Attorney: No conflict for Wakimoto to vote on water rights

A tractor cuts hay on Wakimoto Farms in Mohave Valley. Mohave County Board of Supervisors are battling the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District over the transfer of water rights from Mohave County to the Central Arizona Project. (Courtesy photo)

A tractor cuts hay on Wakimoto Farms in Mohave Valley. Mohave County Board of Supervisors are battling the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District over the transfer of water rights from Mohave County to the Central Arizona Project. (Courtesy photo)

KINGMAN – Mohave County Supervisor Lois Wakimoto has no conflict of interest in voting on issues related to the county’s battle to stop the transfer of water rights to the Central Arizona Project, county attorney Ryan Esplin said.

Wakimoto, who represents Mohave Valley, no longer has a vested interested in Wakimoto Farms, a family-owned farming operation that relies on water from the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District to grow hay.

She has been divorced from Del Wakimoto for about 15 years, but kept the family name. Together, they operated Desert Magic Farms on a small parcel of land leased from the Fort Mohave Indian Tribe.

“It’s just part of my last name,” Wakimoto said Monday. “It’s my ex-brother-in-law’s farm.” Victor Wakimoto continues to operate Wakimoto Farms.

The county supervisor said she spoke with attorney Esplin about her vote on April 2 to authorize the purchase of 15 acres in the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District for $250,000 to give the county legal standing in opposing the water transfer.

She also voted May 6 for an application for another 75 acre-feet of water rights from MVIDD for $2,500, and voted Monday to authorize the law firm of Ryley, Carlock and Applewhite to file a civil complaint in Superior Court against the MVIDD board of directors, if it approves the water transfer.

Esplin said he reviewed the laws to determine whether Wakimoto had a conflict of interest that would prevent her from participating in the board’s decisions.

The law states that “any public officer or employee of a public agency who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any contract, sale, purchase or service to such public agency shall make known that interest in the official records of such public agency and shall refrain from voting upon or otherwise participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such contract, sale or purchase.”

The key phrase here is “substantial interest,” Esplin noted.

“I believe that Supervisor Wakimoto does not have a substantial interest in the purchase of the 15 acres because she is not receiving any direct interest from the purchase of the property,” Esplin said. “She is not getting water rights from it. She is not getting money from the transaction.”

Any “indirect” interest she has in the purchase of the property is widely speculative, the attorney added. Although she lives in the area, she’s not farming the land. She’s simply trying to protect the water rights of all users in Mohave County, Esplin said.

“Anything that has to do with my family, I would stay away from and recuse myself. Anything that has to do with me directly, I would recuse myself,” Wakimoto said.

“I do feel morally obligated to continue this water fight because the future of Mohave County is right now at stake.”

The people who stand to benefit the most from the MVIDD land acquisition are residents of Mohave County, Esplin said.

“The decision to take water from the MVIDD area will impact the people of Bullhead City, it will impact Lake Havasu City and it will impact Kingman,” he said. “It will affect the communities in between these three cities. Consequently, Supervisor Wakimoto’s interest in the 15-acre transaction is the same general interest that you, me and everyone else in Mohave County has in this transaction.”