Florida Keys News
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Mayor: Law is on city's side in towing contract

The city of Key West isn't backing down from its decision to put out to bid the island's towing services, despite industry talk that lawyers promising lawsuit payoffs are already hovering.

The island's mayor says he isn't losing any sleep over the threat of postbid litigation by tow companies that don't win the city contract, a two-year deal estimated by towing veterans to be worth at least $100,000 annually.

Two towing company owners said Friday they have been approached by several attorneys promising big payoffs if they sue the city in the event they don't win the contract.

"The city attorney says the city has every right to do this," Mayor Craig Cates said Friday. "I was hoping the tow companies could work it out; they tie up so much of the city's time with allegations. Everything has to be investigated. We felt it's a cost savings."

Asked if the threat of lawsuits worried him, Cates said no.

"You know how many times the city gets threatened with lawsuits?" Cates asked rhetorically. "That's just the way it is."

For years, the police department has kept a rotation system in place for selecting which tow company to call on which day. Currently, the rotation lists four companies -- Arnolds Towing, Alex's Towing, Arnolds T R and Key West Towing.

Citing the frequent "petty squabbles" city staff has to deal with, City Attorney Shawn Smith asked the commission to put the contract out to bid, signaling the near end of an era in Key West when it comes to towing cars from crash sites or illegal parking spots.

The 53-page solicitation was released Dec. 16, Companies wanting to bid on the contract must submit their proposals to the city clerk's office by 3:30 p.m. Jan. 22.

The city commission plans to award the contract Feb. 4.

"Four separate attorneys have contacted all of us," said one towing company owner, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I'll see what happens. Suing the city is a major no-no, especially when you depend on the city for revenue."

The same towing industry veteran wants the city to stop the bidding process and hold a sit-down where the various company owners can work out a solution that doesn't involve ending the rotation system.

"I don't care what anybody says," the woman said. "The one person that wins will be the only towing company left here after so many years, without a doubt."

No new lawsuits from any towing company have been brought against the city since the bidding process began, Smith confirmed Friday.

A lawsuit brought by Anchor Towing last July, though, is pending at the 16th Judicial Circuit Court. The suit was filed after the city's decision to yank the company from the tow rotation list in June. Anchor officials claim the city erred, while Smith has said the company violated the ordinance by not having an office in the same place as its vehicle inside storage.

City ordinance allows companies to charge vehicle owners $135 a tow for wrecked or abandoned vehicles that weigh less than 5 tons, which includes most cars and trucks.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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