Separately, the Ballard administration has been undertaking a bidding process to award contracts to towing operators for exclusive territories within the city limits. Attorney Linda Pence went to court today on behalf of two tow truck operators who lost out in the bidding process to block the contracts from going into effect and obtained a temporary restraining order. Wheeler's and Indy Towing have accused the Ballard administration of colluding with politically-connected tow truck operators, including Zore's and Interstate Towing. City-County Councilor Robert Lutz identified his business relationship with Zore's on his statement of economic interest. Former Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John is also registered to lobby for Zore's. Interstate Towing has been accused of engaging in questionable towing practices in the downtown area.
Unbelievably, the Ballard administration is requiring the exclusive tow truck operators to kick back payments to the city in consideration for their exclusive territories, while it pushes a new ordinance barring kickbacks to lot owners and managers. At a Rules and Public Policy Committee hearing this week on the administration's towing ordinance, Councilor Vaughn asked for and got a delay in action on it because Councilor Lutz was not present and wanted to offer amendments to it, notwithstanding his relationship with Zore's.
Fox 59 News has the story:
The controversy surrounding towing in Indianapolis continues. Tow truck companies recently filed a lawsuit against the city saying the city is playing favorites.
Linda Pence is the attorney representing Indy Towing and Wheeler Towing.
"To turn around and the very day you put in an ordinance to allegedly curb this you reward them by giving them an exclusive district to tow..."
According to a complaint filed in court, the city did just that and a whole lot more. Eddie Wheeler has worked with the city for 29 years. Wednesday, he and Indy Towing were in court arguing the bid process for the city's towing isn’t fair.
"I was very shocked," he said.
City lawyers didn’t want to talk to us, but they did say in court that every bid awarded went to the company who gave the city the largest franchise fee.
"I think it's interesting that the mayor was very upset with the kickbacks to the parking lots. This seems like on top this would be a kickback to the city," Wheeler said.
The bid paperwork very clearly shows the towing fee is $90. The city recommends the companies pay at least a $45 franchise fee. Seven of the 8 bidders chose to pay pretty close to the $90. One company decided to go over. The problem is the other bidding companies say they didn’t know they could do that based on the paperwork. The two are now in court arguing that it’s not fair. Zore’s Towing won the bid for two of the city’s districts with a $100.01 bid.
"It's not an equal playing field. It's not treating the companies that have served our community fairly. It's plain wrong," Pence said.
Fox59 did some digging and found a disclosure form from city-county Councilor Bob Lutz. It shows Zore’s is one of his income sources. Zore’s lobbyist is Tom John. He was the chairman of the Marion County GOP when Mayor Ballard was elected, a point that was raised in court Wednesday as accusation of collusion or favoritism were alleged.
"That stinks. There's something more," Pence said.
The other company that was awarded a contract that is in question is Interstate Towing. The company has been accused of questionable towing practices clearing lots downtown and overcharging people.
Fox59 spoke with a representative from Interstate who said that several cases have gone to court and Interstate has been cleared in those cases.
Even still, Pence said the city needs to be certain each of the companies it contracts with is reputable.
"I think the city should make sure, and it must make sure that it has responsive, responsible towing with the public and not overcharging them. Overcharging is wrong. It's unethical. and you don't reward companies that are overcharging by giving them contracts."
Judge David Shaheed has put a stop for now to keep those contracts going forward until he can make a decision on this case. The two sides will be back in court on June 28.