Mayes: Farmington must fight proposed utility

Rob Mayes
Farmington City Manager
Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes

For the second time in less than a year, notwithstanding the existence of pending litigation initiated by the city of Bloomfield against the city of Farmington, Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl has attempted to sway public opinion about the merits of that litigation via The Farmington Daily Times.

In his op-ed piece published last Sunday, Strahl casts the city of Farmington as the bad actor in this dispute, asserting that Farmington refuses to recognize Bloomfield’s “legal right” to create its own electric utility and that it is employing delay tactics to drag out the legal process “in hopes that Bloomfield will give up” on its efforts.

To support his argument, Strahl makes several statements that are misleading or that are not supported by the facts.  A response is necessary because the city of Farmington can no longer allow the city of Bloomfield to proceed unchecked in its efforts to manipulate public opinion.

Farmington has never argued that Bloomfield did not acquire rights pursuant to the 1960 legal decision referred to by Strahl.  Rather, Farmington has argued that the legal decision expressly limited the scope of those rights to assets that existed at the time the decision was issued — an argument that is in stark contrast to Bloomfield’s argument that its rights under the decision, when combined with the power of annexation, are unlimited and that they exist in perpetuity to apply to any properties that exist today or that may be constructed or installed in the future.

In addition, Farmington has argued that Bloomfield failed to timely assert its rights under the 1960 legal decision.  It is this argument that was recently considered by Judge Bradford J. Dalley and disposed of by his decision that Bloomfield’s lawsuit against Farmington may move forward.  But what is misleading — and very much disturbing to the the city of Farmington — is Strahl’s assertion that Judge Dalley’s decision affirmed Bloomfield’s “right” to an unlimited and unrestricted power to acquire all city of Farmington electric utility assets located within the municipal boundaries of Bloomfield, regardless of when constructed.  In fact, the decision did no such thing, and the scope of Bloomfield’s right remains the foundational issue that must be determined by the court.

Mr. Strahl further questions the motivation of the city of Farmington in asking the court to first make a decision as to the scope of Bloomfield’s right before requiring the parties to present evidence as to the value of the assets that are determined to be the subject of that right.  Contrary to Mr. Strahl’s assertions, the city’s request is extremely reasonable because it is based on the common sense recognition that the parties should not be required to incur the expense of valuing assets that may not be subject to the right of acquisition. In this regard, Mr. Strahl’s statement that “Farmington was supposed to wrap up its own independent asset analysis by August” has no factual basis.  The city of Farmington has never made a commitment to Bloomfield to do so, nor has the court ordered it to be done.  In fact, Farmington has committed no significant resources to that endeavor and does not plan to do so until the scope of Bloomfield’s right has been determined by the court, or until directed to do so by the court.  Mr. Strahl’s rhetoric on this issue is simply another attempt to cast the city of Farmington in a negative light.

Aside from the very important legal issues that remain unresolved in this pending litigation, it is important to understand why the city of Farmington believes it is necessary to aggressively defend against Bloomfield’s attempt to acquire Farmington’s electric utility assets.  Why should it make any difference at all to Farmington’s customers, including, and possibly most importantly, the residents and business owners in Bloomfield?  That will be the topic for a column that will appear in this space next week.