Gavel

La Paz County has been awarded a summary judgement dismissing a lawsuit by a former consultant for the county. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason handed down his decision Oct. 4 in the lawsuit brought by consultant Kelly Sarber against the county.

A summary judgement can be reached if there is no dispute about the facts in a case. The judge makes a ruling based on the law.

Sarber was seeking additional compensation for consulting work on a solar energy project. The Court found the county did not have an agreement with Sarber for compensation on this project.

Thomason also criticized former County Administrator Dan Field in how he handled this matter.

At issue was Sarber’s claim she was entitled to 10 percent of the host fees for the development of a solar energy project. She said she had an enforceable agreement with La Paz County for this compensation.

The county contended that the Board of Supervisors never approved such an agreement at a public meeting, nor did they authorize Field, the County Administrator at the time, to enter into an agreement with Sarber. The county contended there was no enforceable contract with Sarber under Arizona’s Open Meeting Law.

Sarber filed a notice of claim in 2018. The County filed a motion for summary judgement in December 2019. Sarber was given time to prepare her response.

Sarber contended that the Board of Supervisors approved a contract for consulting services with her on Sept. 17, 2012, in an open meeting. The services included “marketing economic development opportunities for the county.” The meeting was announced and the item was posted in the agenda. Thomason stated in his opinion the record shows this agreement was approved.

While the Supervisors approve an agreement, Thomason stated there was no written Consulting Agreement from 2012 in the county’s files. He also said Sarber did not disclose a copy of the agreement until April 2021. There is no evidence that Sarber or Field signed this agreement. In spite of this, Thomason said he would consider the 2012 Consulting Agreement.

Thomason said the Consulting Agreement was specifically limited to the County Landfill and 480 acres of county-owned land contiguous to the landfill. The solar energy project is not located on land contiguous to the landfill. It is located in the eastern part of the county off Interstate 10. At the time of the agreement, it was held by the Bureau of Land Management. Through an Act of Congress, the BLM later conveyed the land to La Paz County.

The wording of the 2012 Consulting Agreement did not include the solar energy project, Thomason said. If the County wanted to formally have Sarber do consulting work on the project and be paid the 10 percent she was asking for, then the Board of Supervisors should have approved a contract with her that included these services.

“The 2012 Consulting Agreement is expressly limited in scope to the County Landfill and the contiguous 480 acres of land owned by the County,” Thomason said in his opinion. “The renewable energy project is not operated on the landfill or the continuous acreage. As such, the contract does not apply to the subject of the claim.”

Thomason stated he had no doubt Sarber was asked to do consulting work on the solar energy project. He said she spent a significant amount of time over five years helping to develop the project. However, he said there was no meeting or agreement approved by the Board of Supervisors for the compensation she is seeking from the solar project.

Thomason was highly critical of a declaration from Field, who made a statement supporting Sarber's position that was included with her response to the motion for summary judgement. Thomason said Field appears to contradict earlier statements and the wording of the contract. Among other things, he appeared to be claiming contiguous did not mean contiguous. He said the agreement was referring to all county-owned land that could be developed.

Thomason called this statement “nonsensical.”

“It is difficult to even understand what this means,” Thomason said. “Apparently, according to Field, 'contiguous' means all County lands except some County lands.”

“Field wrote the contract,” Thomason continued. “He now contends that the contract means something vastly different from the words he used. He submits that contiguous does not mean contiguous. The Court is empowered to stop listening to testimony that white is black. Mr. Field is doing the same thing as saying ‘white is black.’ The Court can stop listening to testimony that contiguous does not mean contiguous.”

In granting the county’s motion for summary judgement to dismiss the case, Thomason stated the Court is compelled to follow the law, “irrespective of how unfair the outcome may be.”

“The project in question is not being operated on land that is contiguous to the landfill,” he wrote. “Summary judgement is in order.”

La Paz County had sought the site of the proposed solar energy project for some time. It’s located near the proposed route of the Ten West Link transmission line, which will carry power from Arizona to California. The land was held by the BLM.

Members of Arizona’s Congressional Delegation worked with the county, BLM, and the Department of the Interior to have the land conveyed to the county. The conveyance was approved by the passage of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Recreation and Management Act. It was signed by President Donald Trump on March 12, 2019.

On May 22, 2020, Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt signed over 5,900 acres of federal public land in eastern La Paz County to the county.

In March 2020, La Paz County signed an agreement with 174 Power Global, a South Korean company, to build a solar energy facility on 4,000 acres of the land conveyed by BLM. At 850 megawatts, it will be the largest solar project in the nation. It’s estimated 800 to 1,000 construction jobs will be created, with the facility producing enough power for 300,000 homes.

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