Mark Gaver’s arrest on fraud charges — what it means for the hotel project OPINION

Downtown hotel proponents are in denial about the importance of the fraud indictment of Mark Gaver, the City’s first Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC)

Mark Gaver

chair. Consider that scores of people might have been asked by Richard Griffin and the incoming Mayor McClement to head up the City takeover of the Chamber of Commerce’s push for the downtown hotel, and who do they choose: not a senior salaried officer, not an accountable elected representative, not a hotels professional, but a smarmy crony ‘businessman’ who was everywhere. A brilliantly wrong choice.

Real business people focus on their business. They don’t have the time or inclination to simultaneously be on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce, the Weinberg Center, Frederick Community College, the County Public Schools board and a new Graystone Bank, while hobnobbing with politicians. Gaver also owned a mens wear store, and commercial real estate as well as his two prime businesses GTI Federal, an IT contractor and Gaver Holdings a finance company.

Fawned on  by Frederick News-Post

Gaver’s headlines in the Frederick News-Post elevated the man to a kind of secular sainthood. A January 2009 report under the head ‘Gaver continues service to community

from the Gazette

as chairman of Hood board of trustees’ and led off with this naive nonsense: “Mark Gaver’s family has Middletown roots that date to the 1760s. He’s determined to make sure those roots grow even deeper through his work for the community. On Jan. 1, the business owner and family man was named chairman of the Hood College Board of Trustees…”

The then rival Gazette had similar drooling coverage of Gaver.

Gaver was a pretty butterfly flitting here, there and everywhere, just the type who should be treated with amused skepticism (‘Middletown roots,’ what a hoot!) and firmly kept at arms length. Instead this smooth talking conman was lavished with praise and welcomed into the inner rooms of City power.

Now seven years later, instead of some soul-searching about having missed what was wrong about Gaver, we’re treated to expressions of shock. He was such a nice man! No doubt. The greatest conmen usually are affable, entertaining, sociable, and good at feigning respectability. And, of course ‘dedicated to serving the community.’  Those qualities are the conman’s job requirement.

Real business people have the modesty to say that being dedicated to the business serving their customers is a full-time job. Consider how Bill Gates felt a need to step down from Microsoft when he decided to get seriously involved in philanthropy. Go all the way back to Ben Franklin who first made his fortune as a publisher in Philadelphia, and only then, when he was financially secure, devoted himself to his scientific experiments and public service as ambassador during  the revolutionary war and as constitution maker after it.

Gaver the faux businessman

Gaver reeked of being the faux-businessman type who public servants of judgment would have shunned. So the first importance of the Gaver affair is that it shows Mayor McClement and his advisers have lousy judgment. And it reflects badly on the Board of Aldermen and their willingness to go along with a man like Gaver, and letting him do business behind closed doors.

The Board of Aldermen deputize one of their number to attend the Historic Preservation

Mayor McClement speaking at Union MIlls rehab start

Commission, the Planning Commission, the Frederick Area Committee on Transportation… most of the separate City public bodies. But despite moments of disquiet about the HAC they never insisted on having one of their own attend HAC meetings. They never seemed to have asked why this City committee of all the 30 or so such public bodies of the City should be allowed to make City policy behind closed doors. People who want to do public business behind closed doors, like the HAC, are the very people who deserve the most skepticism and the most scrutiny.

If you go undercover, you usually have something to cover up

The case for open government is elementary: If you have nothing to cover up, you don’t go under cover. And those who insist on being undercover, like the HAC, usually have something to cover up.

City sponsorship of a conference center hotel was City business. Being the Mayor’s first appointee as HAC chair it was up to Garver: Did he want to chair City business meetings in the public light according to the accepted and legislated rules of open government, or did he want to work in the dark. He chose the dark side, setting the pattern of closed door meetings of the HAC to this day.

The Gazette newspaper interviewed Gaver February 11, 2010 after Mayor McClement had, as they put it “tapped him to serve to lead one of the City’s largest business endeavors.” The hotel & conference center was then to cost $45m ($84m is the last figure the City provided) and to open by 2014. Gaver said 55% of the funding would be a mix of investor and public funds. The remaining 45% of the funds would come from bank financing.

So spoke a man who knew how to extract tens of millions from banks!

April 18, 2010 Patti Borda reported in the Frederick News-Post that “Mayor Randy McClement appointed Gaver to represent the community’s interests” on his Hotel Advisory Committee. It doesn’t appear to have occurred to her to ask what gave Gaver the authority to represent “the community’s interests.”

Gaver was chairman of the HAC a bit less than two years from the early 2010 through most of 2011. The main activity on the hotel project in those years was looking at sites for the City sponsored project.  Interestingly Gaver said he thought the Wormald Galleria site was the best.

Griffin director City DED

At that time the program was for the City to select a site first, then in second stage ask for development proposals on the selected site and choose the hotel developer with the best proposal. The City’s lead consultants on the project Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) were later to recommend the same two-step procurement as the best way to get competitive bids.

In this matter Gaver was on the side of the angels.

After he’d gone the HAC and the City were corrupted into the competition-destroying process that only allowed proposals from companies that owned or had a contract-to-buy one of four sites. They were making proposals on sites they owned or controlled by contract. It was also post-Gaver that the fake competed procurement was conducted with Plamondon’s proposal received and worked on months before the RFP was even issued. Simultaneously with the writing of the RFP long consultant hours were rung up to refine the pre-chosen Plamondon proposal, followed by the quite cursory treatment of  the Wormald/Galleria site proposal and some bizarre scorings of the two.

It’s ironic then that most of the crookedness of the hotel project occurred in 2013 and 2014 after Gaver had  dropped the HAC and other Frederick matters and departed for Florida.  PSam 2017.12.07

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