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A Detroit tow company has filed a lawsuit claiming city officials are violating their own rules by getting into the towing business.

The suit, filed Monday in Wayne Circuit Court by east-side towing firm Detroit Auto Recovery, claims: “The city is operating two illegal enterprises: a towing company whose trucks fail to comply with state law; and multiple impound facilities that violate the Zoning Ordinance.”

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners last month voted 7-2 to approve the police department's proposal to take over part of the towing business.

The police department has purchased six tow trucks for $575,000, and has allocated four city-owned lots where impounded vehicles will be stored, Detroit Police Assistant Chief James White told the police commissioners last month. He added the department already had three tow trucks. The new trucks were purchased with money in the police department's fleet budget.

White said 15 civilians will be hired to drive the trucks, and that they'll be required to hold a commercial driver's license. 

Last week, Detroit City Council members accused Detroit police of plotting behind their backs to take over towing.

Police commissioner Willie Burton, one of the two dissenting votes, has complained he wasn't informed about the plan until the night before the board was scheduled to vote on it. After board chairman Willie Bell said he, police chief James Craig, and Mike Duggan had been meeting about the plan, Burton questioned whether those meetings were proper.

"I want to know if they violated the Open Meetings Act, because the board was not made aware of them," Burton said. "They rushed this through without telling the rest of the board until the last minute."

Detroit Auto Recovery attorney Marc Deldin declined Tuesday to comment on the lawsuit.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a written statement: "The City's towing operations are lawful, and the complaint filed today has no merit. The City has the right to manage its own affairs, especially when it comes to police and parking."

Under the the city's new towing program, Detroit's drivers would handle between 30 and 50 percent of tow jobs. If there are more tows than the city can handle, the previously-established towing rotation would kick in, and jobs would go to whichever of the 21 police-authorized towers were next on the list.

Monday's lawsuit insists that according to the city's rules, set in 2011, Detroit should only be one of the companies in the rotation.

"If the City wants to run tow trucks and impound yards, the City’s ordinance considers the City to be a 'tower' and it must stand in the towing rotation (assuming it qualifies) with Plaintiff."

The lawsuit further alleges the city "rushed" to get the towing operation under way before Sept. 30, when state Act 327 became effective. 

"This Act bars local governments and law enforcement agencies from engaging in towing and impound operations," the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit quoted a section of the new state law that says: “Except as otherwise provided ... a local government or law enforcement agency shall not ... operate a motor vehicle storage facility or towing operation."

Craig would not comment on the lawsuit, but told The Detroit News last week he began planning to have the police department take over towing in September 2017, and said the claim there was a scramble to start towing before the Sept. 30 deadline was false.

The lawsuit further alleges: "DPD’s towing enterprise consists of illegal tow trucks that fail to meet basic requirements under State law, and illegal impound lots that fail to comply with the City’s Zoning Ordinance or its other Ordinances."

Deldin wrote in the lawsuit that he has "time-stamped photos" showing that police wreckers fail to comply with Michigan requirements that the name, city, and state or the registered mark of the owner of the vehicle be "painted or permanently attached on each side of the vehicle in letters at least 3 inches in height in sharp contrast to the background."

ghunter@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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