The contract between Monroe County and Ken’s Westside Service and Towing has been terminated by Monroe County’s board of commissioners under a 30-day out clause.
The contract is for “vehicle maintenance, repair, inspection and towing services, on an as needed basis, for the non-heavy duty Monroe County Fleet vehicles.”
The contract can be terminated by either side with 30 days written notice, which the county’s three commissioners approved unanimously at their regular meeting on Wednesday. Based on the action of the county commissioners on Wednesday, the contract will end on Aug. 6.
The reason for the termination was a self-recorded video of a statement posted online by the owner’s son in mid-June 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. It was the event that prompted nationwide protests against police brutality, including the local Enough is Enough march in Bloomington 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.”
Why did the county commissioners wait until the end of the the first week in July to act on termination of the contract?
President of the board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, told The Square Beacon after the meeting that staff in the county commissioners office and the legal department had received re-assurances from the owners shortly after the time of the social media posting. But since then, commissioners had heard a lot of support from their constituents for termination of the contract, Thomas said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioner Lee Jones said they’d been “wrestling” with the decision for a while. They decided it was the best course to take, “especially at a time when emotions are running high,” she said. Jones also said there was a lot of public support for termination of the contract.
The allusion by Jones to emotions running high was a reference to renewed demonstrations and protests against racism that took place locally on Monday and Tuesday at the courthouse square, prompted by recent local incidents.
On Sunday, Vauhxx Booker, who is an activist and a member of Monroe County’s human rights commission, posted to Facebook a video showing parts of an incident at Lake Monroe on July 4. The video shows him being held down against a tree trunk by a white man who would not let him go. According to Booker, the man told his comrades several times to “get a noose.”
Another episode came the day before the incident involving Booker as the target of a racist attack at Lake Monroe. A Black man, Darwin “Dee” Davis Jr., posted a video to Twitter of himself being stopped walking in his own Bloomington neighborhood for questioning by an off-duty sheriff’s detective.
When Davis told the detective, who was wearing a Bloomington South T-shirt, that he played basketball for South and had won state championships for the school, the detective did not appear to recognize him. One headline from a 2011 H-T article read “Davis no-brainer as player of the year“.
During public commentary at Wednesdays meeting, Janna Arthur told commissioners they should not have needed to “wrestle” with the decision. She also said they should have found a way to get the contract terminated before Aug. 6.
Also during public commentary, Nathan Mutchler told commissioners their decision was a step in right direction, but not “a destination.” Mutchler told commissioners they should investigate what whether there are contractors used by the county that employ racists. Mutchler also wants them to investigate whether there are county employees who post hate speech to social media websites.
Speaking for herself, and not the other commissioners, Thomas told The Square Beacon that she felt that if Ken’s Westside demonstrated good citizenship, eventually a contract with the business could be reconsidered.
In the meantime, though, the county needs to look for another business to handle the kind of routine maintenance that the contract covers, county attorney Jeff Cockerill told The Square Beacon.
That contrasts with situation the city of Bloomington was in back in mid-June, when it cancelled its contract with Ken’s Westside over the same social media posting by the owner’s son.
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. According the city, “We haven’t yet made any decisions about adding other companies to our towing rotation.”
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).
The contract that was terminated by commissioners on Wednesday was signed on April 29 this year. Since that time, $16,608.42 has been paid to Ken’s Westside for various kinds of work, according to records provided by the county auditor’s office.
The contract specifies hourly rates for different categories of work like mechanical repairs at an $75 an hour. Parts mark-ups can’t be more than 30 percent on any single part and can’t be more than $500 total, per part.