A lawsuit makes a strong case that J.E. Dunn Construction Company rebuilt downtown with little help from minority businesses 

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Diaz shut down his masonry operation. He plans to start a general-contracting business, which should lessen his reliance on Dunn and other large firms.

Rodriguez Electrical's phones are disconnected; the name of the business has been forfeited. Bill Torres notes that Rodriguez hasn't belonged to the Kansas City Hispanic Association Contractors Enterprise for some time, but he has been led to believe that Rodriguez continues to work as an electrician. "We have no control over him," Torres says.


On December 4, 2007, a judge ruled against Diaz, while recognizing that Diaz had made a pretty good case that the minority participation on the H&R Block Building was a lie.

Charles Atwell, a Jackson County circuit judge, said in his ruling that the plaintiff had presented "meaningful evidence, although controverted" that certifications on the Block job were "inaccurate, false or misleading." The facts, Atwell said, also suggested that the city and the TIF Commission should have been more diligent.

Just the same, Atwell denied Diaz' petition on grounds that Diaz lacked standing, ruling that Diaz Construction was a third party without enforceable rights. Diaz filed an appeal. Hofer, his lawyer, has narrowed the list of defendants to H&R Block, the company ultimately responsible for Dunn's compliance. He argued the case before the state appeals court last fall and awaits a ruling.

Though the Block headquarters has been finished for nearly three years, city officials are trying to figure out what to do. The Human Relations Department is currently determining whether Block and Dunn made an honest effort to secure women and minority participation. The stakes are high. The TIF Commission could force Block to pay damages, in addition to subtracting $3 million (the value of Rodriguez Electrical's "work") from the costs that Block is eligible to recover under the TIF statute.

J.E. Dunn objects to any finding that it did wrong. In a letter to the city, the company said it was "completely bewildered" by Rodriguez' denial that he authored the fax in which he stated his commitment to the project.

Officials at J.E. Dunn brush off the suggestion that they had played dumb about Rodriguez' ability to do the job. "I can assure you that no general contractor or developer has the resources or is under any obligation to micromanage a subcontractor to this degree," Thomas Whittaker, Dunn's in-house lawyer, wrote in the letter to the city.

John Crossley, an attorney for H&R Block, and Sullivan, Dunn's lawyer, shared a lectern in January to address the TIF Commission during its monthly board meeting. Crossley reached into a black satchel and pulled out a hunk of correspondence in an effort show the commitment made to the minority-contracting policy. "Everything went according to plan," he said.

Sullivan suggested that the city should have challenged the cabling work when inspector Shelley Brown was on the case. Referring to the fax in which Rodriguez authenticated his involvement, Sullivan said, "It's not like we submitted the letter and never saw the man [Brown] again," he said. (Brown no longer works for the city.)

In Sullivan's telling, the villain was Rodriguez. "I think that we have a situation where we were all duped, if in fact Mr. Rodriguez didn't do the work that he said he did," he said. Sullivan omitted a few salient facts. While noting that J.E. Dunn had written checks to Rodriguez, Sullivan neglected to mention that R.F. Fisher's name had also appeared on the "pay to the order of" line.

The "duped" comment sounded ridiculous to Bill Torres and Gabe Perez, who also attended the meeting. "I've been on a Dunn site," Torres said afterward. "I can attest, they watch every penny. They watch everybody."

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