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Durden defends work; still on the job after contract canceled

COVINGTON - County commissioners voted last month to bid out the lawn maintenance contract, but current provider Billy Durden is still working.

"Nobody told me to quit," he said.

Although one county commissioner previously told the Citizen Durden had not been paid this year, Durden provided pay stubs showing that he was paid by Newton County on Jan. 17 and Feb. 14, each in the amount of $8,176. Durden said he has yet to receive any communication from the county notifying him that his contract, which was approved just the week before some commissioners reversed course and voted to issue an RFP, has been canceled.

He said he doesn't understand what changed or why a special called meeting was required to address the contract. Durden said he was not notified of the meeting in advance.

"I work weekends, holidays ... and I get to read about it in the paper," he said.

"I feel like my reputation is just shot. If the facts were exact and the truth, I could accept that," Durden said, adding that he has tried to meet with elected officials but they will not respond. He said officials have been ambiguous about why the contract was canceled.

"I just want my job. I don't want to get a lawyer and sue. I don't want something I don't work for. I never have," he said.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Keith Ellis said a letter will be sent to Durden regarding the commission's decision. He said a Request for Proposals is being drafted. The county web site states the RFP will be posted there later this month.

Ellis previously stated that he called the special meeting because of concerns he had when he looked over the cost of lawncare services. He said there was an increase in costs that leveled off in 2010. While these could have been legitimate charges, the increase "raised my eyebrows," he said. During two separate interviews following the Feb. 27 special called meeting, Ellis was not specific about what caused his concern.

"There are quite a few extra charges he was in charge of doing," Ellis said on March 5. Ellis said officials also decided to take another look at the contract after it was reported that Durden had operated without a business license for five years and did not have a valid license when the county approved a new contract on Feb. 5.

But Ellis said since nothing can be done about the past, "I think the main thing I want to focus on as we get away from this is having a better program in place in the future."

Ellis said the county will have a "much clearer" purchasing policy, likely spelling out how often contracts must be put out to bid.

The goal is to take out the human element of deciding when contracts get rebid and replacing that with policies, he said.

Durden said that that the increases in costs were the result of the county adding more work, for example, the Cornish Creek and Williams Street treatment facilities in 2007. Also, he said he had several sites, such as the Judicial Center and Administration Building, added to his contract, then later removed. Those are likely the reasons the increases were noted during the years leading up to 2010, he said.

Durden noted that his contract was reduced by $12,000 in 2010.

County Manager John Middleton confirmed that Durden was responsible for mowing inside the fence at Cornish Creek and Williams Street in 2007. Contracts for those facilities were discontinued in 2009 and county staff took over that work.

Middleton also said in 2008, Durden's contract was modified by $16,500 for additional services: an increase in pine straw allowance at the health department; flower beds at the Judicial Center, Historic Courthouse and Administration Building; as well as additional spraying of sites as needed.

Middleton said there have been "various changes from year to year" in the costs of landscape service, some changes to the contract and some additional items of a one-time nature that are not contract related. Both types of modifications are allowed by the contract, he said.

He said it's important for the county to have the option "to make service delivery changes in order to get the mix/level of services that best meets our current needs."

Durden said he has at times been asked to do extra work not included in the contract, such as laying sod in the right of way following an intersection improvement project at Brown Bridge and Crowell roads in 2008. Middleton confirmed this and said that cost was included in the project budget and authorized by the BOC.

Durden has had sites removed from the contract over the years as a cost-saving measure and no longer provides weed control. Durden is also entitled to a fuel cost adjustment per the contract and received a minimum wage increase in 2008, both approved by the Board of Commissioners.

According to the county, the following are the contract amounts and 1099 amounts actually paid to Durden during the past five years:

2008 contract $121,294; 1099 amount $138,069

2009 contract $113,380; 1099 amount $118,334

2010 contract $115,720, later reduced to $103,714.83; 1099 amount $110,717.88

2011 contract $98,463; 1099 amount $100,770.38

2012 $98,116, increase to $100,561 for fuel surcharge; 1099 amount $100,590.41

Durden said he is required to turn in work summaries and invoices to the county for everything he does, and has stacks of copies showing those were approved.

"We only do what we're directed to do," he said.

He also questioned why his contract and the recycling center management contract have been the source of so much scrutiny by the board the last few years but other contracts are approved without discussion.

The Citizen requested that each commissioner address specific concerns that led them to vote to put out an RFP. Three commissioners, John Douglas, J.C. Henderson and Levie Maddox, who voted to renew the contract on Feb. 5 but reversed course on Feb. 27, were also asked to explain why they changed their vote.

Douglas, Henderson, Maddox and Lanier Sims did not respond.District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz stated, "I have not wavered in three years. I firmly believe what is reflected in my motions during the past three years of votes on the Lawn Maintenance Contract. I also believe the purchasing policy needs to be studied and improved to provide clarity and consistency to staff, commissioners, vendors and the public."

Schulz also provided minutes from commission meetings in 2011, 2012 and 2013 during which she recommended the lawn maintenance contract be put to bid.

Asked about Durden's quality of work, Middleton said that there are always complaints when dealing with a service contract, but that he tours sites at least monthly and depends on the facilities manager and solid waste manager to monitor performance and resolve issues. Middleton said he also addresses concerns.

Comments

Covingtonian 1 year, 1 month ago

Okay BOC time to get it right. First, apologize to Mr.Durden for not handling this situation right then give him some type of clarity as to his current status and when he should be expected to end his duties. Hopefully he doesn't feel villified because of this mess, he did what he was allowed to do and any tom foolery that took place happened within the BOC. Good Old Boys hard at work.

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deathtotaxes 1 year, 1 month ago

Is there not a check and balance procedure in place?

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Frustrated 1 year, 1 month ago

Here we go again. Because of questionable acts by the BOC to start with we are going to end up paying for legal fees and, more than likely, a lot of money to settle a law suit. This BOC needs to start thinking BEFORE they act and not look at things in hindsight. Here we are just three months into their terms and already had two questionable contracts approved. As an old saying goes..put your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion.

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Neuhierl 1 year, 1 month ago

Great investigative reporting. We are fortunate to have this resource. Durden is not the only one asking why the special meeting.. and let's add why cancel the regular meeting? Supposedly, this vendor did not have spraying in their contract. They do not have a license to spray chemicals, according to the state agency that licenses this. Not a surprise, since they didn't have a business license either. Why do we have contracts with specific amounts if there is no intention of holding to those amounts? Somebody tell me what we have a County Manager for and how are they called to account for "managing" or not managing? Good for Commissioner Shultz and her response with the detail that shows she was doing her job. Now, when are we going to get into the detail of the recycling contracts and other contracts that may have gone on and on without bidding? Lots of work ahead for our BOC. Seems like there is plenty to do and no need to cancel meetings again.

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm going out on a limb here but i'm betting the commissioners chose to void his contract because he didn't have license. You know like if you get stopped for no drivers license you don't drive. They did the right thing. If we gonna bash them when we think they do wrong give them credit when they do it right. Good job commissioners in voiding this contract for proper reason and sending it to be bid.

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dennistay53 1 year, 1 month ago

I maybe wrong but i have heard no commissioner say that Mr Durden couldn't submit a bid when this comes up. I hope he get's all the necessary license and does this. The more bids going in i would think be better for the taxpayers.

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