Turner says judgments don't tell whole story

May 15, 2013 10:30:20 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


A public records search by The Dispatch shows that Turner Furniture LLC, which is owned by Ward 4 councilman candidate Marty Turner, has yet to satisfy a $56,023.84 judgment regarding failure to pay rent to former landlord and a cumulative $10,003.53 in other judgments, the majority of which identify the Mississippi Department of Revenue as the plaintiff. 


Turner will meet incumbent Fred Stewart in a runoff election for Ward 4 councilman Tuesday. 


Records indicate that on Jan. 20, 2011, Gateway Shopping Center was awarded a principal sum of $42,028.39 for unpaid rent and $13,995.45 in attorney fees from Turner in Lowndes County Court.  


That company initially filed a complaint Oct. 14, 2010 stating an agreement with Turner Furniture was signed in Dec. 2007 to lease the premises located at 201-F Gateway Shopping Center at 201 Alabama St. for $3,000 a month. In January 2009, a five-year extension and amendment of the lease was executed to allow for expansion into an adjacent space, 201-E, increasing the monthly rent amount to $4,000 a month in 2009, $4,500 in 2010, $5,000 in 2011, $5,500 in 2012 and $6,000 this year. The complaint states Turner Furniture dissolved on or about April 14, 2009 but continued to do business at the premises until September 2010. After repeated notices of past due rent, a representative of Gateway -- Guynup Trusts Trustee and Director Gayle C. Guynup -- wrote to Turner in December 2009 of the need for a written plan to pay rent arrears and bring the lease current and to reimburse the company for window repairs.  


Turner responded with a notice of intention to pay what he owed by Feb. 28, 2010. Despite that promise, the complaint states, Turner remained in default and continued to operate at the location. Counsel for Gateway Shopping Center, attorney Kristen Wood Williams, is listed as having hand delivered an eviction notice to the business on Aug. 18, 2010. 


The next month, Turner admitted the company was in default and agreed to terminate the lease during a hearing in Lowndes County Justice Court, according to the records. Williams subsequently contacted Turner, suggesting a payment plan to make good on the debt by paying Gateway $500 a month with a five-percent accrued interest until the arrears were paid. 


At least five late rent notices were given to Turner Furniture, according to court documents. 


A fax dated Sept. 8, 2009 states Gateway Shopping Center deposited a $2,000 check that was returned due to insufficient funds. 


Turner said during a phone call Tuesday that Gateway Shopping Center "failed to hold up their end of the contract," citing approximately $30,000 in air conditioning system repairs that were needed and not done. 


"I was there for two years and they never fixed the air conditioning. In the contract it says any (heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs) $2,000 or less is my responsibility. (Gateway) sent their own guy and he told me himself the unit needed to be replaced," Turner said. "In the summer ... however hot it was outside, it was just as hot inside. In the winter, it was cold. I said, 'I will not pay rent if you do not fix the air conditioning.' Before then everything was paid up before me and the landlord had a conflict. 


"I believe in small businesses, but I also believe you should hold up your end of the bargain," Turner added. "A contract is two people in agreement with each other." 


When asked why he agreed to an extended lease that allowed him to expand if he'd had problems, Turner said he was promised the repairs would be done. 


"(The air conditioning on the expanded portion) did work temporarily for about three months. The building was so old, and I understand the building was old, but (the landlord) told me he would fix the other side," Turner said. "If I was in arrears, why would he have allowed me to purchase another section that was almost twice the size of ... (what) I originally got?" 


The lease extension granting Turner to expand does state the landlord is responsible for HVAC repairs in excess of $2,000 for the five-year period. The judgment makes no mention of that stipulation and states that Turner Furniture failed to plead or defend and had taken no action since the default was entered. 


Turner's business is now located at 1405 U.S. Highway 45. Turner said he did not remember the exact date he relocated, but it has been more than a year. 


Turner said he already satisfied payments due to the Department of Revenue. Documents substantiate his claim in some of the cases, but the same records indicate he has yet to satisfy other claims, including one due to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. He said he was supposed to receive a refund for overpaying but has not. 


"They said I owed $6,000 at one time and I paid $7,600," Turner said. "We're trying to get that settled now. I know I'm not doing anything wrong. They're under review between my bookkeeper and the other party." 


Asked how he would explain the situation to constituents who might ask, Turner said he "had to stand up for himself." 


"(I would ask them) if you buy a brand new car and it breaks down as soon as you drive it off the lot and the owner wouldn't do anything about it, would you pay for the car?" Turner said. "If I don't stand up for myself, how would I be able to stand up for the people of Ward 4 or the city of Columbus? I don't care who it is. I will stand up for people of my ward just like I do myself." 


Turner noted that he donates proceeds from his business to local youth and servicemen, including several area school sports teams, churches and service organizations. He said he also regularly pays, through proceeds from his business, for haircuts of youths whose families cannot afford them and assists families who cannot afford to pay portions of utility bills. He also coordinates the annual Memphis Town festival, which he said is funded strictly through private donations and money from his business.  


A public records search of his opponent, Stewart, revealed no judgments against him.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.