On Thursday, the city of Bloomington used a seven-day out clause in its contract with Ken’s Westside Service and Towing to terminate its contract with the company for public tows. Those are tows that are requested by city police, not private property owners.
The company could still eventually be licensed by the city to do private tows, under the city’s new program regulating companies who do such work.
Termination of the contract for public tows was the city’s response to a self-recorded video of a racist statement posted online by the owner’s son, commenting on the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in late May. In the video, the son says: “That officer did us a favor… Ya’ll can hate me, do whatever…” In the video he’s wearing the company’s uniform shirt—he was an employee.
The officer to which the remark referred was Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who on May 25 pinned Floyd down with a knee-on-neck hold for about nine-minutes, killing him, a scene that was caught on video. It was the event that prompted nationwide protests against police brutality, including the local Enough is Enough march last week and the BLM-sponsored Black Against the Wall Facebook discussion.
The owners of the company, Ken and Kathy Parrish, posted a statement on Facebook saying they had fired their son: “With a heavy heart I have dismissed my son of his duties here with us at Ken’s Westside.”
The move to fire the son was not enough to keep the city from cancelling the contract. At Friday’s weekly press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton said, “We expect all of our contractual relationships to work…well with the city. That contract provision allowed us to exit the contract within the seven-day notice period…We thought that was the right thing for our community to do, and we’ll continue to take steps as appropriate for that.”
Responding to a question from The Square Beacon, the city confirmed that the contract in question is one for “public tows,” which were the subject of recent changes to local law enacted by Bloomington’s city council. Under the change, drivers who get their car towed because city police ordered it, will now pay the same amount to get their vehicle back as drivers who get towed because they’ve parked illegally on private property.
Based on the city of Bloomington’s online records of financial transactions, from 2017 to now, Ken’s Westside was paid a total of $44,755 by Bloomington. (The amounts were: $4,708 in 2017, $9,079 in 2018, $12,998 in 2019, and $17,969 so far in 2020).
Ken’s Westside was one of four companies contracted by the city to do the public tows, according to a statement to The Square Beacon from the city’s legal department. Will the city add another towing company to the pool that is used for public tows? According the city, “We haven’t yet made any decisions about adding other companies to our towing rotation.”
Ken’s Westside could still get a city license to do non-consensual tows for private property owners, who want illegally parked cars removed from their property. The local law outlining the licensing requirements was enacted in February this year.
The new local law is effective July 1. But the licensing application program is not yet up and running. According to the city, “Like so many things, the rollout of our nonconsensual towing program has been delayed during the public health pandemic.”
The new legislation includes some provisions that allow the city to deny a company a new license or renewal of an existing license. They include the violation of the city’s law on non-consensual towing, or a previous violation of a similar law in a different city.
Could the city to deny a non-consensual towing license to Ken’s Westside, based on the racist video posted by the owner’s son (and now former employee). According to the city’s legal department, no: “The situation involving Ken’s is not a situation that would lead to a non-consensual towing license denial or revocation under Section 4.32.060 of the ordinance regulating non-consensual towing.”
At Friday’s press conference, Hamilton was asked about the difference between the decision to terminate the towing contract and the city’s decision not to terminate the contract with a city farmers market vendor, after local activists last year pointed to evidence that the vendor had espoused white-supremacist views.
The city’s reaction to the ensuing protests are now subject of a federal lawsuit. Hamilton said, “It depends on the specifics of contracts, it depends upon the the specifics of actions. …we continue to focus in all our relationships to make sure that we do both, protecting as far as possible the community’s values in all that we do, but also protecting the rights of individuals to hold viewpoints that may or may not be something that most of us agree with.”
The situation with the city’s farmers market is the reason Bloomington’s Black Lives Matter has called for a boycott of the city’s farmers market, and for residents to buy local produce from the newly established People’s Cooperative Market.