SIOIX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Sioux City Community School District (SCCSD) has filed a response to the claim that it defamed former Iowa State Senator Richard Bertrand, a land developer, resulting in the loss of a land sale.

In his lawsuit filed on January 9, Bertrand claims that SCCSD President Dan Greenwell accused him of stealing dirt from the school district, and that as a result, he would not support five acres of land near Unity Elementary being sold to Bertrand. Greenwell denied the claim that he accused Bertrand of theft and that he had no intention of selling the land to Bertrand.

“Greenwell said words to the effect that if you want to call yourself the ‘dirt devil,’ go ahead,” the school district said in their filing.

According to the district’s answer filed on February 2, the claims of stolen dirt dated back to a 2018 project which the district said in their response was unpopular with members of the public. Greenwell said that he may have had a conversation with one other person about what had happened to the dirt, but said the conversation was private and had nothing to do with the sale of the land.

The district denied that Greenwell said it was “common knowledge” that Bertrand stole the dirt. In addition, the district denied the claim that Bertrand never stole the dirt for lack of information about the claim.

Bertrand alleged that he approached school officials about purchasing five acres of land that was owned by the school district in September 2022. This property is beside a property owned by Bertrand. At some point during the conversation, Bertrand said he believed that the sale was pending, and Bertrand entered into an agreement with a construction company to sell a portion of the land upon which several apartment buildings would be developed for a cost of $7.9 million.

However, the school district said in its response that there was never a pending sale. Instead, the school district said that Tim Paul was approached by Bertrand to purchase the land, who told Bertrand that the land was not for sale and referred him to then-interim Superintendent Rod Earleywine. The district also claimed that they were told that Bertrand told them he wanted the land for farming, not for the development of an apartment building.

The district also pointed out that there is a legal process involved in the selling of public land. When land is sold by a public entity, it must go through public hearings where members of the public are entitled to speak in favor of or against any sale of public lands. The district cannot simply have a conversation and then sell the land.

The district did decide to have a meeting about selling the land, but it was determined in the meeting that there was no reason to sell the land. The response stated Earleywine told this to Bertrand and told him that he could contact the leadership of the district to discuss the matter further

The school district also claimed that any claims made by Bertrand have passed the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit.