Left: Brooke Wiilmes, Philly real estate agent Right: A Toll Bros McMansion that went up in Chadds Ford
Left: Brooke Wiilmes, Philly real estate agent
Right: A Toll Bros McMansion that went up in Chadds Ford

I have known Brooke Willmes for the last 14 years.  She is on the short list of the most popular real estate brokers in Philly’s hottest neighborhoods (you can find her here at Fresh Quarters).  From new homes to DIY cases to commercial, Brooke does it all–and has been successful doing it in Philly on her own for ages.

That is why to her surprise Willmes learned her name is being used in the current Toll Brothers controversy regarding Jeweler’s Row.

Brooke Willmes' name appears on Agreement of Sale Contracts used by Toll Brothers
Brooke Willmes’ name appears on Agreement of Sale Contracts used by Toll Brothers

Specifically, her name and MG Real Estate, a former real estate brokerage Willmes used to work with about six years ago is showing up all over the Agreement of Sale contracts that Toll Brothers is using to acquire the properties it wishes to use in a controversial project to erect a 16 story residential tower that will displace some commercial tenants in the historic district.

“This is crazy,” Willmes said.   “I don’t know where they got my contract from.  I sent them a cease and desist voicemail but who knows if they’ll fix it.”   A lawyer from Toll Brothers returned Ms. Willmes’ call and flatly denied the plagiarism. Ms. Willmes then sent copies of the documents and was told that they will investigate.

Agreement of sale contracts are tricky business.  They’re also the lifeblood of real estate agents.   Boiled down an Agreement of Sale (or AOS) is simply an agreement between a buyer and a seller to buy/sell a piece of real estate for an agreed-upon amount.  It’s the add-ons to an AOS that makes them way more complicated than a will.

This is why many real estate agents and service companies have their own crafted Agreement of Sale contracts.  They’re specifically crafted for each type of state and municipality and have to be updated constantly due to changes in law and most-often because of landmark court decisions.   Most commercial agreement of sale contracts in Philadelphia include a special “zoning contingency” which allows both parties to walk away when NIMBY neighbors shoot down a request for a zoning variance, such as the case with St. Laurentius Church.  With such a contingency in the AOS contract if Fishtown neighbors convince the ZBA to rule against the project then the developer proposing the project can walk away from the deal with minimum financial damage.

Poorly-written AOS contracts can create a terrifying land mine of lawsuits and court outcomes.   When a real estate firm or service company has a good contract it often copyrights the template it uses and charges others a fee to maintain the template and to customize it for its users.

So when Toll Brothers has been caught stealing Willmes’ contract, it naturally evoked scorn.

“I have no part in Toll Brothers’ development. At. All.” Willmes said.  “My name being on their forms will lead others to assume that I had a part in this development deal, which I didn’t.”

Willmes is right.   It could also put her at legal risk.  If any party to the contract was upset and decided to sue, they may include every party named on the contract into their suit, all the way down to MG Real Estate and Willmes whose names both appear on it.

You know, I can think of a lot better things that Toll Brothers could steal.  How about stealing good architecture? Toll Brothers is infamous for designing unsustainable crap.  It made a nationwide name for itself as one of America’s leading suppliers of McMansions.

And what about innovative locations for future development sites?  You know, Bridesburg is a super-cheap area and with Franklin Town Charter School being one of the better schools in the region, the apetite for mini-burbia in the city grid is actually palpable there.  Perhaps Toll Brothers could focus on that rather than ruining a historic district.

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Kenyatta Johnson
Kenyatta Johnson

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson hasn’t had a good year so far–the only highlight being his yacht party.

As you might recall before summer started Johnson lost a landmark Federal case filed by Ori Feibush.  The suit challenged City Council’s ultimate authority gimmick: councilmanic prerogative.

For those of you who don’t know, Councilmanic Prerogative is a tactic used by City Council to elevate the 10 district council members and turn them into mini-mayors.   The City’s charter requires land sale bills to be passed through city council legislation.   By custom no member of City Council will introduce a land sale or any other land use bill for a property that’s not in their home district.   To shore up this power all members of City Council agree to vote for whatever land use and land sales bills that council member introduces.   When a member of City Council refuses to introduce required legislation to sell a city-owned property it acts as an effective veto power.

The power of councilmanic prerogative is the main driver of campaign dollars and support of the real estate community into councilmanic coffers.  You can’t build anything much larger than an outhouse in Philly without the direct support of your council critter.

(Note: the seven At-Large members of City Council do not dare interfere with councilmanic prerogative or else they risk having their own pet legislation dying in committee by the other 10 district councilpersons.   That threat is real; no bacon to tell voters about at re-election time.)

The only time this City Council tradition has frayed was when Councilman Bobby Henon put forward a bill to buy a large amount of riverfront property slated for the prison complex.  That sparked a large debate about prison expansion which got other members of City Council hearing words from their constituents.   Last season Councilman Henon withdrew the bill for fear of other City Council members voting it down.   You don’t want to be the guy responsible for breaking a long-standing tradition that has been so good at concentrating power in City Council for so long.

But the hole has been blown open in councilmanic prerogative anyway.

As reported by William Bender in the Inky, Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a lengthy memo from the bench illustrating in graphic detail how councilmanic prerogative is not an impervious shield from liability.  The idea is simple:   even if City Council creates for itself a process of official action, and even if that action is legislation, City Council cannot invalidate Constitutional rights.

The jury found in Feibush v. Johnson that Kenyatta Johnson specifically retaliated when Ori Feibush had decided to run for City Council.   The amicable if strained relationship Feibush had with Johnson immediately soured after Philadelphia Magazine published an exposé on Feibush, hinting that he would run for Johnson’s seat.  Feibush did, and as we all know, he lost.

During his run for City Council, Feibush had entered winning competitive bids for several City-owned lots in Point Breeze.   After the RDA had started the machinations to close-out those sales, Johnson’s office intervened to torpedo them by refusing to issue the authorizing legislation that would allow the City to sell the properties.   Johnson stated that he wanted to distribute land in Point Breeze to affordable housing developers.   But that is laughable since Johnson has been caught giving away City-owned land in Point Breeze for well-below par value only for luxury housing to go up on it.

The Federal jury sided with Feibush and determined that Feibush exercising his freedom of speech right was the basis for Johnson’s retaliation.   The memorandum of law which I now call the “Beetlestone Decision” establishes that while the councilmanic prerogative is not an illegal practice it is also not a perfect shield that protects the City from torts and liability claims.

The Beetlestone memo is a very compelling read and may soon serve as a blueprint for others to follow.  The City has a large mountain to climb if it hopes to overturn Feibush, which likely won’t happen.   If the City fails at the 3rd Circuit (highly likely) the only avenue left is the U.S. Supreme Court.   Good luck finding a friendly voice there.

I asked Feibush what his next steps are.   He said his original settlement offer has been on the table:  the City can sell the still-undeveloped lots to him at above-market prices.   Or, the City Solicitor’s Office can continue to burn taxpayer’s money and pay Ori Feibush’s legal bills pursuing a dead-end case.   City Council seems determined to burn the loss permanently on its face.

The City of Philadelphia has 30 days to appeal Judge Beetlestone’s decision.

The Inquirer dropped yet another bombshell Thursday evening, this time back to the FBI raids a couple weeks ago of IBEW Local 98 and John Dougherty, Councilman Bobby Henon and the Local 98 Headquarters.

johnny-doc

The newest person to be raided is the chair of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, Dr. Jim Moylan.   Dr. Moylan happens to be Johnny Doc’s chiropractor who Jim Kenney appointed to run the ZBA.  According to reports the electricians union files with the Department of Labor, the union was also paying Moylan as a political consultant.

The Inky also noticed that an earlier dispute that happened last winter involving Doc and a non-union building contractor happened right outside Moylan’s chiropractic office.

The pick of Moylan to run the Zoning Board of Adjustment has been a puzzling one.   Moylan was also president of the Pennsport Civic Association, an RCO that has no website, limited visibility and has no contact information other than a private e-mail address which you can only find by digging carefully in City records.   Few if any new people who have moved to Pennsport have ever figured out how to join and participate in PCA which is somewhat unusual as the Philadelphia City Planning Commission makes openness (and publicized regular meetings) a requirement to renew Registered Community Organizations with the City of Philadelphia.

It’s still not clear why the FBI targeted Moylan for a search and seizure warrant but nearly all of Local 98’s management team has been under very intense scrutiny of state and federal investigators lately as the dragnet of searches grows larger.

2016-08-24_22-19-47

On the front page of Philly.com right now is a story filed by Stephanie Farr of the Inky/Daily News about Paul Kroll, an Olympic-hopeful welterweight boxer who had been hoping to go to Rio.  Kroll has been charged with attempted murder since Monday by the District Attorney’s office.

I am not going to link to Farr’s story for reasons I will explain downpost.

Few people in the Philly local media scene picked up the connection between a OK Corral-type shootout in West Philadelphia this past weekend and Kroll until this morning.   That is because Paul Kroll’s identity lights up like a beacon on Philadelinquency’s CourtWatch homicide tracker:

2016-08-24_21-19-44

It’s not very often that $1,000,000 worth of bail is set on someone, even in Philly, so I called-up a reporter I’ve known for years at PhillyVOICE, Hayden Mitman.  I knew crime was his thing and he’s a good interviewer, so I tipped him off about Kroll’s two criminal cases filed (see above) with the big bail set on each.

The criminal cases were filed on Monday.   I handed the information over to Mitman very early this morning.

During the day Mitman had developed the story including interviewing Kroll’s trainer and visiting the gym where the athlete trains and getting deets.  Mitman’s request for additional info from the PPD Media Affairs Unit prompted it to release the details and mugshots.   By the time the police had updated the media on the case, Mitman’s story was already filed.

Just two hours later, Philly.com changes its front page with Farr’s story she filed.  That story combines background bio previously reported by columnist Ronnie Polaneckzy and the original details of the shootout last weekend which was widely reported.

There was no acknowledgement from the Inquirer/Daily News that the details of who was arrested, in particular that it was an Olympic-hopeful who had been well-profiled in the DN, had actually come from PhillyVOICE.   Usually when you write a story you give a “hat tip” to the source which led you to write your own version of a story.

You usually give a hat-tip (or h/t in twitter lingo) by linking back to sources.   Bloggers are always expected to link back to shit they editoralize.   I do it constantly.  I do it to Farr’s reports, to Brennan’s columns, to everyone.   When the content is purely my own and I did it all on my own, then I don’t need to give hat-tips.

So when I saw no links in Farr’s report, that ticked me off.   Hayden had worked all day to develop the story.   Farr maintains that her report is all original.

We had it out on Twitter.

Is there plagiarism?  Not quite.   Not crediting others for their efforts is being shiftless and lazy.   There is no way Stephanie Farr would have filed her report had not Hayden Milton filed his today.   There’s just no way.

Knoll’s arrest record has been in CourtWatch since Monday.   I’m one of the first members of the public that noticed it–I own and operate CourtWatch.  I saw it yesterday, which was Tuesday.  Hayden made the connection to who it was, knocked on the doors and did the phone calls.  You know, the hard stuff.

Moreover, the PPD Media Affairs Unit usually publicizes deets and mugshots before the District Attorney’s office has fully-processed the criminal court filing.   Knoll has been in jail since Sunday and his criminal case was filed quickly–the very next day.   Today is Wednesday.

I’ve seen this happen before to other reporters in other publications and it’s certainly happened to me several times.   Philadelinquency is the outlet that broke the story of Mayor Nutter’s embarrassing unpaid gas bill.  KYW lifted the story within 15 minutes of me hitting publish.  6 hours later it was on the Drudge Report.   No one else knew about the gas bill–I had discovered it while looking for another civil lawsuit filed by a pro-se nutjob that named the then-mayor as a defendant.

Shit like this is why on a lot of 0-day news websites you go to on the Internet you see annoying graphics superimposed over pictures.

Last week I did that to DA Seth Williams’ water-shutoff notice, just for that reason, like this:

sethwater3

By me doing that it ensured that Phillymag would include a hat tip if they wanted to use it.  Which they did.

Always remember to tip your waitress.