A member of George Mason University's board of visitors participated in deliberations that led to his employer securing an architectural contract at the Northern Virginia school despite written opinions from an Alexandria prosecutor and the state attorney general's office that his participation would be a conflict of interest.
Stanley E. Taylor, a member of the state-supported school's governing board, was advised in the summer of 1980 by a deputy state attorney general and Commonwealth's Attorney John E. Kloch not to participate in the letting of university architecture contracts to his firm because he had "a material financial interest" in the corporation.
Six months later, Taylor took part in a committee meeting attended by George Mason President George Johnson and other school officials that resulted in his firm winning the contract, according to interviews and documents made available by the school.
Taylor, appointed to the board in 1979 by former Gov. John N. Dalton, resigned in January, citing increased responsibilities at the architectural firm. A company official said this week that the firm asked Taylor to resign from the university board, fearing his position would hurt its chances of winning business from the school.
"George Mason is a potential valuable client," said firm president William F. Vosbeck Jr. "We can't jeopardize our position. Work is hard to get now."
State auditors currently are probing the $16,500 contract, which Taylor and several university officials said was properly let. After the auditors first questioned the contract, University Vice President Maurice W. Scherrens said he went to Richmond and discussed the issue with an assistant state attorney general. The state lawyer declined to be interviewed yesterday but said through a spokesman that based on "a certain set of facts" outlined by Sherrens he "saw no violation of the Virginia Conflict of Interest Act."
Kloch, who warned Taylor against involvement in the contract, said he was unaware of Taylor's later actions, which occurred at the school's Fairfax County campus outside Kloch's jurisdiction.
Taylor this week rejected the recollection of Joseph I. Gurfein, the school's former chief facilities planner, that he had actively promoted his firm for the project, a space and cost analysis of a proposed $17 million performing arts building. Taylor said a board colleague, John T. Hazel Jr., an influential Fairfax County attorney and developer, asked if his firm could do the work. "My response was yes," said Taylor.
Apparently no minutes of the meeting were kept. Two other participants also disputed Gurfein's claim that Taylor was instrumental in arranging the work for his firm, but said they could not recall who initiated the arrangement.
"I don't recall Stan saying that," said Hazel, who presided over the meeting. "If anybody said it, I probably did."
The decision to hire the firm ultimately was approved by president Johnson, who overrode objections by Gurfein that the arrangement might violate the state's conflict of interest law. Gurfein, who has since returned to teaching at the university at his own request, said in an interview that Taylor, a salaried employe at Vosbeck at the time and now a Vosbeck associate, proposed the firm receive the consulting job at a Feb. 18, 1981, meeting in the university's board room.
Gurfein said the suggestion by Taylor, who arrived near the end of a meeting of the trustees' grounds committee, touched off a lengthy discussion of potential conflict of interest. During the debate, Gurfein said, Taylor assured those present he had checked with the Virginia Attorney General's office and had been told the contract would be proper if Taylor played no role in the consulting work.
Taylor said this week he had no part in the project. "None whatsoever."
In an Aug. 22, 1980, letter made available to The Post by Taylor, Chief Deputy State Attorney General Walter H. Ryland told state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria), who had sought the opinion, Taylor should not take part in the letting of contracts involving his employer. "Merely disclosing his interest and disqualifying himself from voting as a board member will not be adequate to avoid a violation," Ryland wrote.
Taylor could be exempted, however, Ryland said, if university president Johnson, with the endorsement of a Dalton administration cabinet secretary, stated that there were "exceptional circumstances."
Asked earlier this week if Johnson had asked for such an exemption, Taylor said: "I hope so."
Johnson said the exemption was never obtained. Johnson said he discussed the matter with then-Secretary of Education Wade Gilley -- now a special assistant to Johnson -- and that Gilley "said he didn't think it was a good idea. He said Dalton would be loathe to make an exception."
Hazel acknowledged last week he had been impatient with the pace of planning for the project and was "pretty irritated" by suggestions that under state law three architecture firms would have to be invited to bid on the work.
"That's when I blew a couple of fuses," Hazel said. "(A), I wanted it done now, (B) I wanted technical assistance provided to Stan and Gurfein, and (C) I had no idea who the work was going to. I just told Stan to get some draftsmen in over the weekend."
Both Gurfein and university vice president Scherrens said in interviews that, although no vote was taken, it was understood by the end of the Feb. 18 meeting that the Vosbeck firm would perform the consulting work.
Scherrens changed his account a few minutes later after he was shown copies of letters written by Gurfein on Feb. 26 -- a week later -- inviting two other architectural firms to bid for the work.
"That we would not do. That would not be done," said Scherrens. "A charade was not played."
Gurfein said he wrote the letters knowing that Vosbeck was the preferred candidate. "There was pressure on me to make it legal," he said.
Vosbeck was notified by Scherrens in a March 13 letter it had won the job and the university subsequently paid Vosbeck $16,453.71.
The proposed University Center for the Performing Arts was one of five building projects proposed in early 1981 to help accommodate the school's mushrooming student body, which has reached 6,884 fulltime students and another 7,379 part-time students in George Mason's short, 10-year history. The arts building never has been built because of state budget contraints.
According to Gurfein, Scherrens and others, officials had decided that architecture firms would be selected to prepare planning studies, required by the state for budgeting purposes, for four of the five projects.
Because of its special requirements for performing arts space, rehearsal rooms, classrooms and an auditorium, and because officials' plans still were unsettled, it was decided the University Center planning report would be handled in-house -- with outside technical help -- in order to meet a fast-approaching May 1 deadline in Richmond. It was at that point that Taylor's firm was discussed in the 18 meeting.
Vosbeck said on Monday he recalled Gurfein saying that "if certain work went ahead, there might be publicity." The architect said he did not remember reacting "one way or the other" to the statement.
Gurfein later recorded a final note of displeasure. In a March 16, 1981, internal memo, made available by George Mason at The Post's request, Gurfein wrote to Scherrens: "I suggest VVK & R be told clearly that I will not recommend them for an A/E contract the major architecture contract, should the project be built so long as a member of their firm is on the Board of Visitors."