- Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 October 2013 11:18
- Published on Wednesday, 25 September 2013 10:06
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“Anticipated litigation” threatened over HELP center
YMCA, Tea Party communications and media correspondence
Project FAITH has issued a strong threat of legal action against King George County.
The threat of litigation is contained in a six-page letter which Project FAITH refers to as “Document Preservation Notice/Impending HELP Center Litigation” dated Sept. 10, along with a six-page attachment which provides further descriptions saying they are “relevant to anticipated litigation.”
That notice was penned by Stephen West, attorney to Project FAITH in regard to its proposed HELP Center project. Though originally sent via email on Sept. 10, a “corrected” version of the notice was resent by West two days later.
On Sept. 12, West said the replacement was sent after “several typographical errors” had been found in the first paragraph and added, “I ask that the Notice originally received by the County be replaced with the attached revised rendition, wherein the subject errors have been corrected.”
Nonetheless, the first sentence still had the wrong date of the only meeting between the two parties that included West, saying it had taken place on Aug. 21, when it had actually occurred two days later on Friday, Aug. 23.
Others at that meeting were Project FAITH executive director Froncé Wardlaw and two of her board members. They met with county administrator Travis Quesenberry and county attorney Eric Gregory.
West said that meeting spawned the existing disputes, saying it was “based on the positions taken on behalf of King George County…” during it.
The notice includes what appears to be largely boiler-plate language that provides instructions on the types of documents and treatment of their storage media that must be preserved by the county in the event that the threatened legal proceedings are in fact initiated by Project FAITH in regard to a proposed HELP Center.
60-DAY CURE PERIOD COMING TO END
In the meantime, the clock is ticking toward the end of a contractual 60-day “cure” period that began on Aug. 2 with a notice of default sent to Project FAITH by the county.
The notice of default was triggered by the failure of Project FAITH to meet an Aug. 1, 2013, deadline for commencement of construction of the HELP Center on land donated by the county.
The donated land parcel is 5.529 acres slated to revert back to the county if the default is not cured.
“Reversion” is the legal term used in the two guiding documents, a Performance Agreement and a Deed of Gift, for the county to reclaim the parcel of land if there is a default of those contracts. The parcel is located on the north side of Route 3 (Kings Hwy) across a side street from the new Sheriff’s office building.
As of this past Friday, Sept. 20, Project FAITH had not yet submitted the required documents or payment that would trigger issuance of a building permit or even for a land disturbance permit for any construction activity on the donated property.
NO RESPONSE FROM COUNTY
King George has not provided a response. West’s letter requested the county to confirm that the 12 pages of notice and instructions for records retention are being followed.
The county administration and all of its departments are well-versed in the definitions of public and exempt records retention and storage, as well as a legal requirement to produce them upon request, since it follows the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Under West’s document preservation notice, the county is demanded to retain records relevant to the dispute in the event of a lawsuit.
CATEGORIES INCLUDE YMCA, TEA PARTY & MEDIA
There are at least a couple of interesting categories of documents that are requested to be preserved in case of a potential lawsuit by Project FAITH.
The expected categories of documents are included, such as any directly relating to the proposed HELP Center documents, its design, leasing, funding, and default.
The categories also include communications between county board, supervisor or staff with local newspapers, including written or oral communications exchanged by county board, supervisor or staff about coverage of the HELP Center project.
They also include documents relating to communications regarding the HELP Center project involving county board, supervisor or staff and any individuals who may be affiliated in any way with the King George Tea Party.
Documents are also requested to be preserved relating in any way to communications regarding county land conveyance for the YMCA or construction funding, written or oral involving county board, supervisor or staff with Barney Reiley, Executive Director of the Rappahannock Area YMCA and other YMCA employees, representatives, etc.
APPLES & ORANGES?
When asked why the YMCA was of particular interest in a potential lawsuit by Project FAITH, Gregory said he would not speculate.
But it was Cedell Brooks who tried to draw a comparison between giving land in 2005 for a YMCA to operate and provide free pool time to the high school swim team forever, and giving land for a HELP Center to lease to government agencies and non-profits.
That was at a meeting on June 25, with a standing-room only audience and after lots of public comment against the HELP Center, when Brooks said, “When the YMCA came here there were no black members of the YMCA , and nobody said anything and we gave them – what was it?”
Ruby Brabo finished the sentence, chiming in, saying “20 acres of land and $4 million.”
The Deed of Gift states, “The Grantee shall have an opportunity to cure any alleged default and to appear before the Board to contest the allegations. The Board’s decision shall be final, with the exception that neither party waives any rights that it may have at law.” Generally when contractual disputes are pursued, it is in the Circuit Court.
But West’s letter cites preservation of electronically-stored and paper records according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Is West signaling that Project FAITH intends to file a civil rights action? When asked, Gregory told The Journal he’d rather not comment.
Though again, it was Brooks who pulled the race card during a meeting on Feb. 5. Wardlaw appeared at that meeting to request an extension to the contractual deadline for commencement of construction from Feb. 28 to Aug. 1, which was agreed to by a majority of Supervisors with Gregory directed to prepare amendments, which were approved at the following meeting.
But during the Feb. 5 meeting, Brooks blamed racism for negativity coming from some members of the public, not the board, saying, “A lot of negativity is coming from in the community and they have a lot of animosity because we gave this woman, an African-American woman, some land and they’ve got a problem with that. And I don’t care what nobody says – that’s what it’s all about.”
But it’s also true that numerous public comments have complained about public land being given away to build an office building while there are a growing number of empty storefronts and office space adding up to a large amount of available square footage for lease, sale or rent in the county due to the sluggish economy.