La Paz County won summary judgment in a lawsuit filed against it by Kelly Sarber, a consultant who claims that the County agreed to pay her for services she provided for the development of a renewable energy project several years ago. Former County Administrator Dan Field intervened in the case on Sarber’s behalf, saying the County owes her the money, but the judge did not view his intervention kindly.
Sarber said that the County had asked her to look for economic development opportunities back in 2013, and that there was an agreement to that effect. She pointed to some written agreements dating from the period and a Board of Supervisors meeting in which the subject was approved.
According to Sarber’s argument, the Board of Supervisors in 2012 authorized Field as County Administrator to enter into a consulting agreement with her, and to pay her 10 percent of the total revenue of any project that resulted from her efforts. Citing Open Meeting Law, Sarber contends that the Board’s actions are legally enforceable. Field himself testified on her behalf, saying that Sarber’s work is covered by the 2012 agreement.
But the County responded, saying that the Board’s actions that day were limited to a contract for a project on the County landfill, and 480 acres of “County owned land contiguous to the Landfill,” and that therefore Sarber’s claim relating to a renewable energy project on land several miles away is not enforceable. The fact that Field and Supervisor Holly Irwin, who also testified on Sarber’s behalf, may have thought the agreement covered the project in question is “irrelevant”, the County argued.
“This case comes down to whether the BOS provided Mr. Field authority to enter into a project covering the renewable energy project and if that project was covered by the 2012 Consulting Agreement,” wrote Judge Timothy J. Thomason. “There is absolutely no question that the BOS appropriately gave Mr. Field authority to enter into a consulting agreement with Sarber that included ‘marketing economic development opportunities.’ That same authorization, however, was limited to opportunities on ‘contiguous Landfill lands.’ The project in question is not located on land contiguous to the landfill.”
The court notes that Sarber did spend “significant time over a five-year period” developing a renewable energy project. But there was never a meeting where the Board of Supervisors authorized or approved compensation for such a project, “at least if it was not operated on the landfill or the contiguous land,” and there were no contracts with Sarber to that effect.
“It does not matter what Mr. Field or [Mrs.] Irwin may have subjectively thought,” the judge wrote. “The Open Meeting Law is a reflection of strong and sound public policy. … The delegation of authority here was clearly limited to the landfill and contiguous land. Even if the 2012 Consulting Agreement covered the work in question, it would be unenforceable under the Open Meeting Law.”
The judge reserved his harshest words for a last-minute intervention in the case by Field, who submitted a supplemental declaration that the court said is an entirely new story.
“Field’s declaration tells a story that has heretofore not been in any materials submitted to the Court,” the judge wrote. “Field now, for the first time, directly contradicts the language in the 2012 Consulting Agreement, a document that Field wrote. He also contradicts the language in the authorization provided to Field at the September  BOS meeting. Field even directly contradicts his own prior sworn testimony. In essence, Field now contends that ‘contiguous’ really does not mean ‘contiguous.'”
The judge goes on to use the words “sham”, “unconvincing”, “nonsensical”, “bizarre” and “unfathomable” about Field’s declaration, and says, “Apparently, according to Field, ‘contiguous’ meant ALL County lands except some County lands. … 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.”
Supervisor Duce Minor called the ruling “great news for La Paz County” and said the County’s motion stands on very firm legal ground.
“I am very pleased with the decision and the judge’s thorough analysis and ultimate acceptance of the County’s arguments,” he told Parker Live.
LINK: Read the court’s ruling HERE.