June 27–The Anne Arundel County Council is on the verge of following its chairman over the edge again by meddling in the regulation of towing contracts.
Chairman John Grasso says he has the five votes needed to pass Bill 34-17, which would wrest control from police of the rules for companies licensed to tow vehicles after accidents, or when they’re going to be held as evidence. Councilmen who support the measure say their concern is fairness.
It’s not fair, they say, that towers might have to put 4-inch lettering on their vehicles identifying them as authorized police tow operators. It’s not fair, they say, that County Executive Steve Schuh wants to turn the dispatching of trucks over to a firm that would offer a phone app, help owners find their vehicles and charge participating towers a fee.
Apparently Grasso and his allies think this is enough reason to write their own rules for the program into the county code, making them law and requiring future councils to pass legislation for even minor changes.
Public complaints about the service haven’t figured in this debate, and the grievances from the towing companies cited so far don’t justify taking control away from Police Chief Tim Altomare and his staff.
In essence, Grasso and the other councilmen he has gotten on board want to act on behalf of 29 truck operators — who earn $2.4 million a year for their services. The interests of the wider public, or the possibility that changing the program’s management might improve the service and save taxpayers money, seem like lesser concerns. The legislation, as it stands now, does not include all the rules in the current manual for the towing companies, including training requirements and prohibitions against drivers with frequent misdemeanors.
This is not the first time Grasso has led the council into a decision that seems more about exercise of authority than good sense. Only a few weeks ago, he used his power as chairman to ban the county liquor board from meeting in the council chambers because he doesn’t approve of Gov. Larry Hogan’s appointments.
The frustrating thing about Grasso is that he often starts with legitimate concerns, but then ties his approach to issues so tightly to his ego that it’s hard for anyone to work with him. It happened with the liquor board, and is happening again with tow truck rules.
Altomare and the Schuh administration were wrong in not discussing moves to privatize management of the towing program with the council. But the council, in its turn, should have asked Altomare for an explanation during budget hearings so it could force changes or withdraw funding. Instead, Grasso and Co. seem prepared to break a program that works.
We urge the council to vote down Bill 34-17 and work with the administration to address tow truck operators’ concerns.
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