Protesters disrupt Board of Regents meeting, want Rastetter removed

Group says regent abused position in pursuing relationship between ISU, AgriSol Energy

Board of Regents member Bruce Rastetter at Maucker Union on the University of Northern Iowa campus Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)
Board of Regents member Bruce Rastetter at Maucker Union on the University of Northern Iowa campus Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)

CEDAR FALLS — State regents are not addressing claims that Regent Bruce Rastetter violated the board’s ethics policy because they are waiting for a state process regarding the ethical complaint to play out first, board leaders said Friday after protesters disrupted a meeting in Cedar Falls.

A complaint has been filed against Rastetter with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, which is set to meet this month to rule on the matter. Until then, the regents will not address the issue, state Board of Regents President Craig Lang said Friday.

“I do not think it’s appropriate for us to take any kind of action until the Iowa Ethics Board makes their decision,” said Lang, of Brooklyn.

“Everything has been filed, all the information has been provided to the Iowa Ethics Board and that’s the appropriate place for any action to happen. And if a decision’s made one way or the other, we will take appropriate action after that.”

Rastetter, of Alden, said he didn’t want to comment on the allegations of the protesters, beyond a statement that was provided by his spokesman.

“The complaint is filed, see the process through,” Rastetter said.

About 40 members of the group Iowa Citizen’s for Community Improvement rallied outside, then moved inside the regents meeting for about 30 minutes and disrupted it with yelling several times. The protesters held signs calling for Rastetter to be fired.

Lang at one point stopped the meeting to ask the group to be quiet or leave, and protesters were escorted out of the room by University of Northern Iowa police officers as they caused disruptions. Eventually all of the protesters left the meeting or were removed. UNI Police said no arrests were made.

The group had asked to be included on the agenda, but regents officials denied that request. Regents Executive Director Bob Donley said officials offered to meet with group members when they protested at the board office in Urbandale, but the group declined. Donley called Friday’s interruptions a “grandstanding session.”

“There’s no action for this board to take because it’s in the hands of the ethics commission,” Donley said. “The ethics commission is there as the legal entity to police every aspect of state government, including the board, and that’s why it’s the proper authority.”

The protesters argue the regents have their own policies that govern conflicts of interest and ethical violations of members, separate from the state process. They say they want the board to address the issue under those policies.

“It would be unfortunate for the Board of Regents to create a firewall for him,” said protester Cherie Mortice, of Des Moines. “They need to hold him accountable.”

During the meeting, protesters shouted “who are you protecting Mr. Lang?”, “when are you going to deal with the ethics complaints?” and “you’re a public board!”

The group filed the complaint to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, claiming Rastetter abused his position as a regent in pursuing a partnership between Iowa State University and his agribusiness corporation, AgriSol Energy. Rastetter participated in discussions with the university about working with AgriSol to develop a commercial farming operation in Tanzania, a project critics call a land grab that could displace thousands of refugees.

Rastetter’s spokesman Joe Murphy said Iowa CCI continues to use bully tactics and a campaign of misinformation and intimidation to mislead Iowans on the issue. The group’s behavior is destructive and not representative of Iowa values, Murphy said in a statement. He noted that Rastetter is a native Iowan dedicated to agriculture, education and philanthropy.

“Bruce is passionate about lifting people out of hunger and poverty, which is the goal of the AgriSol project in Tanzania,” Murphy said.

Iowa CCI shows a disregard for the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board process in their continued confrontational protests, Murphy said.The lease signed in Tanzania is for about 13,750 hectares of land and involves no land containing refugees, Murphy said. He noted AgriSol Energy began talks with ISU several years before Rastetter was appointed as a regent. ISU is no longer involved in the project, but it is involved in many projects of this nature and does similar work in Uganda, Murphy said.

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