Grumpy's Towing sues St. Helens
A Scappoose towing company has filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Helens for allegedly violating state contracting laws after the city awarded an exclusive contract to a St. Helens competitor.
Grumpy's Towing, a Scappoose-based company, filed a legal claim on July 5 against the city of St. Helens after alleging the city used unfair practices and bias to award the towing contract to Drake's Towing & Recovery in St. Helens.
The lawsuit does not seek any financial compensation, but does seek a judicial review of the city's contracting procedure.
Grumpy's Towing's claim centers primarily around the city's failure to follow Oregon law when publishing a required public notice about a request for exclusive towing services, and also alleges that city staff, elected officials and a city-contracted employee were biased against Grumpy's, which hindered its ability to compete for the contract approval.
Grumpy's Towing became aware of the contract award after it had already been decided in Drake's favor in January, the lawsuit notes. Grumpy's Towing officials then sought public records from the city of St. Helens to determine what transpired, the lawsuit explains.
Through those records, Grumpy's learned that Matt Brown, the city's finance director, claimed to have contacted the Daily Journal of Commerce to publish an official request for proposals for the exclusive towing services contract, as state contracting law requires, but the DJC's public notice manager, Michelle Ropp, did not receive the email and the notice was not published, the lawsuit notes.
Ropp confirmed in an email to the Spotlight this week that the city of St. Helens only published one notice in October 2018, which was for fabrication of signs and a kiosk, and did not receive any emails from Brown.
"Nevertheless, the City Council continued the process of searching for and selecting a towing service provider without confirming whether its public notice was published, as required by law," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit goes on to state that the City Council had bias toward, and a negative perception of, Grumpy's Towing. During a City Council meeting in June 2018, the city's contracted event planner, Tina Curry, of Washington-based E2C Corporation, and the City Council engaged in a conversation about having a preference to use St. Helens companies. According to the lawsuit, one of the council members noted that Grumpy's had a "monopoly" in Scappoose, and Curry noted that Drake's Towing was unhappy about being treated in an "unfriendly" way by the city.
"Mayor Rick Scholl later added that he heard horror stories about 'that yard in Scappoose,' referring to Petitioner, 'to get your car back being rather expensive,'" according to the lawsuit.
"The discussion ended when Ms. Curry stated the following, 'Are you concerned about satisfying people that pay taxes in town or not? That would be my question,'" the lawsuit further states.
Drake's Towing has previously partnered with Curry and E2C Corporation on the city's annual Spirit of Halloweentown festivities.
In late January, Grumpy's Towing was ultimately permitted to submit a bid for services, but Brown informed the company that the "contract with Drake's was to continue 'until this process is complete,'" the lawsuit states.
When a city review panel was convened by Brown, Councilor Ginny Carlson and St. Helens Police Department Office Bryan Curtright to determine who to award the contract to, Carlson and Brown made unsubstantiated explanations for why they ranked Grumpy's Towing proposal lower than Drake's Towing proposal, the lawsuit explains.
Representatives for the city said they could not comment on active litigation, but noted the lawsuit had been turned over to the city's insurance provider, City County Insurance.
Legal counsel for Grumpy's Towing did not provide comment by the Spotlight's press time Thursday.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)