The Anointed Highway Superintendent
Why the following documentation is important to you.
Even though several years have passed since the following situation took place, it is still relevant today. The events that occurred then have happened to others and will happen again unless one remains diligent and our so-called justice system begins to believe in justice for all and not only the well-connected.
The Clinton County Highway Department in New York State entered into electrical and general construction contracts with Wand Electric, Inc., an electrical and general contractor, in 1993 to renovate some offices in its highway garage. What ordinarily would have been a simple run-of-the-mill office retrofit ended in the termination of Wand's general construction contract, a two-year arbitration process and the end of Wand Electric through the failure of a panel of arbitrators to enforce contract law and instead dispense "justice" based on bias and persuasion.
What occurred was that an arrogant, psychopathic highway superintendent, Francis LaBarge, (a man who had 110 grievances filed against him by his own employees in a two-year period) and an incompetent, unethical architect, James Arvay, conspired against Wand and terminated Wand’s general construction contract without just cause. The reason? LaBarge saw a way to get a Taj Mahal built for his benefit without paying for any changeorders and Arvay saw a way to cover up his many screwups while at the same time blaming his shortcomings on the contractor.
Wand had, in its sixteen year existence, successfully completed hundreds of federal, state and local public works projects, all without conflict or litigation. Wand had started as an electrical contractor and in 1988 had started a general construction firm to further expand its capabilities and had billings over $2,000,000 in 1993.
The highway department project consisted of two phases (upstairs and downstairs) to be completed in 120 days and was a general retrofit of old original offices into modern, metal stud and acoustic ceiling, wallpapered offices with new HVAC and electrical.
Right off the bat, the job was star-crossed as the architect and highway super failed to get a state building permit by time construction was to start that Spring. This delayed job start by four months. Also, the highway super never wanted Wand on the job in the first place as he preferred his favorite contractor, Murnane Builders, to do his bidding.
This can only lead to speculation as to why Murnane was the "preferred" contractor. Perhaps because Murnane had previously received no-bid contracts to build the County jail through his business partner Senator Ron Stafford. Or perhaps LaBarge had some sort of "relationship" with Murnane when they built the County landfill, which he ran. No proof, just speculation.
The architect's plans did not meet state specs in some parts and he introduced a non-standard flooring design to cover asbestos tile that was doomed to failure. There were several delays caused by the architect and highway super in making color selections, approving submittals in a timely manner and ordering one-of-a-kind materials that had long lead times pushing the 120 day project completion date well past its due date. Of course, all these delays weren't their fault - it was the contractor's!
These delays and the resulting animosity came to a head during Christmas of 1993. Arvay, knowing that the County paid their invoices the last weekend of the month, waited until three days before Christmas to deny Wand's progress payment in full citing "some doors are not closing properly" and that there was a "buckle in the flooring" (caused by his poor design). These two items, at worst, were punch list items but Arvay used these poor excuses as a reason to deny the entire $25,000 in progress payments to Wand. This caused Wand undue hardship in meeting accounts payable and Wand stated in a letter to both the County and the architect, that they would be off the job until such time that payment was made. The architect refused to meet with the County, Wand, and its subs knowing he didn't have a leg to stand on and LaBarge shortly thereafter terminated the contract which he had no authority to do.
Rather than admitting their own shortcomings and delays, the dynamic duo terminated Wand's GC contract (while ordering Wand to keep on with its electrical contract which they had no intention of paying for - this is considered fraud by the way) and completely changed the job scope to cover their mistakes, hired their preferred contractor on a time and materials basis with no cost constraints and stuck the additional bill to Wand without mitigating with Wand’s surety.
Prior to contract termination, the highway superintendent caused the following:
Wand filed for arbitration in March of 1994. It took one year to appoint three arbitrators and set the initial date for arbitration. Don't ever let anyone kid you into believing that arbitration is faster than trial by jury. Meanwhile, Wand had been unable to bid any further work because the surety would not underwrite any bonds until this matter was resolved. Bonded work accounted for the majority of all construction work in our geographic area as there is little private enterprise growth compared to government works. Therefore, Wand was forced to close its doors and wait for arbitration to bring justice.
Once the lies of the architect and superintendent were exposed in the initial three days of the arbitration hearing, the County Attorney, Louis E. Wolfe and the County Administrator, William Bingel, along with the higher echelons of the Clinton County Legislature, Chairman Melvin “Bob” Bruno and Jay LePage, decided that the best course of action was to further lie and conceal the truth. The motive? Once Wand's claims expert detailed his findings with supporting documentation, the County realized that they had been bamboozled by the architect and highway superintendent and that there was absolutely no justification for contract termination. Facing a claim for over $2 million because of loss of business, reputation, etc., what does any good democratic government do when caught with its pants down? Lie, cover up, and blame the victim, Wand Electric. The following is some of what came to light.
The arbitration panel that heard the case was made up of three middle-aged conservative men; a lawyer with political ties, Gordon Davis, who was, at one time, head counsel to the Adirondack Park Agency (a political appointment), and two professional engineers, Fil Fina (a county highway engineer for 12 years just like LaBarge) and Richard Felak (a design professional just like Arvay) that apparently, because of their own personal biases and political pressure, completely failed to enforce contract law. Had they done so, there would have been only one conclusion, that the County Highway Superintendent and his architect had acted in bad faith right from the start and that there were many breaches of contract, all on the County's part. The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court has upheld their decision stating essentially that arbitrators “do not have to follow contract law but rather can do as they please”. This is justice? I have one question for these “arbitrators”. How much was your payoff?
Detailed in Wand's memorandum to the arbitration panel are the lengths that the County took (in order to cover its butt), along with the Highway Superintendent, and the architect to ruin the reputation and force out of business a firm that had been in business for 16 years with combined annual sales of over 2 million dollars, had done hundreds of federal, state, and local government jobs as well as private commercial work, employed 16 people, and subcontracted with the best available specialty contractors in the area.
The final thought here is: The County had the right to terminate the contract if that was their wish. The problem is in how they went about doing it. No contractor before or since Wand Electric has been terminated for cause. Wand's corporate attorney stated in a letter, "you weren't supposed to get this job", once he had reviewed the claims expert files.
The County should have paid for the work completed and lost profits. NO written or substantiated proof was ever produced by the County to reinforce their position simply because they had none. What was produced by the County was a fabrication of verbal lies and half-truths. The arbitrators were derelict in their job and the appellate court reinforces the consensus that arbitrators can do whatever they desire with impunity. This is not justice.
Anyone interested in dealing with James Arvay (Arvai) or whatever alias he will hide under, best hold onto your wallet. He and flim-flam brother Frank have hoodwinked the citizens of the North Country far too long. Remember the $200,000 "air rights" sale of the Durkee Street parking lot they conned the City of Plattsburgh into paying after they had purchased it for a dollar?
Read the following memorandums and come to your own conclusions.