Last updated on 2012.11.19
Lake County, watch out: Rick Millner is in the building—the dairy building, that is. In a weeklong series, AgWeek's Mikkel Pates is chronicling the dairy deeds and misdeeds of Veblen's Rick Millner. The first story of that series presents Rick Millner's side of the story of his chronic business failures and environmental violations. Amidst Millner's appalling self-aggrandizing spin (more on that in a moment), Pates supports the warning I gave in June that Millner is revving up to wreak dairy havoc on my beloved Lake County:
"I think we have intentions of rebuilding and re-establishing ourselves," he says. "The only capital we have is intellectual capital."
On April 28, 2011, a judge in Fargo, N.D., confirmed a reorganization plan for Five-Star, a 1,630-cow dairy. Some of Millner's old associates have bought a dairy in Ramona, S.D., that he's putting into production and likely to try to expand [Mikkel Pates, "Upside Down Dairy Still Looks Ahead," AgWeek.com, 2011.09.12].
Remember that the old Swier dairy that Millner's pals bought currently holds a Class C concentrated animal feeding operation permit, which allows it to have up to 700 dairy cattle on the premises. if Millner plans to expand, he and the poor saps who keep funding his schemes will have to apply to the Lake County Commission for a Class B or Class A CAFO permit. This Rick Millner is the same operator who has violated county, state, or even federal rules at nearly every dairy he's run. The DENR forbade Millner from acting as a decision-maker in any dairy receiving a general permit for waste discharge from the state. When Millner or his front men come knocking on the courthouse door asking to bring more pollution to Lake County, our default position needs to be "No."
We cannot risk extending a larger CAFO permit to a man who won't take responsibility for his own failings. Millner continues to blame everyone but himself for past dairy troubles. The markets turned against him. The state of Minnesota caused his Excel Dairy to stink. The bankers lied to him.
In a brilliant moment of illustrative tone-deafness, Millner takes responsibility for one slice of the failure of his Veblen mega-dairies:
Millner remembers being adamant the company needed to lock in milk price at $20.66 per hundredweight for 2009, the average on the day of the meeting.
"We needed about $2 million of working capital to pull the contracting off, and we didn't get it done," he says.
...And whose fault was that?
"It was mine," Millner admits. "I should have been more relentless with both the partners and the bank. I felt strong enough about it that I should have been able to get it done. Maybe I should have locked them in the room without food and water," he says [emphasis mine; Pates, 2011.09.12].
In this faux mea culpa, rather than regretting his errors, Millner doubles down on the very characteristics that make him such a danger to rural communities. He says he should have been more relentless, should have pushed people harder to get his way. I'm sure he's joking about imprisoning his investors, but Millner's obtuseness and crassness in making that joke is telling. He admits his "reputation has been destroyed." He says he has to "regain the confidence of people." Yet he makes a statement that shows he believes the route to his financial recovery is to express more of the intimidating arrogance by which he destroyed his own reputation and businesses. (Yes, Rick, drop the passive voice: you did destroyed your reputation yourself.)
Update 06:17 MDT: You can be a fan of enviro-green or dollar green to recognize that Lake County should not permit Millner to be involved with the Ramona dairy. Cayuga, N.D., farmers Dana and Sandy Banish say Rick Millner set them back 10 years financially by reneging on $1.2 million in contractual obligations for silage, corn, and late fees. Instead of keeping his word and paying his bills, Millner tried to milk the Banishes further by offering them "equity" in his failing dairy.