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Pulaski dispute goes public

PULASKI — Bobby and Martha Jackson say they reluctantly agreed to participate in the Town of Pulaski’s upper-floor housing rehabilitation project in April 2005.
Now, three years later, they insist they are left with five apartments that are so poorly constructed they wouldn’t think of renting them to anyone.
This past April, the town and the Jacksons reached an agreement to settle a three-year dispute over the quality of the apartments constructed on the second floor of their building at 28 West Main Street. Under the pact, both sides were able to “walk away” from the issue and were relieved from the contract.
The project was part of a million dollar downtown revitalization Community Development Block Grant provided by Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DCHD).
Even DCHD agrees that the apartments, as approved, don’t meet their Housing Quality Standards, and possibly even violate federal lead-based paint requirements. As a result, DHCD ended up reducing the grant by $228,262.
The apartments were constructed by a contractor hired by the town through an open bidding process.
The Jacksons said they became concerned about the quality of workmanship a month into the project and went to project manager John White with their concerns. White is the town’s economic development director and is in charge of overseeing the downtown revitalization project.
When they saw no attempt to remedy the problems, the Jacksons said they repeatedly asked to go before an advisory board that, according to the contract, was supposed to deal with complaints.
Nonetheless, they said they kept being directed to a management team, which was basically made up of the same people they were complaining about.
The Jacksons said they thought they were finally going to get to address the advisory board in September 2005, but, to their dismay, they ended up in a meeting in which White was trying to get them to sign papers accepting the work that had been done in their building.
It was at this meeting that the Jacksons say they first learned the contractor already had been paid $92,400 for the project. Under the contract, the job was not supposed to have been paid in full until the Jacksons had done a 50 percent and 100 percent walk-through and “signed off” on the work.
Town Manager John Hawley said it was standard practice of the town to pay contractors once a job was completed. He said the town relied upon its housing rehabilitation specialist to determine when the job was completed, and the specialist had indicated it was complete.
The specialist also was hired under the open bid process and “came highly recommended,” he added.
At the September 2005 meeting, the Jacksons refused to sign the papers, and Bobby told White he needed to talk to a lawyer.
In response, they contend, White “came across the desk” and told them “you’ve never seen me mad.” They say he stormed out of the office throwing a chair against the wall in the process.
JoBeth Wampler, who was White’s assistant at the time, confirmed that the meeting was heated because “basically both parties were frustrated.”
Wampler was a staff writer for The Southwest Times prior to taking the job as White’s assistant.
Although she was prepared to tape record the meeting that day, she said White indicated he didn’t think it would be necessary.
Wampler said White didn’t leap across the table, but he did walk around the desk and “sort of got up in (Bobby Jackson’s) face.” She said White was responding to a “kind of snide” comment Bobby made.
“(White) asked (Bobby) if he had a problem with the way he was running things, and (Bobby) said, ‘Yes,’ “ she added.
Wampler said White did toss a chair back in the room as he walked out, explaining “it was his way of venting his anger.”
She said White had never been in the Jacksons’ building after the work was completed, so she thinks he didn’t realize the workmanship was so poor. “I think he thought (the Jacksons) were being high maintenance,” she said.
However, after the meeting, she said White did a walk-through and confirmed the apartments needed to be fixed.
As for the contractor getting paid before the property was approved by the Jacksons, Wampler said part of that was probably her mistake.
She said she would process bills that came to the economic development office and then would place them on his desk to be signed for approval.
“I don’t know if he was even aware he was paying the final bill,” she said. He probably was just signing “whatever was put on his desk” like people in higher-level positions often do.
“It was probably my mistake for not noticing” it as the final bill, she said. “It was my first time in that position, and I probably wasn’t experienced enough” to have caught it.
According to Wampler, the town had a lot of projects going on at the time, including the James Hardie plant construction. She said White was “stretched way too thin” at the time so he probably lost his temper because he “had too much going on.”
There was no “down time” among the town staff at that time, Wampler added. She said everybody was working harder than they probably had ever worked before.
Both White and Town Manager John Hawley declined to comment on the Jacksons’ claims concerning White’s actions at that meeting, citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement. Plus, Hawley noted he wasn’t present at that meeting.
The Jacksons said the town wanted them to do a “heavy-duty non-disclosure” clause in the agreement in October 2007, but they wouldn’t do it because “the public needs to know that their money is being mismanaged.”
Thursday night, Martha Jackson told members of Citizens for the Betterment of Pulaski (CBP) the town wanted them to put a “gag order” in the agreement, but she wasn’t willing to give up her right to free speech.
Martha said they and their lawyers came up with the “loosest” confidentiality agreement they could develop so that the town would approve the agreement.
But it appears the Jacksons and Hawley can’t agree on the requirements of the confidentiality agreement.
The Jacksons contend the agreement merely prevents them from discussing the terms of the agreement — which became a public document once the Town Council approved it.
However, Hawley said the agreement prevents them from discussing what actions or conversations led up to the agreement.
Hawley said he will have to consult with the town’s Greensboro, N.C., attorney in the Jackson case to determine whether the Jacksons have breached the agreement.
A Greensboro lawyer was hired because Town Attorney Randy Eley, who died last year, had a conflict. Present Town Attorney David Warburton also had a conflict.
When they still had not been able to resolve the situation in December 2006, the Jacksons took their complaints to DHCD.
Martha said DHCD program manager Jimmy Wallace told her to make another request to go before the advisory board. When Hawley again directed her to the management team, Wallace told her, “I’m coming down there.”
In a January 2007 letter to Hawley pertaining to his visit to the Jacksons’ property, Wallace states, “While the town has been very cooperative in trying to alleviate the workmanship problems, it is our opinion that some of the work is still not acceptable” and HQS violations haven’t been alleviated.
He goes on to say the rehabilitation specialist “should never have recommended that the contractor be given final payment” until the workmanship was “acceptable” and met housing standards. He also agreed with the Jacksons that the time the town had taken to address the situation was “too long.”
Hawley said the town never ignored the situation. In fact, he said town crews were sent to the building several times to try to fix problems the contractor didn’t address. He explained that the town felt it would be easier to make the repairs instead of going back to the contractor.
According to Hawley the town has no intentions of taking legal action against the contractor or the rehabilitation specialist. He said the statute of limitations has expired anyway.
As a result of the situation, Wallace tells Hawley in an October 2007 letter that DHCD is proposing to reduce the town’s million dollar grant by $228,262, but the town is released from spending any money toward upper-story adaptive reuse apartments in the Dalton building.
“While on paper it appears to be a significant reduction of CDBG funds to the town, in essence, since no funds have been expended on (10 of 15 other apartment units that were planned in downtown) … this does not effectively result in a punitive action towards the town,” the letter states.
Wallace says the town would have to “absorb” $51,471 in costs on the Jacksons’ building. But Hawley said none of the money spent on the project came from the town’s operating or general fund budgets. He pointed out that the town’s match for the upper-floor housing grant was funds left over from a 1986 housing grant that couldn’t be used for anything but housing.
He said the only loss to the town was in housing program income and town labor on the repairs made at the apartments. In other words, he said the town will have less housing money available, but that money could not have been used for anything else such as sidewalks.
Martha Jackson says Wallace indicated he has never had any locality be unable to follow the program design for a grant.
Aggravated that nothing had been done to correct the problems by July 2007, Martha said she called Wallace and told him their next call would be to their lawyer.
She said Wallace seemed perplexed and asked why, and “I said, ‘(The apartments) look the same as they did in December (2006)’ “ when Wallace came to check out their complaints.
She said Wallace indicated he thought the situation had been corrected months earlier.
Under the settlement agreement, both sides agree not to sue one another, and both sides agree to pay their own attorney fees, costs and expenses. The Jacksons are released from the contract, and the town does not have to put any more work into the Jackson building.
The agreement also specifies that it is not an “admission of liability” or “concession of any kind.”
The Jacksons said they had been unable to obtain certificates of occupancy for the apartments because they do not meet standards of quality.
However, they say they now have been given the certificates even though they never filled out paperwork required under the new Rental Inspection Ordinance. They never bothered to fill out the paperwork because the apartments “can’t meet the requirements” of the ordinance, the said.
The Jacksons indicated they got “a lot of bad information” from the town during the ordeal, and the town got a lot of bad information from its contractors.
The only town employees they could rely on to “tell us the truth” were town Engineer Bill Pedigo and building inspector Tom Compton, Martha Jackson said.
She said “nobody understands why (the town) didn’t just accept our offer” that the town pay $3,000 to repaint the buildings. The Jacksons said they were even going to furnish the paint.
“I think they (town officials) felt like if they jerked us around long enough we’d go away, but we didn’t. After a while, it became a cause,” Martha said.
They claim every action they or town employees took to correct the situation “got to John Hawley’s desk and stopped.”
Martha said if the town government learns only one thing from their situation it is “if you don’t have qualified, competent employees you’re going to have problems like this.”
“We have a minister being our economic development director,” she added.
She equated it to her becoming a school nurse when she has been trained to be a school counselor or principal.
But the Jacksons say it wasn’t just the town that “dropped the ball.” They said an employee of DHCD (not Wallace) was supposed to be stopping by the property every other week to supervise the project. Even though they signed the upper-floor housing contract in April 2005, they contend the DHCD employee never set foot in their building until 2007.
They said the upper-housing project was presented to them as being turn-key.
“The only reason we agreed to do it was to help the town get the grant,” Bobby said. “We knew we weren’t going to make money off” renting the apartments.
“It was definitely a mistake,” he added.
Hawley said he doesn’t think the incident will spoil the town’s relationship with the Jacksons.
“It’s a business thing. They had a construction dispute, and we tried to resolve it — we did resolve it,” he added. “If Bobby (Jackson) came walking in here tomorrow and wanted to do another project, we’d be sitting down with him, trying to do it,” said the town manager.
But the Jacksons don’t feel the same.
“I will never work with this town as long as John White and John Hawley are employed there,” Bobby Jackson said.

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Pulaski dispute goes public

PULASKI — Bobby and Martha Jackson say they reluctantly agreed to participate in the Town of Pulaski’s upper-floor housing rehabilitation project in April 2005.
Now, three years later, they insist they are left with five apartments that are so poorly constructed they wouldn’t think of renting them to anyone.
This past April, the town and the Jacksons reached an agreement to settle a three-year dispute over the quality of the apartments constructed on the second floor of their building at 28 West Main Street. Under the pact, both sides were able to “walk away” from the issue and were relieved from the contract.
The project was part of a million dollar downtown revitalization Community Development Block Grant provided by Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DCHD).
Even DCHD agrees that the apartments, as approved, don’t meet their Housing Quality Standards, and possibly even violate federal lead-based paint requirements. As a result, DHCD ended up reducing the grant by $228,262.
The apartments were constructed by a contractor hired by the town through an open bidding process.
The Jacksons said they became concerned about the quality of workmanship a month into the project and went to project manager John White with their concerns. White is the town’s economic development director and is in charge of overseeing the downtown revitalization project.
When they saw no attempt to remedy the problems, the Jacksons said they repeatedly asked to go before an advisory board that, according to the contract, was supposed to deal with complaints.
Nonetheless, they said they kept being directed to a management team, which was basically made up of the same people they were complaining about.
The Jacksons said they thought they were finally going to get to address the advisory board in September 2005, but, to their dismay, they ended up in a meeting in which White was trying to get them to sign papers accepting the work that had been done in their building.
It was at this meeting that the Jacksons say they first learned the contractor already had been paid $92,400 for the project. Under the contract, the job was not supposed to have been paid in full until the Jacksons had done a 50 percent and 100 percent walk-through and “signed off” on the work.
Town Manager John Hawley said it was standard practice of the town to pay contractors once a job was completed. He said the town relied upon its housing rehabilitation specialist to determine when the job was completed, and the specialist had indicated it was complete.
The specialist also was hired under the open bid process and “came highly recommended,” he added.
At the September 2005 meeting, the Jacksons refused to sign the papers, and Bobby told White he needed to talk to a lawyer.
In response, they contend, White “came across the desk” and told them “you’ve never seen me mad.” They say he stormed out of the office throwing a chair against the wall in the process.
JoBeth Wampler, who was White’s assistant at the time, confirmed that the meeting was heated because “basically both parties were frustrated.”
Wampler was a staff writer for The Southwest Times prior to taking the job as White’s assistant.
Although she was prepared to tape record the meeting that day, she said White indicated he didn’t think it would be necessary.
Wampler said White didn’t leap across the table, but he did walk around the desk and “sort of got up in (Bobby Jackson’s) face.” She said White was responding to a “kind of snide” comment Bobby made.
“(White) asked (Bobby) if he had a problem with the way he was running things, and (Bobby) said, ‘Yes,’ “ she added.
Wampler said White did toss a chair back in the room as he walked out, explaining “it was his way of venting his anger.”
She said White had never been in the Jacksons’ building after the work was completed, so she thinks he didn’t realize the workmanship was so poor. “I think he thought (the Jacksons) were being high maintenance,” she said.
However, after the meeting, she said White did a walk-through and confirmed the apartments needed to be fixed.
As for the contractor getting paid before the property was approved by the Jacksons, Wampler said part of that was probably her mistake.
She said she would process bills that came to the economic development office and then would place them on his desk to be signed for approval.
“I don’t know if he was even aware he was paying the final bill,” she said. He probably was just signing “whatever was put on his desk” like people in higher-level positions often do.
“It was probably my mistake for not noticing” it as the final bill, she said. “It was my first time in that position, and I probably wasn’t experienced enough” to have caught it.
According to Wampler, the town had a lot of projects going on at the time, including the James Hardie plant construction. She said White was “stretched way too thin” at the time so he probably lost his temper because he “had too much going on.”
There was no “down time” among the town staff at that time, Wampler added. She said everybody was working harder than they probably had ever worked before.
Both White and Town Manager John Hawley declined to comment on the Jacksons’ claims concerning White’s actions at that meeting, citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement. Plus, Hawley noted he wasn’t present at that meeting.
The Jacksons said the town wanted them to do a “heavy-duty non-disclosure” clause in the agreement in October 2007, but they wouldn’t do it because “the public needs to know that their money is being mismanaged.”
Thursday night, Martha Jackson told members of Citizens for the Betterment of Pulaski (CBP) the town wanted them to put a “gag order” in the agreement, but she wasn’t willing to give up her right to free speech.
Martha said they and their lawyers came up with the “loosest” confidentiality agreement they could develop so that the town would approve the agreement.
But it appears the Jacksons and Hawley can’t agree on the requirements of the confidentiality agreement.
The Jacksons contend the agreement merely prevents them from discussing the terms of the agreement — which became a public document once the Town Council approved it.
However, Hawley said the agreement prevents them from discussing what actions or conversations led up to the agreement.
Hawley said he will have to consult with the town’s Greensboro, N.C., attorney in the Jackson case to determine whether the Jacksons have breached the agreement.
A Greensboro lawyer was hired because Town Attorney Randy Eley, who died last year, had a conflict. Present Town Attorney David Warburton also had a conflict.
When they still had not been able to resolve the situation in December 2006, the Jacksons took their complaints to DHCD.
Martha said DHCD program manager Jimmy Wallace told her to make another request to go before the advisory board. When Hawley again directed her to the management team, Wallace told her, “I’m coming down there.”
In a January 2007 letter to Hawley pertaining to his visit to the Jacksons’ property, Wallace states, “While the town has been very cooperative in trying to alleviate the workmanship problems, it is our opinion that some of the work is still not acceptable” and HQS violations haven’t been alleviated.
He goes on to say the rehabilitation specialist “should never have recommended that the contractor be given final payment” until the workmanship was “acceptable” and met housing standards. He also agreed with the Jacksons that the time the town had taken to address the situation was “too long.”
Hawley said the town never ignored the situation. In fact, he said town crews were sent to the building several times to try to fix problems the contractor didn’t address. He explained that the town felt it would be easier to make the repairs instead of going back to the contractor.
According to Hawley the town has no intentions of taking legal action against the contractor or the rehabilitation specialist. He said the statute of limitations has expired anyway.
As a result of the situation, Wallace tells Hawley in an October 2007 letter that DHCD is proposing to reduce the town’s million dollar grant by $228,262, but the town is released from spending any money toward upper-story adaptive reuse apartments in the Dalton building.
“While on paper it appears to be a significant reduction of CDBG funds to the town, in essence, since no funds have been expended on (10 of 15 other apartment units that were planned in downtown) … this does not effectively result in a punitive action towards the town,” the letter states.
Wallace says the town would have to “absorb” $51,471 in costs on the Jacksons’ building. But Hawley said none of the money spent on the project came from the town’s operating or general fund budgets. He pointed out that the town’s match for the upper-floor housing grant was funds left over from a 1986 housing grant that couldn’t be used for anything but housing.
He said the only loss to the town was in housing program income and town labor on the repairs made at the apartments. In other words, he said the town will have less housing money available, but that money could not have been used for anything else such as sidewalks.
Martha Jackson says Wallace indicated he has never had any locality be unable to follow the program design for a grant.
Aggravated that nothing had been done to correct the problems by July 2007, Martha said she called Wallace and told him their next call would be to their lawyer.
She said Wallace seemed perplexed and asked why, and “I said, ‘(The apartments) look the same as they did in December (2006)’ “ when Wallace came to check out their complaints.
She said Wallace indicated he thought the situation had been corrected months earlier.
Under the settlement agreement, both sides agree not to sue one another, and both sides agree to pay their own attorney fees, costs and expenses. The Jacksons are released from the contract, and the town does not have to put any more work into the Jackson building.
The agreement also specifies that it is not an “admission of liability” or “concession of any kind.”
The Jacksons said they had been unable to obtain certificates of occupancy for the apartments because they do not meet standards of quality.
However, they say they now have been given the certificates even though they never filled out paperwork required under the new Rental Inspection Ordinance. They never bothered to fill out the paperwork because the apartments “can’t meet the requirements” of the ordinance, the said.
The Jacksons indicated they got “a lot of bad information” from the town during the ordeal, and the town got a lot of bad information from its contractors.
The only town employees they could rely on to “tell us the truth” were town Engineer Bill Pedigo and building inspector Tom Compton, Martha Jackson said.
She said “nobody understands why (the town) didn’t just accept our offer” that the town pay $3,000 to repaint the buildings. The Jacksons said they were even going to furnish the paint.
“I think they (town officials) felt like if they jerked us around long enough we’d go away, but we didn’t. After a while, it became a cause,” Martha said.
They claim every action they or town employees took to correct the situation “got to John Hawley’s desk and stopped.”
Martha said if the town government learns only one thing from their situation it is “if you don’t have qualified, competent employees you’re going to have problems like this.”
“We have a minister being our economic development director,” she added.
She equated it to her becoming a school nurse when she has been trained to be a school counselor or principal.
But the Jacksons say it wasn’t just the town that “dropped the ball.” They said an employee of DHCD (not Wallace) was supposed to be stopping by the property every other week to supervise the project. Even though they signed the upper-floor housing contract in April 2005, they contend the DHCD employee never set foot in their building until 2007.
They said the upper-housing project was presented to them as being turn-key.
“The only reason we agreed to do it was to help the town get the grant,” Bobby said. “We knew we weren’t going to make money off” renting the apartments.
“It was definitely a mistake,” he added.
Hawley said he doesn’t think the incident will spoil the town’s relationship with the Jacksons.
“It’s a business thing. They had a construction dispute, and we tried to resolve it — we did resolve it,” he added. “If Bobby (Jackson) came walking in here tomorrow and wanted to do another project, we’d be sitting down with him, trying to do it,” said the town manager.
But the Jacksons don’t feel the same.
“I will never work with this town as long as John White and John Hawley are employed there,” Bobby Jackson said.

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