Updated With Video: Police Escort Protesters Calling for Ratsetter's Firing from Board of Regents Meeting
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement protested against Regent Bruce Ratsetter, who's company, AgriSol Energy, worked with Iowa State University on a land deal in Tanzania.
Updated 2:57 p.m.
Several protesters were escorted from an Iowa Board of Regents meeting by campus police today as members of the group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement called for the firing of Regent Bruce Ratsetter.
The regents are meeting at Maucker Union on the University of Northern Iowa campus.
About 40 people gathered in protest in front of Maucker Union while the board met in a closed session. The group said Rastetter committed a conflict of interest when his company, AgriSol Energy, worked with Iowa State University on a deal to develop land in Tanzania into a grain and livestock operation. The land had been home to 160,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, but the Tanzanian government has been relocating them.
Rastetter recently spoke out in defense of the project. The Ames Tribune reported he said once AgriSol learned about the refugees, the plans were changed:
“That’s one of the really unfortunate parts about this project that wasn’t cleared up, and we’ll take some of the blame for that,” Rastetter said. “We would never have built … where there are refugees. At the same time, when the (Tanzanian) government says, ‘Here’s the set of land you can look at,’ you look at it. As we learned there were problems with the refugees, then we focused on the property that we ended up with the actual lease on.”
Iowa State planned to seek a $4-to $10-million grant with AgriSol for the project, but backed out in September because of misunderstandings over the project.
During the meeting, the protesters sat in the back of the room with signs that said, "Fire Rastetter." Soon after the meeting started, two members stood up and began shouting questions.
Regents president Craig Lang took a scolding tone as he told them to sit down.
"If you become unruly, if you cause circumstances that cause disruption to this meeting, we will ask you to leave," he said.
When they didn't stop, he said, "I'm serious."
"So are we," the protestors yelled. "You have to allow us to be here. We have a right to be here."
"We will stop this meeting. We will have you removed," Lang said.
A moment later, he did just that, formally adjouring the meeting for five minutes while campus police escorted two protesters from the room.
The protesters said they had asked for time on the official agenda twice, but had been turned down.
Regents Executive Director Robert Donley said he offered to meet with the protestors himself, but they turned him down. He said the board did not include them on the agenda in part because of legal concerns, since the protest group has filed a complaint against Rastetter with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, and that complaint is pending.
“I do not think it's appropriate for us to take any kind of action until the Iowa Ethics Board makes their decision," Lang said.
Donley said the board does not, "self police."
Throughout the meeting, protestors periodically stood up in small groups to ask questions and were escorted out by police. At one point, two protestors walked forward and sat at a table next to the regents, asking questions. They and others were escorted from the room as they shouted their protests. The regents continued their business, talking over the protesters.
"We're asking for everyone who speaks out of turn to be escorted from the room," Lang said.
A few minutes later, the remainder of the group stood up and left after handing letters of protest to the police officers who showed them to the door.
In a prepared response, Joe Murphy, Director of Public Affairs for Rastetter's Summit Group, called the protests, "vigilante justice and character assasination."