Detroit towing rules draw complaints
Allegations of rigging lead to suspension of bid process for contracts worth millions
George Hunter / The Detroit News
Detroit — Controversial efforts to implement new towing rules and seek bids from companies has hit another snag after Detroit officials halted the process amid cronyism complaints.
Smaller towers have long alleged bid-rigging, and at least three pending lawsuits allege some towing firms are being shut out of the lucrative towing process. The contract is worth millions of dollars, since the city estimates 180,000 cars will be towed a year at $75 apiece.
City officials issued a Sept. 7 request for proposals for companies wishing to tow for the Detroit Police Department. But firms flooded the city with concerns, including complaints that the city had rigged the process so that only one company, AutoReturn of San Francisco, would get the contract.
AutoReturn’s subsidiary, AutoReturn Detroit LLC, in April filed papers with the state indicating its agent is David Baker Lewis, an adviser to Mayor Dave Bing. Lewis is a member of Bing’s volunteer crisis turnaround team of business leaders and others who advise the mayor on how to improve city services. Lewis also co-chaired Bing’s inaugural committee.
Bing’s spokeswoman Karen Dumas said the city is working to eliminate any “improprieties or appearance thereof” and that Lewis’ involvement is incidental.
“David Baker Lewis is a well-respected attorney who is involved in many projects throughout the city,” Dumas said.
Phyllis Hernandez, owner of Casino Towing, picketed outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building on Thursday, protesting how the city was handling the towing issue. Hernandez also has filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the bidding process was rigged.
“It was obvious the (request for proposals) was written so that one specific company would get the contract,” Hernandez said.
The Rev. Jerome Warfield, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said the request should never have been sent out by the city before the police board had a chance to look at it.
Warfield last week sent a letter to the City Council, asking members to hold off making any decisions.
A few days after Warfield’s Sept. 17 letter was delivered, the Purchasing Department pulled back the request, and sent a document to towers outlining dozens of concerns expressed by towers.
Warfield said the police board is still working on new rules governing tow companies.
“I don’t know why the city sent out that RFP so quickly,” said Warfield, who is scheduled to appear before the City Council on Wednesday to discuss his concerns.
Hernandez said the towing situation in the city is “a mess.”
“A lot of people don’t know how much money there is to be made in this,” she said. “We’re talking about multi, multi million dollars here.”
There are 27 towing companies that do business with the city, although they have been operating on month-to-month contracts for several years.
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