Charleston Opts to Defer Vote on Towing Policy

June 7, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Marc Knapp
Citizen Reporter

Charleston City Council was to vote on its new policy relating to city towing contracts at its May 24 meeting but at the request of the Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Kathleen Wilson a vote was deferred until the next meeting.

Wilson said she wanted time to consider some aspects of the policy. This did not sit well with some council members, in particular Aubrey Alexander. He noted that the vote of the Public Safety Committee had been unanimous for awarding contracts on a rotating basis.

The matter had already been discussed on council and the public had already expressed its views. It was time to vote, he said.

There was probably sympathy for Alexander’s view but perhaps out of deference to the committee chairwoman, all council members except Alexander voted to defer.

The issue remains as to whether the city should award contract on a zoning or a rotation basis.

The issue was raised by Chief Gregory Mullen some months ago who discovered that the agreement with the existing contractors expired in 1997 and had never been renewed.

There was also an issue as to whether its “zoning” form was appropriate, i.e. two contractors were given separate and exclusive zones of operation. Was it better to have a “rotation” basis whereby a certain number of contractors bid to be included in a roster?

They would be awarded a job when their name moved to the top of the roster. It moved to the bottom after they were given a job.

Some towing contractors spoke at the meeting last night and asked that the rotational system be adopted. They spoke of competition and the opportunities for small operators.

A representative of AAA had a different view and warned of the inadequate resources of many small operators and the problems that could ensue. The small contractors did not invest in the full range of necessary equipment and could not handle all towing jobs.

He specifically noted that small companies may not be able to provide a 24-hour service to give tourists and others the ability to recover their towed cars.

We expect council to support the committee’s recommendation when it meets again next month. We also expect that there will be high but reasonable hurdles that towing companies will need to overcome to be included on any roster.