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County contractor does not have business license

COVINGTON -- Durden's Lawn Maintenance, which holds the county's lawn care contract, does not have a valid business license.

Based on records at the Department of Development Services, owner Billy Durden has not renewed a business license that expired on Dec. 31. In addition, it appears Durden, who has provided lawn maintenance for the county for 12 years, may have operated without a business license for five years, from 2002 to 2006, and has consistently had late renewals since 2007.

Commissioners on Feb. 5 approved by a 3 to 2 vote a five-year contract for Durden. At the meeting, Commissioner Nancy Schulz asked Durden if he had a business license in Newton County, and he responded yes. County Manager John Middleton then instructed Durden to follow up with the business license office because records indicated he did not. Durden stated that he had until March to renew but that he would take care of it. Durden's license had not been renewed as of Monday.

Business licenses expire on Dec. 31 of the year in which they are obtained. Although penalties are not assessed until March 15 of the following year, there is no grace period on the license itself, according to Scott Sirotkin, director of the Department of Development Services.

Commissioners Levie Maddox and John Douglas both said they did not hear the comment made by Middleton regarding the business license at the meeting.

But Douglas, who initially voted in favor of the contract, said he will vote to put the service out to bid.

"We had no idea of the background of not having business licenses. That's new information for me," Douglas said Monday.

"That changes the whole picture in my mind and so tomorrow night, either I or somebody else will probably amend the agenda in order to revisit this, and I plan to vote to send this out to bid. This is entirely unacceptable, the way it's unfolded and we need to step back and make a change before it costs the county any money," he added.

Later, Douglas notified the Citizen that, "After talking to other commissioners, it is likely we will see a 4-1 or 5-0 vote (Tuesday night) to reopen the grass cutting contract and send it to the bidding process. The board meets at 7 p.m. in the Newton County Historic Courthouse.

Durden could not be reached for comment.

Maddox said he was "disappointed in the data, to say the least."

"I certainly did not have this picture or history prior to this vote. Again, my focus is to review and influence the purchasing guidelines to ensure we provide the best outcomes for Newton County. Thankfully, this process has just started. The Board should have been more informed about this situation prior to the decision making process."

Maddox is referring to the board's discussion of new purchasing policy guidelines at its planning retreat this weekend. A story will follow later this week in the Citizen on that discussion.

Records at the Department of Development Services show that Durden operated without a valid business license for 11 months last year, renewing on Nov. 7. In addition, he operated for eight months without a valid license in 2008, renewing on Aug. 22. That year, Durden's file indicates a notice was issued, meaning that a code enforcement officer contacted Durden to find out if he was still in business and notify him that he needed to renew.

Licenses were also not renewed by the deadline for several more years, with renewals on Feb. 9, 2011, Feb. 24 in 2010, Feb. 9 in 2009 and Feb. 28 in 2007. A notation in the file states "needs to know how much he owes for past five years" referring to the years 2002 through 2006. The Department of Development Services does not have any records of business licenses issued to Durden's for those years. A notation on the 2007 license renewal shows that Durden owed a total of $595, with the majority of that owed for years 2002 through 2006, calling into question whether Durden had a business license during those years.

"I'm a business owner and I know sometimes things fall through the cracks, but this looks like more of a pattern than something just isolated," said Schulz, who, along with Commissioner Lanier Sims, opposed the contract. Both wanted to seek requests for proposals for the lawn care service.

"I think it's important that if we're going to have policies, if we're going to have fees, that we expect business owners to follow, then we need to consistently enforce those," she added.

"That's one of the concerns I have with just renewing the contract and not going back through and doing due diligence. Things fall through the cracks and it makes it an unfair playing field that others in the county have to comply," she said.

The recycling center service contract was also approved by a 3 to 2 vote by commissioners on Feb. 5, going to Junior Hilliard Services, which has held the contract for 18 years. Hilliard's licenses for the past several years were renewed on time with a few exceptions, most notably for a 10 month period in 2007.

Asked if there needs to be more scrutiny of county contractors before contracts are approved or renewed, Schulz responded, "We need a real clear policy and then we need to be able to enforce it or else we don't need to require it from anybody."

Douglas said, "In order for us to make the right decision we have to have the correct information. This is a lesson for all of us. As we used to say in the Army, bad information equals bad decisions."

Comments

John 1 year, 1 month ago

And I say things are now sounding like a "soft shoe dance" or maybe to get the right information one needs to ask questions before they vote. Sounds like some slips are starting show.

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Neuhierl 1 year, 1 month ago

You are so very right. I would have thought that there would be a checklist of items that are verified by the County Manager and then supplied to the BOC. One would be business license, one might be financial stability, others could be information on any liens or other actions taken against the vendor and their staff.

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

Me thank some might still have egg on their face at the commissioner meeting tonight. What say you

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John 1 year, 1 month ago

dennisstay - it will be finger pointing time played faster than a song from yester year called "finger poppin' time". A bit of that has already started according to the news article.

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Frustrated 1 year, 1 month ago

and Douglas wants us to elect him to Congrss again? LMAO

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HonestAbe 1 year, 1 month ago

It's broke and now it needs to be fixed. When you bid you can require that all license information (copy of license) with the bid. The board needs to go back and look at all jobs that have been given without bids to insure that they have current license, including the County Attorney's business. You also need to make sure anyone doing the lawn service has the required Georgia Spraying and Pesticide license including current yearly required training hours. ( From the Ga Dept of Agriculture) You have to have this to spray even roundup on someone else's property. They also have to have proper storage building to store these chemicals. If someone is going to cut the cost and not renew business license there is a good chance they want keep their Ga pesticide and training current as well which could lead to fines and liabilities for Newton county. Time for the board to review their Ethics Ordinance (part 2.1 i believe)

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

I just want to thank Crystal Tatum for doing this article and following up on what was said at the meeting and Mrs Scultz for asking the question in the meeting. Hope something will be put in place to review all licenses on a yearly basis of all contractors. This would include state licenses that are required of some contractors such as state pesticide license or permits for lawn and pesticide companies. A data base should be at the Ga dept of Agriculture.

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

On checking the data base( maintained by Kelly Services) at the Georgia Department of Labor, Durden is not one of the lawn maintenance companies that has a current 2013 pesticide contractor license. Unless he is subbing out his spraying to another license company he would be illegal here everytime he sprays a yard or admin roundup. Hopefully someone could verify this through the Newton county extension agent

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Del 1 year, 1 month ago

What did the Commish say.....If it ain't broke, don't fix it? The Commish needs to resign for not doing the job he was voted in to do

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Frustrated 1 year, 1 month ago

Maybe Douglas asked that question of the wrong person. Douglas should follow the old saying its better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you ignorant than open your mouth and prove them right. So hows it looking for the three mouseketeers now?

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Neuhierl 1 year, 1 month ago

Great Work was done uncovering "the rest of the story." I'm so glad we have this caliber of local news. This is a example of why there should be standard practices that require periodic RFPs with award of one year contracts with renewal for up to 3 to 5 years. One of the things mentioned at the last BOC meeting was that long contracts are needed so that the vendors can qualify for bank loans in order to perform the services required. Perhaps one of the items that merits evaluation is the financial health and stability of vendors. I hope they also review their unwise and possibly inappropriate committment to the recycling center contract. It's time that also goes through a vetting process. If they don't, I hope we find out the behind the scenes on why.

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

Let's all look at the bright side of this. Looks like the Citizen helped us to get a 5 to 0 or least a 4 to 1 vote- based on which way JC goes. What a way to get unity huh.

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dawgs14 1 year, 1 month ago

The other half of the question is - who at the county office allowed a county contractor to operate without the proper paper-work for 10 months last year? A breakdown no doubt!!

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John 1 year, 1 month ago

I don't disagree with your point - but it would be a bit of a waste of time & funds to check it out - can't change history too much. All efforts should be directed towards establishing a soild, with zero built in "loop holes", policy & practices along with well defined level(s) of responsibility, authority and accountability going forward. Oh, that is what the people of NC thought they were getting when they elected them (yesterday, today & tomorrow) - Hmmm! Maybe someone(s) wasn't earning their pay.
As an example - look at the Bengazhi "screw up" stituation - just a lot of "popcorn" talk with very few, if any, straight answers and sorry to say probably will never get one..
*popcorn has a lot of air & very little substance.

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Bemused 1 year, 1 month ago

a "zero built in loop hole" policy is what Commissioner Sims asked for at the very meeting that this contract was awarded at and he was told "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" by Mort Ewing's puppets, - JC, John Douglas and Maddox.

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livingart 1 year, 1 month ago

Maybe the reason the BOC is "looking into this matter" , is because someone, other than the board (and their highly-paid legal adviser)- did their homework and did not let the matter be pushed under the table. "What say you County Attorney".....I think we could find better prices charged for legal services for the county.

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es3491 1 year, 1 month ago

I agree with that also. Let's get bids on county attorney.

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

Witout a doubt it is the responsibilty of the county attorney to look at contracts and make sure everything is legal and covered. It's up to the top mangers ( county mgrs and chairman to make sure this has been done and is a go before it is brought to the floor to a vote. I have to give some credit to Douglas for taking steps to right the wrong. What bothers me is the FACT that we have had the same county attorney and county mgr ( even thou he had a different title) for all these years this company didn't have the license. I think you have to give the new chairman a bye here since he just took office and most of the chairman's job description was stripped away in the change to county mgr form of government. I think the commissioner will see that the proper changes are made so this doesn't blowup in their faces again. The other two- i don't know- maybe time for them to go.

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