City Council budget committee chair Tim Burgess followed through on his announcement in committee last week that he would call for an audit of the recent bidding process for the citywide towing contract.
Yesterday afternoon Burgess and committee colleague Tom Rasmussen sent a letter to the city auditor's office with a series of direct questions.
There are several red flags about the process, including: Why the two highest bidders were disqualified; why a woman-owned business didn't score well on the minority and women-owned business tally; why the South End towing lot isn't accessible to public transit; and if the city actually got what it set out to get—a revamped, 21st century towing system that employs updated technology for more efficient management of tows.
The audit asks for specifics on all these issues. For example, the letter states: "It is our understanding that the City desired to hire a towing firm that employed new technologies to improve the program's efficiency and response times. For example, this technology could allow the 'nearest tow truck' to be dispatched to an impound location. First, was the City successful in obtaining these technologies in the new contract?"
That's a loaded question because two of the firms that scored highest—two out-of-state firms that have won praise nationally for modernizing the towing industry—were eventually disqualified in a clunky process that led to one of the firms, San Francisco's AutoReturn, sending letters from its attorney disputing the notion that it was not a qualified towing company.
A key question in that debate is whether the city should have rewritten the request for proposals (RFP), as it did after scrapping the first process in which AutoReturn scored higher than the incumbent tower (and eventual winner) Lincoln Towing, to require that the winning bidder be a licensed tow truck operator at the time of the bid.
Burgess' and Rasmussen's letter asks: "What does state law require for companies wishing to submit a proposal for towing services?"
State law requires the eventual tow operator to be licensed; there doesn't appear to be any requirement, though, that they be licensed at the time of the bid.
You can follow our reporting on the towing contract by starting with our most recent report that Mayor Mike McGinn took time to meet with the eventual bid winner, Lincoln Towing, as the bid process was in play.
Tim Ceis, the former deputy mayor under Greg Nickels, and an Ed Murray supporter in the current mayor's race, was a consultant for one of the disqualified bidders, AutoReturn, that outscored Lincoln in the initial bid.