ALBANY — A former contractor who conducted public relations work for Dougherty County is threatening a lawsuit over $25,000 in fees that the contractor said she is owed.
Candace Reese Walters, who performed public relations duties for the county on a contract basis following twin 2017 storms that devastated the community, said the county — and Court of Appeals Judge Ken Hodges, who Reese said “acted as an agent of Dougherty County during his wife’s (Melissa Hodges) tenure” with the county — had “legally targeted” her and refused to pay her money she is owed.
“I am sending this information to inform you of my current dilemma with Dougherty County, specifically with the behaviors and (negative/lack of) responses from the County Chairman, County Administrator and County Attorney,” Walters said in a letter sent to Dougherty commissioners, a copy of which she sent to The Albany Herald. “We are requesting that $25,000 be paid in full, which includes attorney’s fees, work product and storm communications overtime hours. My hope is that the financial remedy that has been sought over the past year will now be resolved by the end of this week (11/15). If not, unfortunately, I will be forced to file a lawsuit against Dougherty County Government.”
Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee said the county’s response to the most recent letter is the same as when Walters first made the claim: that the county has done nothing wrong.
“When this first arose, the legal decision was reached that the county had done nothing wrong,” Lee said Tuesday morning. “I don’t know that anything has changed. She (Walters) is saying the same things she said then.”
Reese said Tuesday she had not wanted the situation to escalate into the current state.
“My intent was not to come to this, but after a year of outreach to Spencer Lee with no closure, we decided to take a different approach,” Walters said in an email to The Herald. “I don’t have any further comment at this time.”
In her letter to commissioners, Walters said she was disturbed that “as a mother, wife and lady of color” she would be “targeted” by Hodges on the county’s behalf.
“As also referenced, now Judge Ken Hodges played a pivotal role in this process; acting as an agent of Dougherty County during his wife’s tenure,” Walters wrote, referencing Melissa Hodges, who worked briefly with the county as a PR agent after Walters was relieved of those duties. “I have since learned that as a matter of record, this has been a pattern of behavior with him, and I encourage you to ensure that he is not allowed to conduct himself in such a manner again. I cannot express to you enough, that as a mother, wife, and lady of color, it is beyond disturbing to be legally targeted.”
Walters said she has maintained records of her work with the county, telling commissioners, “I am in possession of my contract terms, and all (county/personal) emails, text messages and phone records to ultimately prove my case, should it come to those measures. All inquiries should be directed to your County Attorney, Spencer Lee. He has received several emails, calls and text messages, which are a matter of public record.”
Walters also forwarded a letter from her attorney, Durante Partridge of the Partridge Law Firm of Atlanta, to Lee.
“I spoke with my client (Walters) yesterday regarding this matter, and it is my understanding that there was an expectation that she would be compensated for the social media accounts, overtime and reimbursement of attorney fees,” Partridge wrote. “Based on my conversations with Ken Hodges, who threatened criminal warrants against my client unless she turned over her work product, Mr. Hodges stated that he would assist in facilitating the conversations to see to it that Ms. Reese was paid accordingly. He stated that to me verbally and and in email.
“Moreover, my client made Mr. McCoy aware that she had maxed out on her hours and asked if she should continue to work, so none of the work she performed, over and above the prescribed hours, (was) performed pro bono. Ms. Reese (Walters) maintains an expectation to be compensated, of which, I agree. I’m happy to discuss the numbers of such, so that we may resolve this matter as quickly as possible, so that all parties may move forward.”
Lee said he had sent the communications to the county’s insurance carrier for a review.
“We’re getting our insurance carrier to look at this issue again, but to my way of thinking, nothing has changed,” Lee said.