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Board may fire landscape company

The owner defends the job his company has done, saying, "We've maintained what we were handed."

By TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


CARROLLWOOD -- The recent drought has damaged even the neatest lawns and healthiest shrubs. But some people in Original Carrollwood think theirs might be a case of simple neglect.

Throughout the neighborhood's common areas, they point to one example after another: Dead plants have not been removed. Removed plants have not been replaced. Expensive palm trees have begun to wither on medians.

It's gotten so bad, that residents and board members on the Carrollwood Recreation District this week talked about firing its landscape maintenance firm.

One resident, Becky Hanley, even suggested Accent Lawn Care, be "fired and sued for losses and damages."

Company owner John Stockton was not at Monday's board meeting and no one spoke in his defense.

Stockton was awarded the 3-year, $110,124 grounds contract in May 1999. He said he visits the property about once a month and he was not aware there was a problem.

"If you look at the property itself, I don't see anything that appears negligent," Stockton said, adding that he has received no complaints from residents. "We've maintained what we were handed."

Stockton did say at least one palm tree had died because the irrigation system on that street island has not worked. Stockton said he suspects vandals are cutting off the sprinkler systems on other islands because the control boxes do not lock and the last time he checked, they were turned off.

The board also discussed whether to hire an employee for landscape maintenance instead of independent contractors. The board decided to consult a lawyer first.

Resident Chuck Kim, a trained horticulturist, has already applied for the job. In general, board members felt comfortable with his training and abilities.

"I know there is a lot of discontent in the community on the performance of the current grounds people," said board member Tracey Howell. Kim told board members they would have to make a decision on hiring him by September, which is also the end of the district's fiscal year.

Kim Wilcox, the recreation district property manager, said he does not believe the board wants to sue Stockton's company for damages, only to fire him.

"We need someone who is going to take care of the property," Wilcox said. "In this neighborhood, it matters. This is a good neighborhood. It's one of those places where people care what happens."

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-- Tim Grant can be reached at 226-3471 or grant@sptimes.com.

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