Tow-truck owner hoists Reform Alliance morale


Jim Rice, a Tulsa businessman, commissioned a song in support of the "Gang of Five," the alliance of reform-minded Councilors given a majority by the voters nine months ago. Two of those councilors are being targeted with a recall petition by entrenched special interests, whose ultimate aim is to grab back control and have a City Council that will serve those special interests without question.

The song is a parody of the Merle Haggard hit "Fightin' Side of Me" and Homeowners for Fair Zoning has the song on its multimedia page. It's a word of warning to the members of the Cockroach Caucus, and to others, like Mayor LaFortune, who play footsie with the Cockroach Caucus -- don't mess with our councilors, who are doing their best to serve all Tulsans, not just a favored few.

Rice was on the Michael DelGiorno show on KFAQ 1170 this morning talking about why he commissioned this song. He owns Central Towing and Recovery, and he's one of several towing company owners trying to get the city to use more than one service. Right now, if Tulsa Police needs a car towed, they call Storey Wrecker, which has an exclusive five-year contract. Cities as large as Oklahoma City and as small as Catoosa, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol use multiple towing services, rotating calls among them, which improves response time, and spreads the work around. The City Council reformers heard the concerns of Rice and other wrecker owners and put the issue on the agenda to gather information and discuss whether there might be a better approach.

Towing for municipal governments can be a lucrative business, particularly if the towing company has the right to sell off unclaimed vehicles. The Chicago Sun-Times did an investigative series on the City of Chicago's towing business, and found that the city was selling unclaimed cars to the towing company (whose owner is a major donor to Mayor Daley's campaigns) for scrap prices, less than $130 each, no matter how new or well-maintained the car was. The towing company turns around and auctions the cars off at market values and pockets the difference. The owner of the unclaimed car is still stuck with the responsibility for whatever fines prompted the car being towed and for towing and storage fees -- none of the profit the towing company makes goes to satisfy those debts. The system is ripe for abuse and the Sun-Times documents several cases.

Meanwhile, Rice said on KFAQ this morning that he was called at home on his unlisted phone number by Tim Bartlett, an employee of the City of Tulsa in the Public Works department, who pushed for him to support the recall effort against Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. Rice said that Bartlett suggested that Rice's efforts to get city business would be frustrated if he refused to play along.

There is something very wrong about a city employee, protected under civil service with the intention of insulating him from politics, using that position to coerce others to participate on one side of a political issue. Even if Bartlett was calling from his own phone on his own time, it was his position with the city that made his warning/threat to Rice credible. The matter should be investigated, and if Bartlett made such a phone call, it ought to cost him his job. It ought also to cost whoever -- his boss at Public Works, perhaps? -- put him up to making the call.

At some risk to his business, Rice didn't agree to play along with the Cockroach Caucus, and instead decided to find a way to show his support for these councilors who were willing to hear the concerns of local business owners.

Music can do far more than mere words to rally support and boost morale. Thanks to Jim Rice for giving us a battle hymn for the cause of reform in Tulsa.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 7, 2004 11:11 PM.

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