Towing system is challenged Annapolis company argues county process bars competition

November 13, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis towing company owner is challenging the system that Anne Arundel County police use to call tow trucks to clear roads, claiming the process does not allow competition.

For more than a decade, the county has used 17 towing companies in as many geographic areas to provide emergency road clearing service.

These companies receive licenses from the county that can be renewed yearly without competitive bidding. This is unlike the systems used by the state police, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

A Sun study in September found that the Arundel system is unique in the Baltimore metropolitan area. An article on that study said County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr. could face a possible conflict of interest because his towing business gets at least $50,000 a year through one of these exclusive licenses while he also approves the budgets of the licensing officials that renew his agreement every year.

Redmond sits on the County Council, which would have to dTC approve any changes in the county's system.

Defenders of the county's arrangement argue that cutting the county into zones that each have one towing company has worked well for years because it is simple and provides fast service.

When police need a road cleared after a crash, they know which company in the area they can depend on, county licensing chief Anne Hatcher said.

This system is being challenged before the county's Board of Appeals today by Dale A. Darden Sr., president of Darden Foreign Car Inc. at 211 West St. in Annapolis.

Darden -- who has towing contracts with the city, the state and the Naval Academy -- applied on May 29 for a license to tow cars for the county police in an area outside Annapolis. The county's Licensing Department replied on July 14 that it would not grant Darden a license because another towing company, Lowry's Towing at 1321 Forest Drive in Annapolis, had a license for that zone.

Darden argues that his six drivers and four trucks could respond at least 10 minutes more quickly from a more central location that he wants to use at 1001 Skidmore Road.

"Whatever the original rationale of the county's law, as it now stands it serves to benefit a few persons who are granted towing licenses and to discriminate against all other towing companies -- regardless of who would provide the best service to the public," Darden's attorney, Dennis R. Robin, said.

Even within the county's system, Robin argued, denying a license for Darden was "arbitrary" and "without regard for the fairness of the decision."

Deputy county attorney David Plymyer said that the county's Licensing Department followed the law. He said requests to change the law should be brought before the County Council, not the Board of Appeals.

Hatcher, the county's chief of licensing, said the system works well because it requires regular inspections of towing equipment and performance reviews of towing companies by the Police Department.

Redmond said he would abstain if any proposed change in the county's towing system came before the County Council.

He added that the system has helped the county avoid towing scandals suffered by other jurisdictions because the county sets the rates for towing and storage.

"This system is what works best for the citizens," said Redmond. "It is very efficient, and it doesn't allow customers to get ripped off."

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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