Several tow trucks found proper parking spots at the Key West police department off North Roosevelet Boulevard on Friday afternoon.
Members of the rough-and-tumble local industry of towing, which mandates odd hours, cleaning up crash sites, working in the thick of traffic, and enforcing some pricey fines, had assembled for a mandatory meeting on a soggy afternoon in typically sun-splashed Key West.
Storm clouds suited the mood of the 10 people who showed up for the 2 p.m. meeting. They were there to learn about the city's plans to scrap the rotation call list that police use when they need a tow and replace it with a bidding process.
By Feb. 4, one company will be awarded a two-year contract for all of the city's towing jobs, according to the solicitation document.
Also, the city will begin collecting a fee for each and every tow made under the contract, although the exact percentage wasn't indicated in the solicitation.
It was at a June 19 city commission meeting that City Attorney Shawn Smith first asked the commission to consider putting the city's towing business out to bid. His justification for the request: Tow companies are taking up too much of his office's time with "their petty squabbles," Smith said.
"They just can't get along," said Smith. "Their fights spill over and take up time from your city staff."
Yet on Friday, gathered inside a second-floor conference room, the towing company owners were a quiet bunch with only a couple of questions. No complaints were made to the two city officials present.
"This might be the quickest mandatory meeting ever," Smith said, as Police Chief Donie Lee stood beside him.
The meeting was the second step in a process scheduled to end Feb. 4. The 53-page "Request for Proposals" for the "wrecking/towing services" was released Dec. 16 online at demandstar.com and the city's website, keywestcity.com.
Bids are due to the city clerk by Jan. 22. Then a committee will rank the top three proposals.
"If a contract can't be entered into with the first people, we will go to the second," Smith told the audience on Friday. "It won't start over."
Written questions from bidders were directed to Chief Lee at email@example.com. The only official answer to any question about the city contract will come from Lee, the document states.
Questions will be accepted through Jan. 15.
A couple of questions did pop up Friday before the meeting ended: What exactly does the city want to see to ensure "financial stability" of the contracted company?
"It's up to the proposer to illustrate," said Smith.
Minutes after the meeting broke, several towing company officials gathered out front dodging the rain. Several smoked cigarettes and complained about the city's new direction. No one would go on the record, saying it could prejudice the bid process, but some noted the awarding of the contract could put one or more of them out of business.
"It's lifeblood," a woman with one of the companies said while leaving police headquarters, estimating that the contract could mean up to $100,000 for a single company.
Another woman came from Homestead, where she helps run a towing company. The contract stipulates that the towing company chosen must have an office south of Mile Marker 11.
The city's contract regulates fees and requires the tow company make a detailed report of every car towed. Even customer service is outlined in the contract.
Also, the contract forbids "any misleading, dishonest or illegal practices," along with "rudeness and discourtesy."
If the towing company racks up six "sustained" complaints, the city will consider the contract breached, the solicitation document states, and the city commission will take action.