St. Clair Shores sticks with Official Towing

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 2, 2018

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — With heated words following an accusation of impropriety, City Council voted to continue its contract with Official Towing for police towing services.

St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby said that the city rebids its towing contract every five years. A proposal was put out on BidNet Direct, which is the new site for Michigan bids and requests for proposals (taking over for the Michigan Intergovernmental Trade Network, or MITN). The city received bids from four companies.

New for this bid, the city asked companies to bid on rent for the city’s tow yard at 19801 Pleasant St. in addition to amounts that the companies would charge to tow resident and nonresident vehicles, and to store vehicles in the lot each day.

The city received bids from Nationwide Towing, Neuner’s Service Center, Official Towing and Ruehle’s Towing, and Police Chief Todd Woodcox said that the bid from Official Towing was still the best deal for the city and its residents.

Official Towing bid $5,000 per month in rent for the tow yard for the first year, and then an extra $100 per month for each year going forward in the contract, for a total of $312,000 in rent paid over the course of the five-year contract.

The next-highest bidder on that portion of the contract was Neuner’s Service Center, which would have paid $210,000 in rent during that time.

Official Towing would charge $40 per tow for accidents and impounds in the first year of the contract for residents and $50 for non-residents; both fees would increase by $2 for each year of the contract. The next-lowest bidder, Neuner’s, would charge $50 for residents but $80 for nonresidents. Neuner’s would charge $10 for storage for St. Clair Shores residents and $12 for nonresidents, while Official Towing bid $12 for daily storage for anyone, but in a letter submitted with the packet of materials to City Council, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Pietrzak said that, “taken as a whole, this does not make their bid more beneficial for the city or its taxpayers.”

Walby said that before awarding the contract to Official Towing, St. Clair Shores City Attorney Robert Ihrie was asked to investigate whether there were any problems continuing to work with Official Towing after the December guilty plea of Gasper Fiore to bribing an official in Clinton Township for a towing contract.

Ihrie, however, said that his investigation showed that, while Official Towing is owned by Fiore Ventures II and has been since 2002, the majority owner of that company since 2016 is Jessica Lucas, the daughter of Gasper Fiore. She became the sole owner in May 2017, Ihrie said at the Feb. 20 City Council meeting.

“Official Towing Inc. is a company in good standing” with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Ihrie said, adding that there is no evidence to suggest that either Lucas or Official Towing are under any type of federal investigation.

“We have had very, very few concerns with Official Towing over the past seven or eight years,” Woodcox said. 

Speaking during public comment, however, John Johnson, of Chesterfield Township, called the bid process into question.

“What we have going on here is both a fake process and fake proposals,” he said, explaining that he was concerned about the ownership of Official Towing. “Is this really kind of a shell game? Who are we dealing with here?”

He went on to ask how two bidders could have such a low price per tow and then also bid the highest rent. 

Nationwide bid $73 per tow, and Ruehle’s Towing bid $95 for accident towing and $90 for regular towing.

Vito Strolis, the owner of Ruehle’s Towing, also spoke at the meeting. He thanked the city for the opportunity to bid on the contract.

“Official Towing and I have done business for a number of years. I’m not here to be offensive to them,” he said. 

Walby and other members of City Council said they were offended by the allegation that the bid process was done improperly.

“We’re the representatives of the people and we take the job seriously,” Walby said. “My integrity’s important, and I don’t like to be (told) that I’m doing something fake. 

“We worked hard to make sure that we ... scrutinize everything and then we vote for it. We do things correct.”

Ihrie said that he would place a provision in the contract that would allow St. Clair Shores to terminate the contract for any reason and without cause with 30 days notice. 

“There’s no shams in St. Clair Shores. We do our due diligence in St. Clair Shores,” Councilman Peter Rubino said. “It’s very insulting that you would stand up there and call our entire city a sham. 

“If there is nothing wrong with the owners or company, if we can verify it with the federal government, I am for voting for this contract. It’s the best deal for our residents, and that’s who we represent is our residents.”

City Council unanimously approved the five-year contract.

“Everyone’s welcome to come in and bid,” Councilman John Caron said. “You’re a qualified company, you come in with the best price, you’re likely to get the bid. We’ve got a good company that we’ve got good service on.”