Stubbing his tow Anne Arundel conflict: Councilman's exclusive towing contract raises suspicion.

September 17, 1997

THE BUSINESS AFFAIRS and public duties of Anne Arundel County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond have become unacceptably intertwined. He must take immediate action to untangle them.

His first move should be to relinquish his license to tow cars for the county police department in the Pasadena district he represents on the council. Although Mr. Redmond owned the towing license for 27 years before he was elected to the council in 1994, the current arrangement raises concern that he is using his public office for private gain. These suspicions erode the reputation of county government as a whole.

County Attorney Phillip Scheibe says that Mr. Redmond is complying with the county's ethics laws because he possesses a license, not a contract. Mr. Scheibe compares the privilege of getting one of these towing licenses to a driver's license. The comparison is flawed.

Anyone who passes the written and road tests can obtain a driver's license. Only a select few can obtain a towing license.

Without county action -- the police department granting the towing permit -- Mr. Redmond would not have received the estimated $55,000 he earned last year by clearing wrecked or broken-down cars, or $3,370 in county payments for towing abandoned vehicles.

Meanwhile, Mr. Redmond's much-publicized personal financial difficulties only heighten the appearance of conflict. Because he holds a non-competitive license, it appears the county is helping to bail out his business.

The problem with these licenses goes beyond Tom Redmond, however. Redmond's Towing and Auto Parts is not the only company that benefits from an exclusive arrangement.

Sixteen other county wreckers have similar licenses. But the cash-strapped county government should be receiving some compensation for these agreements. Asking towing companies to bid for these contracts -- as Howard County does -- would enable the county to raise thousands of dollars in needed revenue and allow other towing companies the chance to obtain a share of this business.

It will be up to the council to change the current non-competitive arrangement. If and when it does so, Mr. Redmond should recuse himself, given his obvious self-interest.

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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