Yakima Company, which has been involved in legal entanglements with La Paz County for several years, has filed a writ of attachment on around $10.9 million in public funds supervised by the County, $10.7m of which belongs to other entities.
In a move County Administrator Dan Field calls “sad”, “foolhardy” and “unethical”, Yakima owner Jim Willett’s action freezes the money in the County’s care so that it cannot be used by the State, Special Districts, Public Works or any of the other entities to whom it belongs. A court judgment in his favor against the County in 2007 granted him $9.2 million plus legal fees. Since then, the case has been characterized by short periods of appeals, negotiations and stalled talks.
Field says the County had not been served with any notice of the action. He condemned it in the strongest terms, saying, “For a company [Yakima] who says they don’t want to hurt anybody, they did this knowing darn well the money isn’t ours.”
He continued, saying, “They know we have no money. Frankly, they’re injuring the people. What concerns me the most is the essential services like emergency services that rely on those funds, and payroll for our employees.”
La Paz County’s lean budget mirrors the lean budgets of municipalities and state governments around the nation due to the economy. Laws protect County services, including all the main departments, payroll and assets, so the County is initiating legal action to overturn the writ.
Field says the County is currently engaged in the legal logistics of releasing the funds, saying Yakima can’t do this, “but they did.” He says he hopes the money can be released within the next couple of days. “The payroll is what I’m worried about,” he said.
At a meeting this morning, some County employees were notified that their direct deposits would not be on time Thursday, but that the County had a plan to make payroll payments one day late, on Friday.
Field characterized Willett’s action as “a legal maneuver” designed to force the County into accepting his terms in the ongoing imbroglio, despite the County’s lack of excess funds with which to pay him. Another employee said he thinks Willett’s move was an attempt to “make this real” for the public.
Field says, “People should not panic. We’re going to get it released. This is a highly unethical tactic by Jim Willett. It’s just about money for him, but these are people’s lives.”