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Pawleys Island: Suit seeks to halt Town Hall project
By Charles Swenson
A Murrells Inlet real estate developer is seeking an injunction to halt bidding on and construction of a new Town Hall for Pawleys Island until a court can hear his claim that he was unfairly shut out of the bidding process. Tom Davis filed suit this week in Circuit Court claiming violations of town ordinance, state law and the federal Sherman Antitrust Act.
The town of Pawleys Island is due to receive bids on Dec. 20 for construction of a 2,000-square-foot building on the corner of the North Causeway and Myrtle Avenue to replace the Town Hall that was flooded by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The town is raising $600,000 toward the cost of the project through donations. It hopes to move into the building by Labor Day next year.
Town Attorney David DuRant said he will file a motion to dismiss the suit and “bring some kind of action for a frivolous law suit.” “He doesn’t have standing to sue the town. That’s the silliest thing I ever heard of,” he added.
The town solicited bids from 10 contractors for the project. Four firms attended a mandatory pre-bid conference at the site last week. DuRant noted that Davis isn’t a contractor, as required by the bid specifications.
Davis is representing himself in the action, which names the town, Mayor Jimmy Braswell, Administrator Ryan Fabbri and David Graham, architect for the project, as defendants. He acknowledges in his 26 page complaint that he isn’t a licensed contractor, but says he planned to work with one and submit a bid.
In his complaint, Davis said he became interested in the project after reading an article in the South Strand News that said preliminary estimates for the Town Hall were over $300 a square foot. “It was plaintiff’s immediate ‘supposition’ (and experience) that something wasn’t right,” he wrote.
Davis called Fabbri to ask about making a bid. He received an email on Nov. 16 with a copy of the Invitation to Bid form. Fabbri noted the work required a licensed and bonded general contractor.
Fabbri also asked Davis what projects he had done in the area. He told him he had “personally designed and developed the Inlet Sports Lodge.” He gave Fabbri the name of the former Myrtle Beach city manager as a reference.
Davis then contacted Graham for copies of the plans. “I’m in negotiations with several GC’s interested in this work, and I also discussed its potential with various major trades before contacting Mr. Fabbri,” he wrote in an email to Graham that is included in his complaint.
Davis said he didn’t receive any plans. When he reached Graham by phone on Nov. 27, he said Graham told him “I don’t even know you” and declined to provide the documents.
Davis then contacted Fabbri, who had already learned of the conversation with Graham. Davis told Fabbri he considered Graham “over-priced.”
Davis said he told Fabbri about two contractors he was talking with, Donnie Stewart and Preston Guyton. Fabbri said he had heard of Guyton, but still couldn’t verify Davis’ involvement with the Inlet Sports Lodge, a hotel on Business 17, according to court documents.
The next call Davis made, according to his filing, was to DuRant. “Plaintiff had personally selected Mr. DuRant to serve as corporate counsel for the Inlet Sports Lodge,” he said in the complaint.
DuRant said this week he didn’t represent Davis in the sports lodge. He was involved with Ponderosa Inc.
Davis said DuRant told him he wasn’t involved in the bidding for Town Hall. That was Nov. 28, the day before the mandatory pre-bid conference for contractors.
According to an email included in his complaint, Davis told Fabbri that “David was also my attorney when we bought the land and developed” Inlet Sports Lodge. He again asked Fabbri to contact Graham to have the construction documents sent to him. “The fact Mr. Graham doesn’t know me should NOT be a disqualifying issue,” he wrote.
According to his complaint, Stewart, “a near lifelong friend,” agreed to go with Davis to the pre-bid conference. And he added, “to work with Plaintiff to fashion an extremely low-cost, near non-profit bid consistent with all bid requirements.”
After “a hearty breakfast and rooting out a ‘special’ Inlet Sports Lodge baseball cap,” Davis said in his complaint that he was prepared to go to the conference at the site. He got an email from Fabbri saying the list of bidders would be limited to the original 10 and thinking him for his interest.
Davis emailed Fabbri to say the town’s position “literally defines Restraint of Trade and Tortious Interference With a Contract.” “You have your ‘Council’ … and I’m inclined to see ‘Counsel’ given your refusal,” he added.
Davis also wrote Braswell, citing his experience and asking that he be excused from the pre-bid conference and supplied with construction documents. “Permit me to participate … that’s all I ask,” according to a copy included in his complaint.
Davis asks the court for a declaratory judgement of “sanctions and fines” in order to “appropriately dissuade Defendant from continuing or repeating their illegal and unlawful activities.”
He also seeks $8,500 in actual damages.
He also said in his filing he plans to ask the state attorney general to revoke the charter for the town and Graham’s architectural firm.
DuRant said this week he doesn’t believe the suit will delay construction of the Town Hall.
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