Salisbury Towing Board To Offer Opinion On Changes

SALISBURY — After scraping an earlier set of ordinances dealing with police towing, the city of Salisbury is working with a special group of consumers and industry representatives to come up with a new plan.

Last month, the council was informed by representatives of the towing industry that some aspects of the city’s proposed police towing ordinance would technically be illegal.

Fred Scheler, owner of Henry’s Wrecker Service and past vice president of the Towing and Recovery Professionals of Maryland (TRPM), outlined some of the problems with Salisbury’s plan and offered to help draft a new one. The council agreed and, according to Councilwoman Laura Mitchell, efforts are going smoothly.

“I think we have pretty much ironed them [the issues] out,” she informed the council.

The Towing Advisory Board consists of Police Chief Barbara Duncan, Police Col. Ivan Barkley, Fire Department Assistant Chief John Tull, three representatives of the towing industry, including Scheler, two citizen representatives, Mitchell, Council President Terry Cohen, City Administrator John Pick and City Attorney Paul Wilbur.

Mitchell explained that the composition allows for a wide variety of perspective on all aspects of police towing regulations.

“It [the board] was basically formed to get a comprehensive look at it,” she said. “I was looking for a balance in perspective. “I think we covered every possible perspective.”

Mitchell pointed out that the city was lucky to have the board as a tool and that the council should utilize the advice of its members when shaping the next draft of police tow regulations.

“We’re able to get some of that insight and pull it in without paying for it,” she said.

Cohen agreed that the Towing Advisory Board was a valuable resource, but was hesitant to lean too heavily on its advice. She pointed out that, whatever the final ordinance was, the city would be responsible for it and that it shouldn’t appear as if lobbyists are writing the law. Additionally, she wasn’t sure how applicable Scheler’s input was to the situation in Salisbury, since the number of police ordered tows conducted in the city are a fraction of what’s done in major metropolitan areas.

“We’re not talking thousands of calls here,” she said.

However, Cohen did admit that she was glad to get any information and opinions before an ordinance is drafted instead of after. Her main concern was that there needs to be someone on the board to “present the other side of the coin” to the arguments made by members of the towing industry.

Mitchell reiterated that the level of expertise on the board should serve to craft an ordinance fair to all sides.

“I am hopeful that this new, more inclusive approach to drafting legislation will be successful in producing a product that satisfies the needs and concerns of all,” she said, “but that will require that the rest of the council be open minded and receptive.”

“I certainly support people coming together and talking about it,” said Council Vice President Deborah Campbell.

Like Cohen, Campbell did harbor concerns, but was open to hearing whatever suggestions the advisory board produced. She did state, though, that it might be more appropriate to have the entire council involved when brainstorming recommendations for the new ordinance. However, Mitchell pointed out that it isn’t unusual for the foundations of ordinances to be built with little to no council input, at least in the beginning.

“Many things, most in fact, are worked on away from the council table and then brought to council to refine,” she said.

Cohen asked that everyone remember the city’s priorities in the situation when considering any possible regulations.

“The number one goal is public safety,” said Cohen. “Let’s be mindful of consumer’s pocket books as well.”

The board met Thursday and Mitchell expects a recommendation from that meeting to show up in front of the council within the next few weeks.

In the spirit of compromise, Mitchell admitted that no one group will probably be thrilled by the eventual ordinance that will control how the city handles police towing, but she was confident that all parties involved should be satisfied.

“I feel that everyone else will be content, perhaps happy is pushing it as you cannot make everyone ‘happy’ due to competing interests,” said Mitchell, “but I think they will be content with the ordinance when it leaves our group. I cannot say what will happen to it after that.”