By PHILLIP KOPCZYNSKI
Gorge News Report
It was a full house during the Klickitat County Board of Commissioner's workshop Wednesday, Dec. 18. Nearly every seat in the room was filled with dispatchers and tow-truck drivers from Bishop's Towing fighting for their jobs. If Klickitat county Sheriff Chris Mace decides to continue using the current towing system. Bishop's Towing employees could face unemployment, according to Bishop's owner, Edgar Holbrook.
Holbrook said he signed a rotational towing agreement with Washington state three years ago but the county has gradually been assigning its primary tow company, Joe's Towing more and more jobs on state roads rather than keeping to county roads. Unlike the state, Klickitat County contracts with one tow company rather than rotating tow companies. Holbrook argues the current system is unfair because it isn't conducive to helping the county's economy thrive. However, during the workshop, Sheriff Mace said the current system has been very successful for three years and he doesn't plan to change it.
Klickitat County's current contract with Joe's Towing as a primary tow company is up for renewal and Holbrook is asking for a change in the system rather than changing the primary towing company.
"I believe it's not good business for the county to single out one towing company," Holbrook said. "What [Mace] is doing isn't illegal but it's unfair and I think it's poor business."
The county sets the towing rates, so Holbrook said it isn't an issue of being the lowest bidder. He claims continuing with the current system is poor business because of the effect it would have on his company and ultimately his employees. Holbrook said if Bishop's Towing is forced out of business by the sheriff's decision, the company will lose six full time employees and three part-time employees.
Bishop's Towing employees aren't the only ones who would be affected. Powers' Motors owner Mantle Powers said if Bishop's went out of business, his business would take a loss. "Basically, I lose my renters," said Powers. Bishop's Towing rents out an office space and an impound yard. Powers said he thinks the county should rotate towing companies.
"To me, the rotational system is the best way to go. Our county should give priority to business within the county and those businesses should be treated equally and fairly," said Powers.
Tom Seifert, of the Klickitat County Economic Development Department, made an appearance at the workshop, telling the commissioners that setting criteria for choosing a tow system should "involve thinking about the job influence the decision will have in the county."
Instead, Sheriff Mace said he considers the public and his deputies when selecting the criteria for choosing a tow system. Part of the criteria for being the primary tow provider is always putting county jobs first.
"We've waited tow to two and one half hours for tow trucks before the current system was implemented," Mace said. "The benefit to the primary tow system is they have to stop whatever they are doing and respond to our request." At the Dec. 18 workshop, Mace expressed that he wished he could include all companies, but the "current system is overwhelmingly accepted by dispatchers and deputies." The dispatcher deals with fewer complaints and the deputies are able to get cars off the road and traffic moving faster with the primary tow system, added Sheriff Mace.
County Commissioner Don Struck told the crowd at the workshop that he feels the current system is fair as long as all the tow companies that apply for the job are given a fair chance.
Mace remains uncertain what the ending decision will be but he said he will make up his mind before the end of January.
Owner of Joe's Towing, Joe Sellers said he "will yield to the sheriff's decision." Although Seller's said his company would suffer a loss if the county didn't renew its agreement with him, he supported the sheriff.
"It would appear that the rotational system would not offer the sheriff's office the service they need," said Sellers.
Regardless of the decision, Holbrook said Klickitat County should hire within the county and if the sheriff decides to continue with a primary tow system, then the company he chooses should cover the entire area.