Detroit City Council passes towing reforms with 2 members under a cloud

October 12, 2021, 8:50 AM

An ordinance to curb predatory towing practices passed Detroit City Council unanimously Tuesday with a councilmember under FBI scrutiny for their possible connections to the industry absent.

Councilmember Janeé Ayers, whose home and office were raided by the FBI in August ahead of a colleague's conviction for taking bribes from an informant in the towing industry, was missing from the hearing.

Councilmember Scott Benson, whose home and office were also raided after he allegedly took a meeting with the informant, voted yes. Benson initially held up the proposal in July.

The council has two vacancies after Andre Spivey pleaded guilty to, with help from an unnamed staffer, taking nearly $36,000 in bribes with the idea that he'd give the industry special consideration in matters before the city. Gabe Leland resigned in May following a separate bribery charge.

Provisions of the ordinance three years in the making would require towers to release vehicles to drivers for a service fee if they return before they're removed, accept a variety of payments methods beyond just cash, and agree, if they wish to receive city contracts, to waive fees for those facing hardship.

Brenda Jones: "Predatory towing policies [are] unfair and cruel." (Photo: Facebook)

It was brought by Council President Brenda Jones.

Ahead of the vote, the Free Press quoted from a memo she wrote to council on the issue: 

"Not only are predatory towing policies unfair and cruel, they can prevent residents from gaining access to jobs and opportunities. We have all seen the impact of a poorly regulated towing industry and the dire consequences to our residents." 

Christine MacDonald and Joe Guillen of the paper take a deep dive into "Detroit's hidden world of towing" in a subscribers-only report on "criminal prosecutions, city audits and lawsuits [that] have shown a hotbed of corruption tied to towing, a lack of city oversight and an inability to enact needed reforms."

The city's towing operations are at the center of an ongoing public corruption investigation involving at least three City Council members. ... In late September, former Councilman Andre Spivey pleaded guilty to taking bribes totaling $35,900 in exchange for his help with the city’s towing regulations. ...

Mayor Mike Duggan and [James] White, who was named police chief this summer, are working to overhaul the city’s system for hiring towing companies.

At the same time, the City Council wants to update the city's towing ordinance to include more protections for vehicle owners who have long complained about predatory practices: high fees, towing companies requiring cash-only transactions to return a vehicle and tow-truck drivers who refuse to release a vehicle when the owner shows up before the vehicle  is towed away. 

Read more:  Detroit Free Press

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