Johnson files suit over SARA Park changeover

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson has filed a lawsuit against his two peers and the county government over the board's decision to turn over maintenance and operations of SARA Park to Lake Havasu City.

Johnson's attorney, Harvey Jackson of Lake Havasu City, said he mailed the lawsuit document Monday to Mohave County Superior Court in Kingman.

The court received the lawsuit Wednesday, and Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Moon will decide which judge will be assigned the case, court clerk Virlynn Tinnell said.

Johnson and Jackson contend supervisors Pete Byers of Kingman and Tom Sockwell of Bullhead City violated state law Feb.

4 when they approved an intergovernmental agreement with Lake Havasu City by a 2-1 vote.

Johnson favors continuing county operation of the park under a lease with the federal Bureau of Land Management that started in 1974.

"Our reading of this statute is that it takes a unanimous vote of the supervisors for leasing or divesting of county property," Jackson said.

"We would hope that a judge sets aside that resolution."

County Attorney Bill Ekstrom, who had not seen the suit as of Wednesday afternoon, disagrees.

"We have maintained that it doesn't" require a 3-0 vote, Ekstrom said.

He said the agreement was in the best interests of residents of Lake Havasu City and the county.

"And their city council (in Lake Havasu City) voted to do it, which goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished," Ekstrom said.

Ekstrom said the claim Johnson filed on Feb.

14 to challenge the vote "did not lend itself to a response" from the county attorney's office.

A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.

Sockwell defended the decision.

"The only thing I can say is we followed all the procedures," he said.

"We consulted with the county attorney's office, and, to my knowledge, we have done nothing that was out of line."

Johnson, who is paying for Jackson's legal services out of his own pocket, said he wants to negate the agreement with Lake Havasu City because the county turned over park operations without fair compensation.

He said the county invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvement of the park, which is located south of the city and covers 1,042 acres.

"We had seven years left on the lease" with the BLM, he said.

"Now, we have a new parks director (Shawn Blackburn) on board.

We have different ideas than the prior parks director (Tom Brady) about improving the parks."

Johnson said he thinks SARA Park, which contains a racetrack and ball fields, could generate revenue for the county, such as Davis Camp in Bullhead City.

Byers questioned Johnson's motives for filing the lawsuit.

"What is the issue here?" he asked, adding Johnson was going against the wishes of Lake Havasu City residents.

" Is there a personal gain?"

Johnson said, "This has been something that I have been battling with the county for years, giving away assets without just compensation."

He said he retained Jackson because he as been involved with SARA Park for years.

Jackson also has represented Stop Taxing Our People, a Lake Havasu City-based group, in a lawsuit over the fate of a quarter-cent sales tax approved by Johnson and former supervisors Carol Anderson and Jim Zaborsky in August 1999.

STOP is trying to force the county to let voters decide whether they want to repeal the tax.

STOP and county government are awaiting review of the case by the state Court of Appeals.