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Civic Skinny

Towing company says County supervisor’s actions cost him contract. Women only on DMPS board. Eateries lose $1.4 billion to COVID-19.


After losing a Polk County towing contract despite being the lowest bidder, towing operator Randy Crow, owner of Crow Tow, wrote to CITYVIEW to speak out against the Polk County Board of Supervisors, who he says is steering Polk County in the wrong direction.

“Recent news regarding the Polk County Supervisors being named in a lawsuit filed by a former county executive, coupled with my own experiences with the supervisors, makes me think it’s time for taxpayers to take a much closer look at who is representing them,” Crow wrote.

“On Sept. 4, 2020, at 12:04 p.m., Crow Tow received a phone call that was recorded from a property manager that had multiple vehicles illegally parked in their fire lane. They asked us to come remove vehicles, as allowed by law and posted parking regulations. Our driver showed up at 12:17 p.m. to request that people move cars into the garages, metered spots or somewhere else. The first three people moved their cars to the street immediately. The fourth person ran out of the garages yelling at the driver that he was a county supervisor and that he controlled the contract for the county. Our driver accurately stated, ‘Even county supervisors cannot park in the fire lane.’ The person in question was visibly upset but drove away without being towed. Upon learning of the conversation with this particular supervisor, I called them to share why the Crow Tow driver was dispatched and reminded them the property can be fined for having fire lanes blocked. Unfortunately, this supervisor refused to listen to any information I had to provide, called me a liar and then proceeded to go on their personal social media page to make false statements about my company.”

Crow went on to explain that, when Polk County was seeking bids for a new towing contract set to begin on July 1, 2021, “We successfully navigated the RFP process and received an ‘intent to award’ letter on May 27 from the county — all subject to an in-person, business process meeting with administration staff.” Crow says that meeting occurred on June 8, during which time they received “positive feedback from county officials, who said we had done a great job over the years and there were no complaints.”

Crow says by June 24, this changed, as he received an email rescinding the county’s award.

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“I called right away to inquire about the change and was told it was because of an open records request by the press and an online petition, both of which the official admitted he had not read nor considered prior to the initial decision to award the contract. How did we go from being a reliable and respected provider of towing for Polk County the past 14 years and the best choice for the new contract to being persona non grata? Enter the Polk County Supervisors — more specifically, the supervisor involved in the towing incident last fall.”

Crow claims that, after pressing for more answers, county employees confirmed this particular supervisor insisted the contract go to anyone but Crow Tow. 

“County officials in their own documents insisted it should be Crow Tow based on RFP criteria, past performance history, infrastructure and current resources,” Crow shared. 

No one likes to get towed, Crow admits, not even him. “But we’re in the business of non-consensual towing, and we’re used to people being upset. But is this the type of person Polk County residents want representing them?”

Crow says the supervisors should never directly oversee bidding and procurement. Instead, he says, it should stay in the hands of the administration, so as to “keep backroom deals and politics out of any decisions.” 

Tom Hockensmith is the supervisor who was involved in the aforementioned fire lane incident with Crow Tow, but his version of events is different from Crow’s.

According to the supervisr, two small packages had been delivered to his daughter’s townhome earlier in the day. Since she couldn’t get to them, he’d been dispatched to stop by and move them to the garage.

“I’m there (in the fire lane) for 30 seconds,” he says. “The car was still running.”

After a tow truck pulled up, Hockensmith says he tried to explain the situation, but the tow truck operator was “threatening in nature.” The experience isn’t one he’d like to repeat.

As to Polk County’s RFP process and the circumstances surrounding the County towing contract:

“This (incident) had no relevance on the contract,” he insists. While the procurement office did recommend Crow Tow as the low bidder, according to Hockensmith, it is the procurement office’s job to determine which bidders can realistically fulfill a given contract, and out of those, they are ranked in order starting with the one that would be the best value. But the Board of Supervisors is in place to exercise a different kind of judgment. The board’s job is to determine which bidder is the most responsible and not just which is the lowest priced. 

Hockensmith points to Crow Tow’s “F” rating by the Better Business Bureau — which has since been changed to an “A” — and an array of online complaints as reasons for why he preferred to opt for the next lowest bidder on the list.

“Our responsibility is to determine if they (the lowest bidders) are responsible. I did not and neither did the rest of our board,” he says. The Polk County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to award its contract to G & S Towing Service. …

The Des Moines Public School Board (DMPS) consists of women only for the first time in its history as a result of this past November’s election of three new members: Maria Alonzo-Diaz, Jenna Knox and Jackie Norris.

Iowa hospitality establishments lost an estimated $1.4 billion due to COVID, according to Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of Iowa Restaurant Association in the Food & Beverage Iowa Business Quarterly. Further, according to a September survey from her organization that asked operators about their recovery, 50% of respondents were still below 2019’s revenue numbers; only 16% are significantly ahead of 2019. The problem, in part, is an inadequate workforce.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, almost 70,000 leisure and hospitality workers were temporarily laid off,” writes Dunker. “By the end of 2020, it appeared our industry had lost around 25,000 jobs.”

Iowa eateries have expressed an appetite to hire many of these workers back, but, apparently, they can’t be found. More than half of the survey’s respondents cited the inability to find workforce and/or afford wages as the No. 1 impediment to recovery.

With that being said, “Consumer demand is sky-rocketing,” according to Dunker. “People want to come out to enjoy life again. For those choosing to work in our industry, wages have never been higher.” ♦

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