Town settles Abujbarah lawsuit

Brandon Shelton of Dirty Money Cattle Company said they are a family of farmers,
so dirt was a natural and the name also sells a lot of T-shirts

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CAVE CREEK – During Wednesday night’s special council meeting, Town Marshal Adam Stein reported back to council with an update regarding a property owner on Glory Road blocking the town right of way between 36th and 38th streets.

Stein said he met with the property owners, who claimed the reason for blocking the right of way stemmed from safety issues with respect to an adjacent property for sale.

Stein said the owners were very nice and agreed to remove the obstructions by Aug. 18.

Finance Director Robert Weddigen announced the town will have an invitational rodeo event in conjunction with Wild West Days on Nov. 6.

Weddigen said the lowest responsible bidder, Dirty Money Cattle Company, will conduct the entire event at a cost of $12,500.

According to Weddigen, the event will pay for itself through entry fees and the expected sell-out of approximately 1,600 tickets.

brandon sheltonBrandon Shelton (r) of Dirty Money Cattle Company, responding to Councilman Ernie Bunch’s question as to how they came up with their name, said they are a family of farmers so dirt was a natural and the name also sells a lot of T-shirts.

Shelton mentioned numerous events they’ve put on in Scottsdale and elsewhere and told council they will put on a very patriotic, family oriented, quality rodeo.

Bunch, who moved to approve the contract, said he thinks it will help promote Wild West Days.

Vice Mayor Steve LaMar, who seconded the motion, said the rodeo will make this a successful, western Wild West Days.

The motion carried unanimously.

The meeting followed an executive session to obtain legal advice and consider the town’s position on settling the pending lawsuit filed against the town by former Town Manager Usama Abujbarah for $300,000.

Town Attorney Bill Sims told council, “You have to decide on the eve of trial whether to proceed.”

The case was scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 19.

However, on Tuesday, Aug. 11, Judge Douglas Gerlach vacated the trial date with the consent of counsel.

Pointing out the town has already paid in excess of $200,000 in legal fees, Sims recommended council come to a settlement it could accept, otherwise the only winners will be the three lawyers representing the case.

Because the town recently terminated its contract for legal services with Dickenson Wright, Sims said the town needed to also decide whether it wanted to begin paying his firm to read the boxes of documents already filed in the case.

During public comment, David Smith cautioned council that there might be other clauses in the settlement agreement besides money and said he didn’t think it was wise to come up with a starting point of $300,000 for negotiating.

Smith was apparently unaware there have been numerous executive sessions to discuss the status of the case and the parties had recently participated in a settlement conference.

Eileen Wright claimed because the trial date had been vacated a settlement had already been reached and questioned how that was possible without violating the open meeting law.

LaMar had Sims clarify that only the trial had been vacated but the case had not been settled.

Sims stated, “No, nothing has been settled … the trial was vacated,” giving the town time to consider its options.

Mayor Vincent Francia made the motion to settle the case for $300,000, which was seconded by Councilman Thomas McGuire.

Francia spoke of a cause and effect and said the cause was taken two years ago to dismiss the town manager, while the effect is the lawsuit and the recall election.

He said, “We’re already in it for $221,000.”

Francia stated he did not vote to dismiss Abujbarah.

He said he cautioned the four councilmen who did that harm would come to the community and there would be a recall, both of which came to pass.

Francia enumerated some of Abujbarah’s accomplishments as town manager, including the preservation of Spur Cross Ranch, 4,000 acres of state land, the Taste of Cave Creek event and his ability to successfully weather the economic downturn that began in 2007.

McGuire said the town needs to represent citizens at a minimal cost and move on.

Councilman Dick Esser said he was still undecided when he arrived but after listening to Sims stated, “I believe we’re doing the right thing by settling.”

Councilman Mark Lipsky stated four members of council were voted out and “we were voted in.”

He said, “I am truly gratified at the lack of attendance tonight,” believing the lack of attendance was a showing that people trust them to do the right thing.

Lipsky said, “I support this 100 percent,” and stated settling the case was reasonable, it will end the pain and suffering, will avoid going to trial and losing at trial.

Bunch said he read most of the depositions and stated, “You never know what a judge or jury will do.”

He said if it were his money he’d be writing the check and believed in acting in the best interest of the town as if it were his money.

Councilwoman Susan Clancy said she attended and spoke at that meeting when Abujbarah was dismissed and questioned why they would want to get rid of someone with such historical knowledge.

Clancy said she agreed 100 percent with settling to right a wrong and it made sense to put this behind them.

LaMar said he read all of the depositions and stated he was crystal clear about how he felt that evening when Abujbarah was “publicly lynched.”

He said settling the case would be righting the wrong of the recalled council.

LaMar said, “To date, the only person who has benefitted from this is our former lawyer.”

Calling what the recalled council did unethical, immoral, unnecessary and legally wrong, LaMar said it was the first time in the history of the state where the majority of a sitting body had been recalled.

He said he was happy to support the reasonable settlement for the good of the town.

The motion carried unanimously.

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