Mon07282014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Project FAITH’s lawyer proposes meeting with KG county attorney

Nearly a month after sending a July 1 letter requesting details about Project FAITH’s plans for proceeding with its HELP center project, King George last week finally received a preliminary response, of sorts.

The letter, received by fax on July 22 at the King George’s county administrator’s office, was addressed to county attorney Eric Gregory.

It served to introduce Stephen R. West, of counsel to a law firm with an address in Northern Virginia, saying they were “recently-retained legal counsel for Project FAITH, Inc in the matter of the HELP Center project.”

TALK ABOUT IT?      
West’s letter also proposed that the two lawyers meet to talk about it.

But that wouldn’t happen too soon, as it was suggested for sometime after West completes his review of “the factual background and history related to the Center matter.”

West’s letter added, “We expect to complete the initial segment of our review in the very near future whereupon we shall prepare and present our client’s response” concerning the current status of the HELP Center.  

West’s letter suggested “that when our preliminary investigation has been completed, we meet to discuss the parties’ respective positions on how the Center undertaking happened to get to the position it is found today, and assess the possible future courses for moving the Project forward.”

The Board of Supervisors has a meeting next week on Aug. 6, when it is likely to hold another closed session on the legal matters surrounding the proposed project.

In the meantime, West said he and the Vienna, Va., law firm to which he has become attached for this matter, were “presently engaged in assessing our client’s interests and rights pertaining to the Center undertaking.”

INTERESTS AND RIGHTS OF BOTH PARTIES      
The interests and rights of both Project FAITH and the county are definitively spelled out in the two companion legal documents executed in June of last year, and as amended earlier this year in February.

That’s when a majority of three supervisors had agreed to extend the deadline for commencement of construction from Feb. 28, which became impossible, to Aug. 1, which also now seems unlikely, since it comes later this week.

In addition, the Board of Supervisors first wants facts.

It asked for them through Gregory in his July 1 letter to Phyllis Ashton, president of the Project FAITH board, asking for, among other things, “a detailed report concerning how Project FAITH intends to proceed with the project, with particular regard to (1) financing; (2) construction planning and administration, including timelines consistent with the terms of the Deed and Agreement; (3) prospective tenants; and, (4) a revised Operations Plan, which would be warranted given the matters addressed herein.”

Gregory’s letter had also asked for a “detailed report specifying Project FAITH’s plan to comply with the terms of the Deed and Agreement, including financing and construction timelines” in regard to the proposed HELP center.

Gregory had also added, “If you have letters of commitment, proposals, loan documents, or the like from prospective or actual funding agencies, your sharing these documents would be most appreciated.”

COUNTY HAS SINCE TAKEN ACTION      
In the last month since Gregory sent the county’s July 1 letter to Project FAITH, the Board of Supervisors has also taken public action regarding the matter.

On July 16 the board voted unanimously to provide “all actions authorized and provided for by the Project Faith HELP Center property Deed of Gift and Performance agreement, and as amended,” should it not meet the Aug. 1 deadline for commencement of construction defined as “at least the pouring of all footers.”

In making that motion, Ruby Brabo provided a rationale, by way of a preamble, saying the motion was being made “since the current agreement with Project Faith requires that they have footers in the ground by Aug. 1, and this board will not be convening again until Aug. 6 …”

That action earlier this month served to also send a message to Project FAITH officials and to the public that the board is now unanimous in determining to strictly enforce all legal requirements regarding the proposed project, and to avoid any interpretation that the county would acquiesce in letting deadlines slip further or tacitly granting any extensions.

When/if that deadline is not met this week, Gregory is expected to immediately provide written notice to Project FAITH that it has violated provisions in the guiding legal documents.  

The performance agreement with the county allows 60 days for Project FAITH “to cure any such default before any reversion” shall take effect.

According to agreements, “The board’s decision shall be final,” on the question of whether default is cured effectively.

REVERSION       
Reversion is the legal term used in the guiding documents for the county to get the 5.53 acres of donated land back should Project FAITH violate any of the clauses relating to development and operation of the proposed facility.

The legal wording says the county “retains the right to reclaim the property through reversion of the property and all structures, appurtenances and improvements of any kind, in the event that Company does not meet all of its obligations under this Agreement and as set forth in the Deed.”

The documents also intend that Project FAITH must own and operate the facility in perpetuity, or reversion would occur. It states, “Company is solely responsible for the continued maintenance and operation of the Facility solely for its stated and intended purposes.”

The conditions also include a prohibition against “any and all for-profit and/or commercial uses” in the facility.
If the land reverts to the county, the county would also get any liability on the property, along with any improvements.

But Project FAITH reps said publicly on July 11 that there is no liability against the land, showing slides during its public forum with one stating, “The land has not and would not be encumbered until all sources are final.”

That’s difficult to square with what Project FAITH executive director Froncé Wardlaw told the Board of Supervisors at a meeting in February.

Board chairman Dale Sisson had asked how solid the funding was for the project, referring to a sheet included in a handout from Wardlaw.

It stated that $850,000 listed as “local land loan” had been in place since July 2012.

By all appearances at the July 11 forum, Wardlaw has since been barred by the Project FAITH from speaking to members of the public or the county regarding the HELP Center project.

Nonetheless, Wardlaw, and not Ashton, was the only person from Project FAITH copied on the newly-retained attorney’s letter to the county last week.

ALTERED LETTER      
Whether Wardlaw has a been gagged by the Project FAITH board or just kept from the spotlight during the July 11 forum was likely due to the county’s July 1 letter from Gregory.

The letter cited Wardlaw’s admission of responsibility for altering a three-year-old letter that came from Rappahannock Community College in 2010, that she admitted was “updated.”  

The alteration resulted in erasing two years to make it read as though it was written in 2012 with the attendant assumption of on-going support from the college. The alternation has been disavowed by RCC.

Regarding that matter, Gregory stated in the July 1 letters, “The admission of responsibility for the altered letter is of particular concern because of the potential to mislead others, including government officials, funding agencies, and the public, concerning a key component of the project, as envisioned and proposed in the Operations Plan.”
The knowledge of the alteration of the letter changed everything when it came to light in early June.
It united the Board of Supervisors in skepticism about Wardlaw’s integrity and the veracity of all her previous statements and presentations regarding the proposed project.

The majority of three board members that had been united behind the project, Brabo, John LoBuglio and Cedell Brooks, joined Sisson and Joe Grzeika in skepticism that the project could financially get off the ground.

It also called into question the authenticity of other documents provided by Project FAITH to the county, including those that were provided by Wardlaw for inclusion in the county’s application for federal funding for the CDBG grant.

WARDLAW’S WRITTEN ADMISSION
In an email from Wardlaw to Brabo on June 11, Wardlaw expressed her regret for not looking at the date on the altered letter before giving it to Brabo, and tried to diminish the fact of the alteration of the document referring to it as an “update.”  

Wardlaw excused the alteration, stating, “The letter has passed so many hands with funders and others that I cannot tell you exactly when the update occurred.”

She also said, “I know for a fact it was not done maliciously or for Project FAITH’s gain. However, I regret that the copy that I gave to you was not the original date. Again I accept full responsibility for it all.”

County attorney Gregory had last month seen it differently, telling The Journal, “We would like to know how the alleged letter was created and for what purpose.” He added, “This is a serious allegation.”

RESOLUTION WITH COUNTY SOUGHT
West questioned “the County’s conduct” in the middle of his brief July 22 fax letter to Gregory. West’s letter states, “While our examination of the acts is ongoing, some of the information we’ve reviewed has given rise to a number of potentially significant questions regarding the County’s conduct to date under the controlling agreements.”

West added, “I am hopeful these and any other as yet unidentified matters can be resolved in an expeditions and reasonably amicable fashion between the parties.”

He then stated, “I will look forward making your acquaintance and to jointly working towards a positive resolution of all issues. It is our client’s deep hope that, notwithstanding the difficulties and obstacles encountered with the development thus far, it will be possible for the County and the developer to set upon a path that will lead to the successful delivery of the facility envisioned in the Deed of Gift and attendant Performance Agreement.”

The successful delivery of the proposed HELP Center facility has always been about financing for the project, which has remained ephemeral.

If actual financing becomes available, the project may go forward if it can meet the legal agreements’ timetables and other requirements.

Phyllis Cook

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