nathan Unsworth.
Unsworth currently lives outside the county in Burlington, but has told crowds at meetings and at Lee County Board of Supervisors meetings that he is looking for a place in the county. However, there is no current requirement for him to live in the county according to the Lee County Employee Handbook.
Rusty Robbins, of West Point, who has been critical of the operations of the district since the district blocked permanent duck blinds on county owned property, addressed the board and said he had come across a copy of the board’s bylaws. During his comments to the board, Robbins said they came from a former board member.
“I’d like to get things straightened out that happened from before, and let things go from before and let’s look forward to the future,” Robbins said.
The bylaws Robbins presented to the board were from 1996 and they do include a section that would require Unsworth to find residency in the district within 90 days of his date of hire. However Unsworth said Wednesday that he has not been made aware of any bylaws utilized by the board and he’s currently following the county handbook which does not require county residency. He was hired back in March.
“I talked with the county attorney at 4 p.m. and I asked him if these were still in effect,” Robbins said. “He said, as he could tell, yes they are and the board needs to be going by these bylaws and if the board wanted to change them, they were free to do that.”
On Wednesday, Unsworth said he’d reviewed the bylaws and said he hadn’t seen them before and couldn’t say what the current standing of the bylaws is.
“Some of this stuff is from the Iowa Code standard. This is from the 90s. Some of this could have been voted down at another point…I have no idea. Some is accurate and some of it’s pretty good. But no I hadn’t seen it,” he said.
Unsworth said Robbins had asked for bylaws and he said he looked for them, but hadn’t come across any copies in the files he’s gone through. Unsworth said he’s still going to operate under the guidelines of the Iowa Code and the Lee County Handbook.
After Tuesday’s meeting, board Chairman Harry Sylvester said he was surprised by the bylaws and said he didn’t recall seeing the document before either.
The document also has an article 10 that requires a yearly review of the document, however, Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker said it’s a gray area whether the document needs to be approved annually.
Article 10 of the document reads – “These bylaws shall be reviewed by the conservation board each year at the November board meeting and approval or amendments proposed for revisions or corrections, amendments may be proposed at any regular meeting but must be again considered at the next regular board meeting, in open session, before adoption. Adoption shall require approval of at least four (4) board members.”
The bylaws were approved by the board at its May 1996 meeting. The bylaws also have an Article 1, that reads “Chapter 350, 1994 Code of Iowa, is the governing authority, and the purpose, power, and duties as defined and set forth in said Chapter will control the functions of the conservation board, its employees and its facilities.”
Connie Hudson, the district secretary said she came on board in 2014 and no bylaws have been voted on, amended, or reviewed since she’s been recording the meetings. However Hudson said she would have to dig up copies of minutes from November meetings dating back to 1996 to know for sure what has happened with bylaws since that date.
Boddicker said he received a copy of the bylaws yesterday and said he has discussed bylaws with Unsworth, but the discussions focused on having bylaws as a good practice.
“I got a copy yesterday and I haven’t read through them with a fine-tooth comb,” he said Wednesday evening. “Code says the conservation board shall have authority to enact bylaws. I don’t think there’s anything that says that you have to have them. I’ve advised the board that they ought to have bylaws. I think I suggested it to Nathan about a month ago and until yesterday, I was under the impression there were no bylaws, until it was brought to my attention. I said as a matter of procedure bylaws are a good idea and they should look into having them.”
Section 350.3 of the Iowa Code states the county conservation boards shall have the power to adopt bylaws, however no language in the code says bylaws are required of the boards.
Boddicker says he’s been fielding lots of calls about board meeting procedures since the permanent blind flare up happened.
Two weeks ago Unsworth asked for committee members to volunteer to sit on a committee to visit the permanent duck blind issues. Wednesday was the last day to volunteer for the committee and Unsworth said he will review that list and set a date for a meeting.
In other action…
- The board heard from Life Scout Blake Hemann on a Eagle Scout project he’s working on to provide a haven for barn owls. Hemann said he wanted to build 10 of the wooden houses around the county to help provide a place for the owls. He said the owls help keep rodents and insects under control. Hemann was asking for help in determining the best place to put the houses.
- Heard from Doug Hopp who wanted the district to pull signs that cut off where group deer hunting is and the number of hunters allowed in group hunts. He pointed to a previous board member who was able to get restrictions on deer hunting and then conduct for-profit deer hunts outside the county restrictions in his own backyard. Hopp wanted to know who suggested all the deer restriction signs.