Working with City Hall
By DON ARCHER
Contrary to what the mainstream media is selling, the economic crunch continues to touch every corner of the nation, leaving towers sandwiched between customers with less disposable income and city governments who refuse to tighten their belts. And ... after being painted as evil-doers for decades, city councils are finding towing companies an easy target, pilfering their most profitable revenue stream: non-consensual tows.
Whether for revenue to fill government coffers and shore up lagging tax collections or to rein in a common enemy for political capital to gain support during an election—the outcome is the same. Whatever the excuse, they use all means possible to take advantage of—and sometimes crush—law-abiding towing companies.
So the question in my mind is how does a law-abiding towing company make it?
Some believe that the only way to get something done at city government is to have an existing relationship with a council member or the mayor, if you're lucky. Suggesting that to get what they want, the most successful are either related by birth or regularly shop at the same retail establishments. Others believe that there are ways to avoid becoming a victim of this abusive system without selling your soul or stooping to their level ... if you know how the system works.
It really is a shame that even local government doesn't work the way it should (if you believe it works at all). For law-abiding, tax-paying citizens the deck seems to be stacked against you. Instead it favors those who run just under the radar; once you've accepted that fact you'll be able to move on.
The first thing you've got to understand is that the people on the city council are just people like you and me. Well, not exactly ... but for this discussion, all you need to know is that they are no better than you.
Most council members fall into two categories: business owners or former business owners and busybodies. The business owners decided to run for the job either because there was a problem they thought needed to be fixed or because they believed that having the title of "Former Councilman" would help bolster their business. The busybodies just didn't have anything better to do and no one else worth having was running in their ward.
Many of these people, having never worked in a political position before, are easily manipulated and must deal with an onslaught of questions and demands from concerned citizens as soon as they take office. So as a result of the continuous bombardment by those they claim to represent, they develop a defensive posture. And within a few short weeks of taking their positions, many have built a wall to rebuff communication to avoid being unduly swayed.
The problem here is obvious. Shortly after taking office the only opinions and facts concerning city matters that get through their protective shields are those of friends, relatives and existing council members.
Unless you fall into one of these three groups, you're already at a disadvantage. If you do happen to get through the layers of protection, everything you say to convince them that your reasoning is sound is still filtered through the nonstop rebuttals of those on the inside, rendering your argument to be labeled as a "Vendor Complaint" or similar.
[SARCASM ALERT] So the obvious answer to the question of how to get things done at city hall, or at the very least how to keep things from being done to you, is to be on the inside from the beginning. Take a proactive approach and become a council member or maybe even the mayor. By doing so you'll be able to create new ordinances that would adversely affect your competition while keeping you and your business high above reproach.
As an example: Say you already have a 10' high, barbed-wire-topped fence surrounding the perimeter of your three-acre lot with lights and state-of-the-art cameras, you could suggest that all towing companies, wishing to operate within the city limits, be required to have the same.
Another approach would be to buy alternating city council members lunch every other Tuesday. Come to think of it, catering a council meeting wouldn't be a bad idea now and again. And don't forget about the city manager.
On the surface, these approaches may sound a bit like stooping to their level, but hey isn't that how things get done in government? [END SARCASM]
All sarcasm aside, the way to protect yourself and/or get things done at the city level is to know the law and continuously be involved. Don't allow fear of repercussion from individual police officers at accident scenes deter you from attending a city council meeting and voicing your opinion. Chances are the officers themselves have a disdain for the political nonsense that goes on at city hall.
Besides ... would you rather your business die while you cower in fear or because you stood up for what you know is right? When you know what lines city government can't cross when creating ordinances, you'll be able to take all the necessary steps to protect yourself.
Don Archer lives and works in Jefferson City, Mo., where he and his wife, Brenda, own and operate Broadway Wrecker, a 12-truck operation that's been in business since the 1950s. Email him at email@example.com