AG: State can cancel land deal
In a letter to state Senate President Stan Matsunaka, Salazar said the land board has the option of terminating its agreement with former Beaver Creek resident Robert Brotman. The letter came just hours after the Senate killed a last-minute bill that would have protected members of the Eagle County School Board from being sued if the case landed back in court.
Salazar said he based his opinion on the fact that land values have increased so significantly since 1996 that it would be impossible to accomplish the land board’s original intent – to exchange the Eagle County land for income-producing property of equal value. Salazar said in his letter that too much time has passed since the deal was made. Brotman’s 1996 $3.5 million purchase price, the attorney general wrote, will no longer buy the income-producing property needed to offset the State Land Board losing the Eagle County land near Edwards.
The State Land Board meets at 10 a.m. May 17 in Denver. Dawn Taylor of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said board members are expected to discuss the issue.
“In the end, the decision on how to proceed is a decision for the State Land Board,” Salazar said in his letter. “I also know that the outcome of litigation can never be guaranteed. However, my office stands ready to defend the State Land Board in litigation that might be instituted should the State Land Board decide, under these circumstances, that it cannot close on these exchange agreements.”
Brotman’s attorney, Jay Baker, said Salazar’s opinion is exactly opposite a 1991 ruling by the Attorney General’s office that authorized the kind of agreement Brotman and the land board reached.
“We are deeply disappointed that the attorney general believes the state of Colorado doesn’t need to stand behind its contracts with private parties,” said Baker. “We think it sets a horrible precedent for Colorado. Who can do business with Colorado if the state says it can disregard contracts on a whim?
“If these contracts have been frustrated, as the attorney general’s opinion letter states, they’ve been frustrated by Dick Scudder,” added Baker. “The attorney general should be recommending that the State Land Board blame Dick Scudder for any value lost since 1997, when the contracts should have closed.”
The issue stems from a 1996 land deal between Brotman and the Colorado State Land Board, which sold two 640-acre mountain parcels to Brotman for a total of about $3.5 million, one on each side of Interstate 70 near Edwards. The deal landed in court, and both the Denver District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled the contract was not valid. The Colorado Supreme Court threw out the suit, however, ruling that Brotman’s neighbor, Denver Post owner Dick Scudder, wasn’t eligible to file the suit in the first place.
“If there’s an innocent party in all this mess, it’s Bob Brotman,” said Baker. “It is hard to believe that Dick Scudder could delay the contracts in court for four years, delay them in the state Legislature for another year, then manage to convince Attorney General Salazar that the contracts should be repudiated – all because he doesn’t want Bob Brotman as an Eagle County neighbor.
“The state should stand behind its contracts instead of giving in to a rich and powerful man who buys his ink by the barrel.”
The State Land Board, meanwhile, has consistently said its contract with Brotman is valid, and that it intends to honor it.
“I have a hard time believing the State Land Board will do anything to reverse its position and impair our contracts,” said Baker. “They’ve stood behind us all along, and I believe they still will.”
Eagle County officials called Salazar’s statement a positive move forward.
“Hopefully, Mr. Brotman, his attorney and his lobbyists will understand that we say what we mean and we mean what we say,” said Eagle County commissioner Tom Stone. “Our opinion is that he has an unenforceable contract that should never have been agreed to in the first place, and we intend to stop the closing of that agreement by any means that are available, whether they be legislative or judicial. I believe Mr. Brotman has already lost in the court of public opinion.”
“This confirms what we have believed all along – that these contracts are invalid,” said local environmental activist Andy Wiessner, who lobbied state lawmakers to help put the land under conservation easements.
The State Land Board manages about 3 million acres of public land throughout Colorado, with the proceeds helping fund public schools. Prior to Colorado voters approving an amendment to the state Constitution prohibiting the state agency had sold parcels. The land board was using the money to buy income-producing properties, such as parking lots and office buildings.
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