Market House Developer’s Past Comes Under Fire

| February 10, 2011 | 2 Comments

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On the surface, Annapolis City has not done a real good job of vetting out the people it decides to put in key positions. The Transportation Director. Finance Director, and even the guard at City Hall have all had some controversy surrounding their hires.

Even before Mayor Cohen took office, Zina Pierre’s run for office was derailed for what seemed like a lack of due diligence on the part of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee when they supported her primary run (and win).

Now the City is looking at entering a 30-year lease for the Market House. While the Mayor called for civic input on the Market House, he has selected Gone To Market as the tenant of choice and has entered into exclusive negotiations with them for the property. Gone To Market is a limited liability company formed just for this purpose by W. Lehr Jackson, Kathleen E. Witte, J. Andrew Scallan, and Terence McDonald.

While Lehr Jackson appears to have some outstanding experience in the development of a similar Market in Easton, Eye On Annapolis has discovered that his partner, Kathleen Witte has a lengthy legal history surrounding her prior/current venture, Chesapeake Chicken & Rockin’ Ribs, Inc. and Chevy Chase Chicken, LLC.

Gone To Market Partner Lawsuits & Judgments

A cursory review of the Maryland court records shows a long list of judgments, liens, bankruptcy filings, and garnishments. Among the highlights:

  • A June 2006 judgment against Witte in favor of WCTR Broadcasting LLC for $2,480.44. (Case No. 030400003012006)
  • A January 2008 judgment against Witte in favor of Adams National Bank for $909,341.71 plus daily interest of $201.37. (Case No. 291939V)
  • An April 2008 judgment against Witte in favor of Gilbert Foods, Inc. for $3,110.00. (Case No. 040100007132008)
  • A January 2009 judgment against Witte in favor of Maryland State Comptroller of the Treasury for $30,129.00. (Case No. 09M09007378)
  • A January 2009 judgment against Witte in favor of Barter Systems, Inc. for $4,083.78. (Case No. 030500002682009)
  • A February 2009 judgment against Witte in favor of Financial Pacific Leasing LLC for $35,808.28. (Case No. 17C08013426)
  • A February 2009 judgment against Witte in favor of Financial Pacific Leasing LLC for $40,157.46. (Case No. 17C08013425)
  • A February 2009 judgment against Witte in favor of KS Realty LLC for $16,399.46. (Case No. 060100251652007)

Witte’s position as a partner in Gone To Market may indeed prove to be a hindrance as the entity will likely need to work with food vendors, equipment vendors and banks to bring the plan to fruition. According to section 64 (page 28 of 41) of the proposed lease, the tenants affirm their creditworthiness and that it has not changed since initially submitted to the City. We contacted the Mayor’s spokesperson, Phill McGowan, to see if these issues were indeed disclosed, “The Mayor is generally aware of the issues. It is very common in the food service industry to get behind in payments. The two main partners are Lehr Jackson and Drew Scallan and the Mayor is confident in their ability to select the best partners for the project.” McGowan also emphasized that the City does not want to be micromanaging the Market House which should be handled by the professionals the City designates to manage the property.   Additional language in the lease calls for a $100,000 escrow to be posted; but it can be drawn down for tenant improvements and does not seem to be any real security for the city.  Eye On Annapolis has tried to contact Lehr Jackson for comment (or referral to Ms. Witte). No phone numbers are listed, our emails have not been returned, their facebook page has not been updated since November 2010 and their Twitter account (@AnnapolisMktHse) seems to be no longer active.

The Return Of Alderman Silverman

In other Market House news, we recently polled the Aldermen on this issue and if a vote were taken today, it would fail with a  4-4 vote. City Public Information Officer Phill McGowan has advised that with Aldeman Silverman’s absence, any tie votes are considered fail votes. Another reader, a Ward 5 resident, has indicated that Alderman Silverman will be taking a break from his 4 month hiatus and return to Annapolis for Monday’s vote. If he voted in favor of the lease, it would pass 5-4.  If indeed this is true and Alderman Silverman does return to vote on an issue for which he has been absent for the debate, it somewhat validates the concern of yet another reader who suggested that the Mayor cut a special deal with the Alderman to allow his leave of absence.

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