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Council Committee Recommends Talks in Towing Policy Alterations
One common complaint concerned the lack of an opportunity for input from towing operators prior to the drafting of a policy for gaining acceptance to the rotation of companies used by HPD.
Complicating the issue, a disputed necessity for a notification of a “hearing”, specifically on Huntington Police policy that falls under the jurisdiction of the Cabell County Commission, which operates the 911 emergency dispatch center.
Stressing “we don’t want to tell anyone how to run a towing company”, Police Chief Skip Holbrook equated the proposed policies as similar to setting standards, such as in a bid specification, for those who choose to do business with the City of Huntington Police Department.
“This is how we [would] evaluate folks who want to be on the rotation”, Holbrook explained.
The proposal would impact investigations, too. Holbrook indicated that an accessible towing database would assist in determining “whether a vehicle was stolen or towed.”
According to Capt. Mike Albers, the regulations were sent to eight towing companies (of which five currently are on the rotation) by registered mail during the second week of August 2013.
But, current towing operators one after one complained about lack of notification of policy changes by the police department and subsequently the City of Huntington and Cabell County Commission.
Former County Commissioner Gary Bunn, now a councilman, repeatedly took notice of the large attendance.
Operators stressed an average of less than three cars per day were towed in Huntington. Several complained about tow operators under the newly proposed policy absorbing costs for any (although rare) police mistake, for towing city police vehicles at no cost, and for accepting $50 as a tow which moves a vehicle from the tow operator lot to a police impoundment lot.
Sheila Davis, representing JB's Towing, stated the proposed new police policy was "poorly written", "not numbered", and that three attorneys had opined that "state code [law] had been broken." She vowed to take the as proposed policy to the WV Public Service Commission, if implemented.
Although the tow operators alluded to angry customers, no one spoke at the meeting on behalf of those who have in the past or present had their vehicles towed.
After hearing from the police department and the operators , Bunn asked the assistant city attorney for input on whether the Public Safety Committee should recommend this item to the full council. Since City Attorney Scott McClure was ill, the newly hired assistant declined to make a recommendation at this time.
Bunn requested that the city attorney’s office draft a written transcript from the Wednesday hearing so committee members could look over statements.
He asked Holbrook to get together with the towing operators and “massage” the proposed policy to see if differences can be worked out. He said the committee would consider holding another meeting itself on the topic.
Meanwhile, Holbrook announced that the old policy of five companies on towing rotation would continue “until directed [otherwise] by council or the Mayor.”
Bunn emphasized to Holbrook that the towing policies are not law enforcement related. “There is a difference between policy and law. You came up with a policy that affects their business.” Bunn, a former city manager too, related experience of working out zoning and budget plans before bring the issues to council.
“I have confidence you can [work it out] with these people”, Bunn said.
Committee chairman David Ball stated the towing matter would be taken under advisement. “We’re not ready to make a recommendation [to council].”