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Azusa City Tow Truck Benefit Controversy (CA)


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Azusa city manager takes blame for tow truck tax benefit controversy


Azusa City Manager Sergio Gonzalez took responsibility for what he described as a poorly written staff report that left city officials facing off with some residents who alleged the city was trying to hide a potential tax benefit for a tow truck company in a routine coronavirus emergency declaration ordinance.


The ordinance is approved every 60 days and almost always uses the same language, until the most recent approval on Oct. 5, when it included a clause aimed at the city’s three contracted tow companies, allowing them to delay their quarterly tax payments into the new year.


None of the tow truck companies said they needed or asked for this provision.


“To me, it was buried in there,” Councilman Andrew Mendez said during Monday’s council meeting, Oct. 19. “I wanted to get some clarity as to how that happened and, more importantly, how we can avoid something like that in the future.”


Gonzalez said he appreciated the opportunity to discuss it because it was “certainly not easy to explain this in a newspaper article, and there’s a lot of background information that doesn’t show up in a local paper.”


Jan’s Towing, one of the city’s contractors, was about a year behind on their tax payments prior to the pandemic, Gonzalez said.


Jan Qualkenbush, owner of Jan’s Towing, has said the period was significantly shorter, about seven months, and noted that he was current on his payments now and said he never asked for the extension. He will not be using the provision that was supposedly created for him.


Regardless, Gonzalez explained that Jan’s Towing was behind on its payments, and told officials he was having cash flow problems.


“Staff tried to helpful,” Gonzalez said. They “recommended to our finance director to provide an opportunity for towing companies to have a little bit of relief in submitting those quarterly payments.”


Qualkenbush has said, while he appreciates the gesture, this is something that would have been helpful months ago — not now, not when he’s already caught up on the payments.


When the council voted to approve the ordinance, it caught the attention of residents and members of the City Council, raising eyebrows when Mayor Robert Gonzales recused himself from the vote at the last minute, saying he worked for one of the companies, then refusing to disclose the name of the company when pressed by one of his colleagues. 


When asked by this newsgroup, Gonzales blamed it on a poorly written staff report, as did the city manager — something he repeated at Monday’s council meeting.


“The agenda title report could have been a lot more explicit about what we were asking you to do,” City Manager Gonzalez said to the council. “I take responsibility for all staff reports that come to you. The buck stops here.”


The report should have been titled: “‘Reauthorization of the local emergency … and approval to provide relief to our local franchise haulers,’” he said.


“It didn’t have that. No excuses. It won’t happen again.”


He also said he would have fleshed out the explanation for the provision in the staff report, instead of the one sentence it received on the second page.


“It should have been a lot more worked up so that anybody could have seen what was considered,” he said. 


Gonzalez acknowledged that the emergency declaration was routinely approved and said he appreciated it when the item was pulled by Councilman Uriel Macias, saying staff “did a disservice by putting on the consent calendar” as though nothing had changed.


“And, also unfortunately, the mayor could have voted on something that he potentially had a conflict of interest in,” Gonzalez said. “So that’s how it came about. That’s how it came forward to you. Again, I take full responsibility, but we were trying to help out one of the tow companies that was expressing (it was) experiencing cash flow issues. It was not the other two. It was Jan’s Towing who expressed to our staff that they were having cash flow problems.”


Qualkenbush didn’t refute this, but said he never asked for an extension, and is now current on his payments.


Azusa Police Chief Mike Bertelsen told the council all three companies were current with their payments, which means none will be using the provision that led to this controversy.



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With all the horror in the world, why is this so newsworthy in the same manner some law abiding citizens can't make their mortgage payments due to Covid lay-offs? Oh the humanity ! ! ! !  I personally will vouch for Jan Qualkenbush, owner of Jan’s Towing, to say that he's a long-time, upstanding, California business owner and wouldn't participate in anything shoddy or illegal. If the City of Azusa offered the advantage, it wasn't Jan's Towing that initiated the extension. That article was completely unfair, expecially when Covid is bringing small businesses like Jan's to their knees.  Keep in-mind that your newpaper made the statement, "None of the tow truck companies said they needed or asked for this provision." To the media I say, "Shame on you", how about reporting news that isn't poking small business in a bad light as they experience these unprescedented conditions?       R.

Randall C. Resch

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