By Tim Farley, News Editor – Piedmont Park Project organizers negotiated contracts in Texas and induced businesses in the Lone Star state to participate in a so-called non-profit endeavor that would benefit families and children, according to documents filed in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Houston, alleges park organizers deliberately did not pay nearly $170,000 to SEE Spray, a Pearland, Texas-based company that specially fabricated the Piedmont Park’s splash pad components. All of the work on the special designs and fabrication occurred in Texas, which is another reason the case should be tried in a Texas federal court, SEE Spray attorney Terri Garcia wrote in her legal filing.
Defendants in the case are Piedmont builder Phil Boevers, Piedmont bankers Terri Anderson and Eric Anderson, Paul Francel, the Piedmont Library and Cultural Events Society (PLACES) and SBS Development, LLC, a development firm owned by Boevers. Plaintiffs in the case are SEE Spray, its owner Rick Edwards and business associate James Anthony.
However, a Dallas-based attorney for the park project contends Texas is not the proper venue for the federal case. However, Garcia said the opposing attorney has not challenged the merits of the lawsuit, only the jurisdiction where the lawsuit would be heard.
“Their goal is simply to get out of this. They haven’t addressed the issues such as my client not getting paid,” she said. “When it comes to jurisdiction, they availed themselves to Texas laws by doing business in Texas. This is a Texas contract and all the special water features were manufactured by Texas residents at a Texas business. This wasn’t some online purchase.”
Park project spokesman Eric Anderson did not return a telephone call for comment.
The defendants continue to disagree with Garcia through their Dallas-based attorney.
“Defendants’ contacts with See Spray, however….only involved the coordination of the PLACES/McKenna contract, which is itself governed by an Oklahoma choice of law and venue provision,” attorney Andreas Correa wrote in a federal court legal filing.
PLACES is the non-profit entity park organizers use to solicit tax deductible donations and government grants.
McKenna Contracting is a firm in Houston and is part of the controversy because park organizers insisted on a performance bond. McKenna and Edwards were longtime friends and business associates. As a result, McKenna allowed SEE Spray to use its bond for the park project.
“Defendants did business in Texas. Defendants negotiated contracts and amendments to same in Texas. Defendants targeted and reached into Texas, availed themselves to the benefits and protections of Texas. Defendants solicited and induced plaintiffs, Texas residents and companies, into manufacturing specially fabricated splash pad equipment in Texas for defendants’ benefit involving a project in Piedmont, Oklahoma,” Garcia wrote in the filing.
According to Garcia’s filing, Piedmont Park Project co-organizer Paul Francel made contact with the plaintiffs through emails, telephone calls and text messages to Anthony and Edwards about building a park in Piedmont.
Anthony was responsible for the park’s preliminary design work, which he was not paid for, and the splash pad’s concrete work.
Garcia claims in the legal filing that Francel and Eric Anderson solicited Anthony and Edwards in Texas to persuade them to donate to Piedmont’s project. In Texas, Anthony worked for almost a year without compensation preparing prototypes, specifications and renderings. During that time, Francel reportedly told Anthony and Edwards the Piedmont community did not have the money to build such a park.
“Paul Francel convinced plaintiffs that Piedmont Park Project was for the children of the community and the park would be erected on donated land belonging to the City of Piedmont,” Garcia wrote in the filing.
Believing the park was to benefit Piedmont children and the community, Anthony and SEE Spray agreed to a reduced contract price. Anthony, Edwards and SEE Spray also agreed to donate their time and some park and splash pad features, the court filing shows.
Garcia has argued the Piedmont Park Project organizers have plenty of money to pay SEE Spray for its work after receiving three grants, a donation from Piedmont city officials and private contributions. Park organizers were awarded a $200,000 grant from the National Park Service, a $50,000 grant from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and another $50,000 grant from the Piedmont Community Foundation. Organizers also reported in 2015 that they raised $75,000 in July and August of that year.
However, park organizers filed a separate lawsuit in Canadian County District Court alleging shoddy workmanship. In addition, park organizers claim work on the splash pad was not completed on time, prompting the group to terminate the contract with SEE Spray in July 2017.
By that time, however, the splash pad features and electronics had been installed and final payments were not made to Edwards, Anthony and SEE Spray, Garcia said.
Park organizers made an initial deposit of more than $62,000 and later paid more than $23,836 so SEE Spray’s subcontractors could be compensated for their work.
In June 2017, Eric Anderson and Edwards exchanged several emails about the splash pad work and payments. On three occasions, Anderson promised Edwards he would pay him for the splash pad work, but never did.
On June 22, Anderson wrote to Edwards, “Expect checks by 3p today.”
Four days later, Anderson wrote to Edwards, “Will send check tomorrow.”
On June 28, Anderson again wrote, “Will send check tomorrow.”