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South Bend to open police towing contract for bids for first time in three years (IN)

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SOUTH BEND — For the first time in more than three years, the city of South Bend will seek bids for a contract to handle police towing — a move that comes after The Tribune reported on questions about how the city has handled an exclusive deal with one company.

 

A Tribune story last month traced how the city awarded the exclusive contract three years ago to ASAP Towing & Recovery — the lone bidder — despite other firms’ objections about the fairness of the bidding process. The other companies said they did not know of the city’s plans to abandon an on-call rotation and seek a lone contractor. ASAP, meanwhile, had expanded its capabilities with a larger property and a new wrecker weeks before the city publicly sought bids.

 

The city has twice renewed the one-year contract without seeking new bids, once in 2017 and again this past May, despite a lack of oversight and data on ASAP’s performance. The city does not collect billing records from ASAP, even though the company’s contract gives the city the right to inspect that information at any time.

 

On Tuesday, the city Board of Public Works will consider an amendment renewing ASAP’s contract again, but only until April 2, according to the board’s agenda.

 

The company’s second extension was scheduled to expire at the end of the year, though it was not approved until this past May.

The three-month extension will allow for a new round of bidding, in this case known as a request for proposals, said Mark Bode, a city spokesman.

 

“The contract is scheduled to go out for request for proposals in 2020,” Bode said in an email. “Extending the current contract allows for a thorough RFP process.”

 

When recently presented with some of ASAP’s activity in the weeks leading up to the 2016 bidding process, Board of Public Works president Gary Gilot said it “doesn’t look good,” and that he would be looking into the circumstances of the bidding before he approved the contract again.

 

On the day ASAP purchased a new property in June 2016, the company posted a Facebook comment that alluded to a new opportunity.

 

“Still no final word yet, but we picked up a portion that was totally unexpected,” the company said in a comment. “Still waiting for the slow wheels of government.”

 

Gilot and mayor-elect James Mueller, who was on the Board of Public Works in 2016, have acknowledged the city did not take steps to maximize competition before awarding the contract.

 

Bradley Colborn, a lawyer representing ASAP, provided a statement attributed to company president Paul Walters that noted the city publicly advertised for bids in 2016, and the company has “worked hard every day since then to provide fast, cost-effective towing services for the people of South Bend.”

 

Colborn offered no comment on the reason for the three-month contract extension being considered by the city.

 

ASAP tows upward of 3,000 vehicles a year for the police department, handling a job previously split by five companies on a rotation. The increased workload has led the company to largely cease private work, such as towing from commercial parking lots and apartment complexes, a company lawyer told the city in a recent letter. ASAP has also continued to expand, with the 2018 purchase of about five acres on Mayflower Road that will likely serve as its future home.

 

According to minutes of the Board of Public Works, a police representative in May said the department would like to change the current one-year contract with ASAP to cover multiple years at a time.

 

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This is a great opportunity for tow companies to have that chance to respond to the city's RFP. Be sure to dot all dots and cross all T's as you prepare the bid. Also remember that your should have no inkling of entitlement in being awarded the contract if ASAP or another company does a better job at preparing their RFP or where there are referral fees to be paid to the agency. Take your time in preparation so you have answered all questions thoroughly. Keep in-mind that those who review the RFP know little or nothing about the towing and recovery industry. Accordingly, it's in your best interest to make your's a totally complete package that gives your company the best appearance. And, I didn't note anything in the article to suggest that ASAP was not performing to the city's requirement. Good luck to all in the process.   R.


Randall C. Resch

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