Did contractor lie on bid questionnaire for 31st Street Parking Garage? 

John R. Lawson, president of W.M. Jordan Inc., successful bidder to build the city's 31st Street parking garage to serve the taxpayer subsidized 31st Street Hotel, denies lying on the contract questionnaire relating to previous suits against his company.

Lawson, one of three investors in the subsidized hotel, was awarded a $19.850 MILLION contract to build the garage where 380 of the parking slots  will be leased to the hotel.

The contract and Post Bid Addendum was finalized on May 27, 2004. And Jordan has to have the garage completed by the time the hotel is ready to open for business.  The hotel developer, of which Lawson is one of 3 investors (the other 2 are Bruce Thompson and Edmund C. Ruffin), has indicated the hotel will open no later than February 1 of next year.

Most expensive parking in city

It was announced in May, that the hotel had gone up in price 32% - $7.6 MILLION - in just 2 months.

That makes your tax-paid 958 place parking garage cost $32,776 per parking slot.

Mayor Meyera Oberndorf said the rapidly escalating costs were because of 'poor planning.'  Wasn't  the city doing the planning?  Not the citizens. But the taxpayers pay for the city's incompetence again.  

Because time was of the essence, the city presented W. M. Jordan a contact and an accompanying questionnaire as one document, said Clarence Warnstaff, the city's project director overseeing the hotel and garage. Normally, Warnstaff said, the questionnaire is submitted to successful bidders separately.

The 'boilerplate' language in the contract states, among other things, "The undersigned [the document was signed by Lawson] hereby further certifies that the bidder has not knowingly falsified, concealed, misled, or covered up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact in connection with this Bid Proposal/Contract...".

The questionnaire states:  "The undersigned guarantees the accuracy of all statements and answers herein contained...".

Question 6 asks:  "Are there any judgments, claims, arbitration proceeds or suits pending or have there been any in the past five years against your organization or its officers?"  To which Lawson answered, "No".

When it was pointed out that Virginia News Source had seen copies of court records involving various court actions, Lawson said, the media doesn't know how to read the contract or questionnaire.  "This is not a news item," said Lawson.  He said every single question refers specifically to  suits over construction contracts the company has had. [There is no language in the questionnaire stating the questions relate to construction contracts - Editor's note]

"Every single question involves construction contracts - every single one. Not a single suit (or one) pending on a contract on one we have had in last 5 years."  The other suits he said involved personal injury cases against the company or actions involving subcontractors.

One suit, however,  involving a construction contract was filed by the city of Norfolk in March of this year, even through Jordan was later dropped as a defendant.  

Charles Stanley Prentace, assistant city attorney for Norfolk said, "The City of Norfolk filed suit for $24,132.06 against the W. M. Jordan Company, Inc., who was general contractor during construction of the building known as 150 West Main Street; the Robinson Development Group, Inc., the building's owner and 100 Main Street, LLC., to recover costs incurred by the City during installation of a 4 inch water tap, 3 inch meter, and an 8 inch fire service with detector check at 150 West Main Street."

The case was later 'nonsuited' on April 12, 2004 against Jordan "following the City's determination that the W. M. Jordan Company, Inc., was not liable for the costs...".  

But there was a suit and it was over the contract, Prentace said.

Was Lawson's answer a 'material misrepresentation' under state law and contrary to the facts?

Warnstaff said, "When they (Lawson/W.M. Jordan) filled out question, Lawson said, 'No'. We are reviewing the claims to determine if there's anything material in suits against them."

Does Lawson's answer to question 6, represent a material misrepresentation?  Warnstaff said he doesn't think so. "I think it was just a mistake, not a crime. 

"I've been in contact with the city attorney's office and they understand the process and they aren't recommending I take any action to reverse any past decision (involving awarding of the contract)," Warnstaff said.

The bid review also included, Warnstaff said, consideration whether the company meets the city's criteria:  Can it perform the job? Does it have the experience?  Warnstaff said, "There's no question they do have ability."

They have posted the required performance bond and insurance certificate which gives the city taxpayers full protection against any failure or default in the contract, Warnstaff said.

Lawson agreed, "We have to submit a bid bond and that means a triple A rated insurance company has seen the financial statement, all of the inter-company organization - past history and performance of the company and it agreed to guarantee performance.

"That means city of Virginia Beach has no liability on this contract," Lawson said.