Company claims Sugar Land played favorites with big contracts

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

SUGAR LAND, Texas - A towing company whose contract was not renewed plans to sue the city Monday claiming the city acted unfairly by blocking some companies from towing contracts and giving others special treatment, the owner of the towing company, Collision Clinic, Inc., tells Local 2 Investigates.

"I've probably lost 50 percent of my business," John Elias, Collision Clinic's owner, said.

He claims each of the companies awarded the new city contract in March got preferential treatment after the city decided to reduce the number of towing companies it calls when a car needs to be towed.

"We really didn't need 10 or 11 towing companies," Sugar Land Police Chief Douglas Brinkley said.

He also wanted to use the opportunity to make the process better for customers.

"We had never checked if towing companies are licensed with the state as required. We hadn't checked to see if they meet insurance requirements,"
said Brinkley.

Many companies tossed their hats in the ring for the new city contracts.
Collision Clinic was not among the five companies selected after a police supervisor checked state registrations and called other cities for references.

"All the five companies on the rotation today got special treatment,"
Elias said.

Elias had been doing business with the city for decades, he said. The city said his registration paperwork did not follow guidelines set by the city.

Elias' attorney claims Facebook messages show the owner of Big Rod's towing, Rodney Rodriguez, who was one of the tow companies awarded a new contract, is friends with the police supervisor who helped award the contract.

The Facebook messages talk about their kids playing ball and discussed traveling to tournaments, but don't discuss a towing contract. Local 2 confirmed the authenticity of the Facebook messages.

Brinkley says there is no problem with a tow company operator being friend with a police supervisor who helped decide who would get a contract.

"Anytime we've had an allegation of misconduct by any of our officers we take that very seriously. We've had a couple allegations of prospective bidders and I have reviewed and investigated all of those and I have not found any wrong doing by employees," he said.

Elias' attorney, Leland Irwin, thinks have friends awarding contracts to other friends is a problem.

"Why shouldn't you have a system that simply from the outset says if you have a personal relationship with anybody who is bidding, you shouldn't be a part of the selection process? What would be wrong with that? Would that mean a fairer and more transparent way of doing things," Irwin said.

Elias is also unhappy that City of Sugar Land's contract rules say the city will not do business "with single business entities, no DBAs." DBA means 'doing business as' and is often used when a company is registered under one name but does business under another name.

Local 2 Investigates found at least one company given a contract, uses a DBA.

Local 2 asked Brinkley to explain why that was allowed.

"I can certainly understand the confusion with the language in the contract," Brinkley said. "It's OK to have multiple DBAs but if you are going to tow for the City of Sugar Land, your license, your insurance, your business license must all line up under the company you are submitting the bid for."

Brinkley said the city process was fair, but next time he will make things more clear.

"We need to be crystal clear in what the DBA requirement is once we go forward," Brinkley said.

Elias doesn't want to wait and reapply for the contracts when they are awarded again next year. He wants the city to toss out current contracts and let everyone reapply.

"I spent a lot of time and money to raise this business. I'll do the best I can. I think the residents of Sugar Land are fair enough to look at the facts and they can make a decision," Elias said. "I promise you, we will prevail."

The cost of getting towed went up when the contract was redone. It was the first cost increase in about 10 years, the Sugar Land chief of police says.

Before the increase earlier this year, drivers paid $75 when their cars were towed for violations or incidents on the roads. Now the cost is $125.

Have you ever been towed? What was your experience? Share your story in the comments section and follow Jace Larson on social media.



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