Palo solar farm manager worked on county committee voting on project
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Kimberly Dickey, who is the project director for NextEra Energy’s proposed 3,500 acre solar farm, was a former chair for the same Linn County commission set to vote on her new development. Dickey also helped write Linn county’s comprehensive plan, which helps guide the county’s physical, social and economic development.
There is nothing illegal about a county committee member moving to the private sector. But, critics against the project believe NextEra hasn’t been transparent about the connection between the county and its manager, who the company describes as a farmer in Linn County.
People against the project have complained about a lack of transparency from the Flordia-based company since the project was made public in March. In April, many people heard about the project for the first time after receiving a notification about the project in the mail.
Sara Alden, who lives in Toddville, said she’s been following the project closely since earlier this year. She said months later she doesn’t know exactly where any of the three different solar arrays sites will be located.
Alden said the company not being openly transparent about the developer’s connections with the county makes her ask more questions about the project.
“It certainly doesn’t make those transparency concerns any clearer,” she said.
Critics, like Alden, also are concerned Dickey was able to work on the planning and zoning committee while she worked for NextEra. Linn County spokesperson Joi Alexander said the county doesn’t require committee members to disclose their employers, but does ask for relevant work experience.
Alexander also said the county leaves it to individual committee members to identify potential conflicts of interest and abstain from votes.
Kimberly Dickey and NextEra Energy declined on-camera interviews with KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Team. In an email statement, Bryan Garner, who is the director of communications for NextEra Energy, said there are no legal or ethical issues with Ms. Dickey’s former role in the county government.
“She served honorably as an unpaid volunteer on the Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission, a position that ended three years ago, well before she began working on the solar project in Linn County,” he wrote.
NextEra also sent us an emailed statement from the former director of Linn County Planning and Development, Les Beck. Beck said any accusation of undue influence is without merit.
“The accusation that someone leaves voluntary service on the Planning and Zoning Commission and goes to work for a developer because of the influence they could wield is without merit,” he wrote.
Megan Goldberg, who is a political science professor at Cornell College, said people working in government often leave their position and then use their connections in the private sector to make money. She said those personal connections and institutional knowledge make it easier to pass projects that might otherwise fail.
“So even if you were presenting the same project, you with those personal connections are perhaps more likely to get that project approved,” Goldberg said.
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