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BOC does not revote on lawn contract

COVINGTON -- The Board of Commissioners did not revisit the lawn maintenance contract Tuesday night, despite one commissioner's previous statement that he believed the contract would come up for a revote and be put out to bid.

After the Citizen notified commissioners that the current provider, Durden's Lawn Maintenance, did not have a valid business license when they approved his contract earlier this month; has a history of late renewals; and operated without a business license from 2002 to 2006, Commissioner John Douglas said Monday he expected the matter would be brought up for a revote Tuesday night. Douglas, who initially voted to approve the contract, said he would change his vote to put the contract out to bid.

But on Tuesday afternoon, prior to the meeting, Douglas said the root of the problem is that the county's current purchasing policy "is impossible to understand" and he prefers to get a clear policy before moving forward.

"In the meantime, no contracts have been signed with Durden and no money paid to him since the seating of the new commission in January," he said. "None of that will happen until we have a clear policy in place and know where to go with this issue."

The policy states that purchase of goods and services $20,000 and over requires a formal bid/Request for Proposal procedure. But immediately after that sentence, it is more ambiguous, stating that, "Purchases of $20,000 and over may be required to be formally bid out by requesting sealed bids or proposals."

It also states that the Purchasing Office handles all formal bids/RFPs and legal advertisements for those, and will make a final determination of whether a good or service for $20,000 or over should be exempted from the bid procedure. But the county no longer has a purchasing office, Commissioner Nancy Schulz said. The policy was originally issued in 1995, revised and adopted in 2002, and revised and adopted a second time in 2007. Immediately after stating that the Purchasing Office has authority to determine if a good or service in excess of $20,000 can be exempted from the bid process, the document states that "Any purchase which individually or in aggregate is in excess of $20,000 shall have the approval of the majority of the board."

The policy appears to contradict itself, and there is also no separate section related to contracts or multi-year contracts, Schulz said.

"I think this is a vague policy," she said.

Chairman Keith Ellis said the board is working on creating a clear policy.

"We're deliberately going at a pace that will make a great product," he said. "We're trying to do it deliberately so we do it right the first time and don't have to worry in the future about a problem coming up."

The lawn maintenance contract was last put out to bid in 2006. Durden's has held the contract for 12 years. He was not the low bidder in 2006 but was awarded the contract.

The lawn maintenance contract has been an issue of contention among board members for the past several years. Schulz and Commissioner Lanier Sims have stated they want the contract put out to bid to make sure the county is getting the best value for its money.

Durden's contract is for $98,463, not including a fuel surcharge allowed March to October if the average price of premium gasoline or diesel fuel exceeds $3.20 per gallon.

Commissioners began discussing changes to the purchasing policy at their retreat last weekend.

The draft proposal states the county would be required to solicit proposals for contracts for services $50,000 and over; and for those from $5,000 to $49,999, the guideline would be to "generally solicit proposals with the option to obtain at least three competitive written quotes for services less than $20,000."

An optional provision would allow recurring services and service contracts to be renewed up to four times annually, with RFPs reissued prior to the expiration of the last renewal period. The BOC would be able to request reissuance of proposals at any time during the contract period.

Another optional provision would allow the county manager to make a recommendation to the board of whether to request written quotes or reissuance of RFPs based on: level of satisfaction with the service being provided, whether there is a cost increase proposed, length of time since the quotes/proposals were last solicited, whether use of the RFP process could result in loss of valuable experience or historic knowledge, whether a change of providers would delay an ongoing project, whether use of the RFP process would hinder the county's ability to procure the service in a timely manner or result in inefficiency, whether the use of the RFP process would result in incompatibility with existing county infrastructure, equipment or services.

The board would still have the ability to request written quotes or a reissuance of proposals at any time during the contract period.

Schulz said she's not comfortable with that option.

"It puts a lot of power in the county manager's hands and the county manager is there based on three votes," she said. "I guess it's the same if you put it to the BOC, but at least the public would have scrutiny versus just the county manager having scrutiny ... I believe after five years the public should have the opportunity for there to be an RFP so you can identify what the market analysis is. The public is paying for it. I think that the public has the right to know."

Meanwhile, a county staff member has been tasked with verifying that contractors have valid business licenses prior to a proposal being made to the board, County Manager John Middleton said Tuesday.

Durden confirmed Tuesday to the Citizen that he did not have a business license from 2002-2006, during which time he was a contractor for Newton County. He said he did not believe he was required to have a business license because his lawn maintenance business was home-based. Durden paid the back fees owed on those years in 2007.

"There was no bad intent there, I just didn't know it," he said. "I explained it, they worked with me and I paid the five years back."

Durden did not have a valid business license when commissioners approved his contract Feb. 5. He renewed his license Monday. Durden said he mailed a check to the Department of Development Services in January, which they apparently did not receive. Sources at the department said they did not receive a check from Durden.

Durden also said he mailed a check to the department for his 2012 renewal that was never received. He said he spoke with an employee who promised to check into it and he didn't hear back so he assumed everything was OK. However, records show that Durden was issued a citation for failing to renew his license on Oct. 7, 2012, resulting in a Magistrate Court date and a $100 fine.

"When Mr. Durden came in to renew his business license for 2012 in November after being issued a citation, we informed him that (the renewal) was due on Dec. 31 for 2013," said Pamela Maxwell, supervisor of code enforcement.

Durden was also issued verbal notification of expired business licenses, Maxwell said, adding that the department, as a courtesy, calls business owners to notify them when licenses have not been renewed.

Durden said he's never been required to produce proof of a valid business license when his contract came up for approval or renewal.

"They never asked for it," he said.

He also said he believed there was a grace period for renewals until March.

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. The Dec. 31 expiration date is stated on the application/renewal form and on the license itself.

Comments

dennistay53 1 year, 10 months ago

Come on. This contract should be bidded for the simple reason that he didn't have the necessary license to do the job and then he said to the board he did. If you let him keep this contract it is telling ALL the other business's in Newton County that it's not important to pay for their license. I don't know Durden but it is the responsibilty of all business owners to know their obligations in running their business. I guess Douglas's word is not worth much.

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Neuhierl 1 year, 9 months ago

Pleading ignorance of the law is never an acceptable defense. Why are we doing business with a home-base company who is not in compliance with the business license law? Is he in compliance with the laws requiring his employees all be citizens? Is he in compliance with fair labor practices laws? Do we require this of our contractors? If not, why not? Does he even know about these laws?

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Bemused 1 year, 10 months ago

Does any employee handle pesticides when doing the maintenance? If so, are they properly licensed by the GA Dept of Agriculture? Does Durden not have an attorney or at the very least an office manager/HR person who is responsible for handling the day to day operations of his business? It seems to me that a person who isn't smart enough to run his business or at the very least hire someone who is doesn't really need to be awarded a large contract that is paid for by the people's money.

Also, who's responsibility is it to look over the contracts of the county and render a legal opinion as to whether they should be honored or if they are incomplete? Doesn't this county have an attorney that gets paid an astronomical sum for just such purposes?

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dennistay53 1 year, 9 months ago

Exactly, I use to have to have these pesticide license when i worked in landscaping, and i have 3 brothers in the landscaping business that have to get them and maintain training hrs now. The reason you need these is so you will know what you are doing when you spray chemicals. If you don't you could end up hurting yourself or others, or harm the enviroment. It als train you on how to store these chemicals. Example there are several chemicals if you store next to swimming pool chemicals will cause an explosion. I have emailed our chairman about this and he replies back that he doesn't reply to emails but would be glad to talk to me about his visions if i go down there. This company is not in the database as having pesticide contractor license at the Ga dept of Agric. I know some people there. I have given the county a chance to check this out, so now i will have it checked for them

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alexander 1 year, 10 months ago

Ellis elected BOC Chair, but John Douglas presides.... Hmmmmmm!

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es3491 1 year, 10 months ago

Douglas & Ellis . . . you guys are looking like the Clampetts thus far. This is ridiculous. Quit hiding behind "vague language." The language is quite clear here. Enforce your own code or fold. One or the other. Sims and Schulz are the only 2 out of 5 on higher ground here. The rest are the 3 stooges.

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Frustrated 1 year, 9 months ago

what was it Douglas said..if it aint broke dont fix it? Well looks like this is broken and really needs fixing.

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Chris 1 year, 10 months ago

Would the Commissioners please try Googling "county purchasing policy"? Plenty of suitable templates are available. Raise the standard for competence and integrity on the Commission. Stop embarrasing us. This has gone on long enough.

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dennistay53 1 year, 10 months ago

I guess we are going to have to start wearing sacks over our heads when we go to Newton County commission and school board meeting like they do when they go to losing team ball games to keep from being embarrased. We are WELL on our way to being the laughing stock of county governing.

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Neuhierl 1 year, 9 months ago

This information about the path our BOC is taking toward improving the county procurment processes give one hope. However, why didn't our county managar and our county attorney "notice" the language of the current policies did not match the structure of the organization: no purchasing office. I'm curious to know how many years has it been since Newton County stopped having a purchasing office. What other guidelines or proper practices are they not noticing. How Embarrassing! Looks like they are still considering a good bit of language that does not support an open and fair bidding process. They are also missing language that allows Newton County to take advantage of the multitude of statewide contracts negotiated by the Georgia DOAS for IT, Audio Visual, furniture and other products and services. Use of these contracts could save the county countless hours and resources otherwise devoted to the bid process. While they are looking into processes, hopefull, they will find that bidders must offer an actual price, not "better that the other bidders" as was announce this last meeting as being accepted and supported by John Middleton. If it wasn't his decision alone to accept that bid or if he was given guidance to accept or solicit such an inappropriate bid, the citizens of the county should be told who that was. It was not one of his finer moments.It was another embarrassing moment for him, the county, the county attorney and Commissioner Maddox who is related to the offerer.

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Frustrated 1 year, 9 months ago

Looks like Douglas shot off his mouth before looking into things. It should be policy that every time this or any contract comes up for renewal that bids should be requested. If Durden doesnt know he has to renew his license every year then the County should look for someone that runs their business a little better. Durden has failed to renew his license more than once so he should know the process. If I remember there was a debate when he was initially awarded the contract. Lets get this right and do it the proper way.

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deathtotaxes 1 year, 9 months ago

Straight from the N/C gov website...looks lik a slam dunk to revoke, not to mention Durden's lie that he had a license. Come BOC get off your butts and do the right thing.

Each person engaged in any business, trade, profession, or occupation in Newton County, Georgia, whether with a location in Newton County or in the case of an out-of-state business with no location in Georgia exerting substantial efforts within the state pursuant to O.C.G.A. S 48-13-7, shall pay an occupation tax. A separate license is required for each branch or location of a business. All non-profit organizations with proof of a 501 (C)(3) are exempt from the occupation tax however, all other fees do apply and a business license is required.

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QuitYourWhining 1 year, 9 months ago

As a life-long resident of Newton County, it frustrates me that so many perpetual commentators on here have expert opinions, yet very few possess the guts to step up and actually initiate positive change. I believe that our commissioners, ALL of our commissioners have the best interest of the citizens in mind when they address these issues. Yelling at the coach from the grandstand will do very little to influence the game. If you truly want to see improvement, stand up and do something about it. The days of partisan politics are long gone. Newton County has the chance to rise above its neighbors on so many levels. But, this can only be done if we are working together. So Quit Your Whining

Firmness in enduring and exertion is a character I always wish to possess. I have always despised the whining yelp of complaint and cowardly resolve.~EmphasisRobert Burns

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HonestAbe 1 year, 9 months ago

Being concerned about wrong doing in our government is not whinning. If our forefathers hadn't been concerned about what was going on YOU couldn't be posting what you just did.

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QuitYourWhining 1 year, 9 months ago

Absolutely nothing wrong with being concerned, but I get the sense that quite a few frequent flyers here do nothing be bloviate. I am quite sure that if they had been present at the "Last Supper" they would have complained about stale bread.

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John 1 year, 9 months ago

Unfortunately, the days of government "wasteful" spending remains with us and is unfortunately too often discovered after the cat is out of the bag. As I managed business units that produced up to $150 mil in revenue, we adopted a business practice that just because a project was budgeted for X amount we did not necessarily have to spend all of it and it was OK to find ways to come under budget and save if for a "rainy" day or just add the savings to the bottom line. Simple examples, like travel expenses - why stay at a Marriott when a LaQuinta or regular Holiday Inn will do for sleeping, shower or travel on an airline that gives the traveler reward points when there are less expensive flights that will take you from point A to B and always get at lease 2 bids on all outside purchased projects. It is always a lot easier to spend other peoples money like "drunken sailors" than it is you own.

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dennistay53 1 year, 9 months ago

They say they have VISIONS in our government. I have visions to. It's good to have visions as long as you don't act on them before you can really afford to. Of course there is a difference in visions when you are using someone elses money and not yours.

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HonestAbe 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm confused about something that maybe this reporter can help clearup if she knows. On monday Douglas seemed to state that he had the votes for a 4 to 1 or 5 to 0 vote to put this out to bid and that if noone else did he would get the agenda changed and make motion for this. From this article, before this meeting he informed this reporter that they had changed their mind about putting it for bid at the meeting. Did they have an open meeting for ALL to agree for these change or could there have possibly been a private meeting that would bring up questions of sunshine laws? Something just strange that people come to a meeting expecting something to happen then something entirely different takes place.

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John 1 year, 9 months ago

From here, it looks like Durden didn't renew his business license for at least 1 year, if the reported renewal was 10 months late some time back & now at least 2 months late. Heck if all that is true as a minimum they owe a full year of license fees plus late charges. If they don't pay I guess it would be OK if I didn't pay my property taxes I would get a pass too w/o penalty. Sure sounds likes some one (s) had their lips moving before their brain was in gear......again and were rehearsing an old dance step "The Hokey Pokey".

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dennistay53 1 year, 9 months ago

I think the reason they didn't revote to bid Tuesday night as Douglas on monday said they would do- was a case of I'm the boss, no i'm the boss power struggle. This collection of Board members may get real interesting before it's over with. I ca almost hear fireworks in the distance. This more like who's on first no who's on 2nd deal

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