Durden to pursue lawsuit against Newton County

COVINGTON – Newton County’s former lawn care contractor, Billy Durden, seeks to sue the county, claiming wrongful termination.

Durden, owner of Durden’s Lawn Maintenance, also claims the county slandered and libeled him after it made the decision to hire another lawn care service.

The ante litem notice filed by Durden’s attorney, John Strauss, states there was “no cause in termination” and the county failed to provide 90 days notice of termination to Durden.

Strauss sent Chairman Keith Ellis the ante litem notice on Nov. 19 of Durden’s intention to pursue a lawsuit, but no one from the county has responded, Strauss said.

“I have not received any response from Chairman Ellis; nor have I received a response from Mr. Tommy Craig, to whom a copy of the ante litem notice was also sent,” Strauss said Friday. “Occasionally I also receive responses from an insurance adjuster for a local governmental entity, but I have not received any such contact in this instance.”

Strauss said he sent another email a couple of weeks ago to County Attorney Craig, but again has received no response.

“Although I had hoped that the parties would have an opportunity to explore settlement options before litigation, it appears that such an opportunity is not available,” Strauss said. “The next step would be to file suit, which I anticipate beginning in the near future.”

When contacted by the Citizen, Craig said the county is not ignoring Durden’s claim.

“The county always takes ante litem notices seriously. The county has not yet responded to Mr. Durden’s ante litem notice because the county is now in the process of investigating his claims,” Craig said. “The investigation should be complete very soon. After the investigation is complete, we expect to report its findings to the Board of Commissioners in executive session.”

County commissioners renewed Durden’s contract on Feb. 5, 2013, with a 3-2 vote, locking in the county’s lawn care costs of about $98,000 for five years. County Manager John Middleton noted during that meeting that Durden needed to renew his business license.

Following the meeting, the Citizen examined the business license files and discovered that Durden was operating without a valid license. Durden had also operated without a license from 2002 to 2006, during which time he held the county contract for lawn care.

Durden received a termination letter from County Manager John Middleton dated March 13, 2013, about a month after county commissioners voted to renew his contract. The letter stated the contract with Durden had been “terminated for cause and will not be renewed.”

Middleton’s letter stated that the Board of Commissioners met for a special called meeting on Feb. 26 and voted unanimously not to renew the current agreement since Durden’s Lawn Service did not renew its Newton County business license before it expired in 2012.

The county’s termination notice to Durden stated that the failure to renew the business licenses was not an “isolated occurrence as Durden’s Lawn Service has allowed this business license to expire yearly prior to the annual expiration date.”

County commissioners agreed to issue a Request for Proposal for the landscape maintenance service in late February — the first time since 2006 — and awarded the lowest bidder in May. Lawn care maintenance is now provided by Rockdale County-based G&G Landscape Management at a total cost of $67,680.