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City gets earful over tow contract

HOUSTON – Houston City Council members spoke on the record for the first time since our investigation exposing a Houston Safe Clear company towing drivers and allegedly overcharging them thousands of dollars.

"I asked you to delay the vote," said Jason Flatt, who appeared before City Council Tuesday afternoon. "You didn't listen. You passed it anyway."

Flatt was one of several people who warned the council last November that some of the companies vying for Safe Clear contracts had bad records and long lists of violations with the state. One of the companies he was referring to was USA Auto Collision Center, which is owned by Richard Gonzalez.

The Houston Police Department raided the company Thursday, arresting Gonzalez and three employees, and charging them all with engaging in organized criminal activity.

"When I saw this on the news, I was concerned," said Councilman Michael Kubosh. "If we could turn back the clock, I think we would all vote no."

Citizens spoke up today because the council is expected to vote to cancel Gonzalez's Safe Clearcontract tomorrow. But some say that alone is not enough.

"There is a cancer in the industry," said Jeanette Rash, Safe Clear operations manager.

"I do not think we got all of the bad actors," said citizen Sue Lovell. "I think there are more out there."

Mayor pro tem Jerry Davis wondered out loud if doing the bidding all over again to make sure Safe Clear companies are clean is fair to those businesses.

“The problem I have is turning right back around and changing it up (and) not allowing them to fulfill their contract when money has been invested by the companies,” Davis said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from Gonzalez before he was mayor, stayed quiet during the entire discussion. Councilman Dwight Boykins, who spoke highly of Gonzalez and his company the day before the vote last year, said he felt he was unfairly targeted by the media for being included in this story.

Channel 2 obtained a copy of the Safe Clear contract between the city and the Safe Clear vendors. It says the city can cancel the contract for any reason at any time without giving the cause.