Statesboro’s City Council meeting was nearly over Tuesday evening when controversy arose during public comment.
Back in January, Chief Rob Bryan presented an updated protocol for city towing needs set to take effect March 1, 2016. The rotation agreement is in place for the police department when there is an accident, someone is arrested, or a vehicle is disabled or abandoned.
Tuesday night, Tracy Hart, of A&P Wrecker Service in Brooklet, rose to voice concerns over the recent changes to the Statesboro Police Department’s towing agreement. Harp, on behalf of 8 other companies present, explained A&P was previously on the towing rotation list for the city and he was told that members of the towing industry would be considered for input before a new towing agreement was put in place. Harp said he, and other wrecker companies, waited for the opportunity to offer input on the pending polic but before the time came, the council had adopted the new policy.
“I think that is just as wrong as it could be. I don’t think it is the council’s fault. I think there was some backdoor undermining going on and I don’t think we were represented well. We definitely have not been included in this and this is wrong,” Harp told the council. “It is a privilege to be on that list and I’ve been on it for 22 years.”
Following Mr. Hart’s comments, Councilman John Riggs said, “I did not realize that tow companies had no involvement in the writing of this new ordinance. I think it would help. I’m not saying the ordinance is good or bad. It may need to stay exactly as it is.” Still, Riggs made a motion to suspend the implementation of the new towing agreement until the council, the police department, and the towing companies can discuss a consensus.
Mayor Moore suggested the change was a resolution, not an ordinance. Chief Bryan explained that the ‘vote’ in January was not on a resolution, but notification of a new towing agreement for the department. Bryan also noted that the industry input would have been included had an ordinance been put into place, but that is not what happened. “Just like any other contract the city has with any other vendor. If we had issues with our HVAC vendor, we seek a new contract. It does not come before council.”
Councilman Travis Chance asked Chief Bryan why the towing companies were told they would have the opportunity to offer input and Bryan clarified that an ordinance passed by council and a ‘towing agreement’ are two different things. Had the process moved to be an ordinance, Chief Bryan said he would have sought input from the industry. Chance invited Hart back to the podium to respond to Chief Bryan and Hart lamented “If it wasn’t an ordinance, then why did it come before council at all?”
City Manager Robert Cheshire interjected that he believes he should have vetted the towing agreement before it went before council if there were significant differences. “It’s not that hard for us to suspend it until we revisit the issue.”
Councilman Phil Boyum noted that the overall concern of the industry is that the new policy may exclude some companies that have been on the list for several years.
Councilman Travis Chance acknowledged that Hart had contacted him with concerns relating to this issue. Chance challenged the towing companies to designate a spokesperson to develop what the industry finds “reasonable” for the towing agreement. He went on to say, “It appeared, and I am hoping it is not this way, but it appeared that there were certain companies that were singled out. So, my question is for some of the changes that seem very major that are in that proposition, why were those made? I would like to see some validation. Were there complaints? Were there incidents that made us move to that model. If there were, that’s fine. If not, I have to ask why this is being done.”
At the time of the proposal in January, Chief Bryan explained to the council that towing was the source of “numerous complaints” for the police department and the new agreement would include “criminal background checks, requirements for locks as well as alarms and surveillance, and will aid in ensuring better care is provided for citizen’s vehicles.” The new procedure/agreement , which came as an effort to relieve the city of liability and ensure a reasonable level of protection for vehicles and belongings, was passed unanimously by council.
Currently, the Statesboro Police Department is operating off of the 2015 towing rotation list because the new changes have not been implemented. The department had just closed the open enrollment period for submitting documentation for consideration per the new towing policy agreement, but companies had not yet been selected from that list. The Police Department did confirm that multiple companies submitted applications by the February 15 deadline.
The motion to suspend the implementation of the new Statesboro Police Department Towing Rotation Agreement until it can be revisited by the mayor, council, staff and interested parties passed unanimously; however, several council members did note the concern was not over the policy, but over the lack of input.
The Council, in moving forward, is charged with deciding:
- whether or not a city department is required to consider public input for policies or if such an act is just a courtesy, and
- whether or not a towing company on a rotation list for the city is a representative of the city when the police department recommends a towing company to an affected person.
The complete towing agreement with is available here. The affected towing companies have retained Attorney Scott Brannen to represent them.