|"If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." |
Beach Towing attorney Ralph Andrade and Miami
Beach Commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Góngora.
In a little more than three months from now - on Nov. 5 - Miami Beach voters will go to the polls to elect a new mayor.
Three of the candidates are well-known to Beach voters: current commissioners Jerry Libbin and Michael Góngora and comedian Steve Berke. Long-time Beach businessman Philip Levine is not that well known.
So far, we haven't heard that much from the candidates.
But, generally speaking, their positions on the issues are pretty much identical.
According to their websites, they're all for strong leadership and against corruption at City Hall. Further, the candidates tell us they "care about Miami Beach," that they're "diligent workers" and "active members of the community." What's not to like?
You'll know that their campaigns have shifted into high gear and that election day is near when they start the name calling and your mailbox starts filling up with negative campaign mailers.
And while you may not live in Miami Beach, you should pay close attention to this election. Especially if you ever drive a car to Miami Beach and park it anywhere on Miami Beach's 7.2 square mile strip of real estate.
And, if you're a Miami Beach taxpayer who's tired of seeing your money being wasted, you'll want to pay close attention to the next few paragraphs.
Last May, I wrote a post for this blog that took an in-depth look at Miami Beach's two towing companies. Companies that engage in, what one Miami Beach cop once told me was "legalized auto theft."
I found that the towing companies have been able flourish over the years with help from lobbyists, a few former Miami Beach mayors and a succession of politicians and public servants who work out of a building at 1700 Convention Center Drive.
As I researched the post, a few paragraphs from a 2005 Miami Herald story jumped out at me:
In 2004, calls to police for assistance reached a new high: 958 calls from irate customers and towing employees alike. By comparison, the police received 614 calls in 2000. The number has grown steadily since then."My curiosity piqued, I submitted a public records request to Miami Beach PD for a list of calls received and dispatched to Miami Beach's two towing companies in 2012.
The calls and the complaints have become a public relations dilemma for the city and a drain on police.
"It definitely takes away from our resources, especially because we have to often send two officers to respond to a call," said police spokesman Bobby Hernandez.
Last week I received the lists and I've embedded them below. The total number of calls dispatched to both Beach and Tremont Towing in 2012 was approximately 768.
A close look at the lists reveals that many of the calls dispatched are what police designate as a "34." (Listed as "call type" in the third column of the embedded documents.) That's police radio code for a disturbance that covers everything from a customer arguing loudly with a clerk to a fist fight.
In those cases, police dispatchers are required to dispatch two units for officer safety. And, as Beach police spokesman Hernandez said in 2005, "it definitely takes away from our resources."
Earlier this week, Hernandez told me in a phone interview that the 768 calls dispatched doesn't reflect that actual number of calls received by his department from the victims of the towing companies. In many cases, Hernandez told me, complaint desk personnel are able to convince callers that the police can't do anything to help them get their car back.
"We tell them that once their car has been towed, their only option is to pay and then take the tow company to court," Hernandez told me. "But if they insist, we have to dispatch a unit," said Hernandez.
If you're a Miami Beach resident and taxpayer; even if you've never had your car towed, you also pay.
Two units answering a call at a tow company means there are two fewer units on the streets protecting citizens.
Multiply that by 768 times, year in and year out, and you start see the tremendous drain on resources these two companies create annually. Who pays for this? You, the taxpayer. Not the towing companies.
But, for the companies it's been business as usual: They've been rewarded with a virtual monopoly and rate increases guaranteeing them huge profits and no competition.
So, I wondered, what do the four candidates running for mayor have to say about this waste of taxpayer money?
Earlier this week, I reached out to all four by phone and email and asked this question:
In any other town, if cops were called this many times to a business, the Nuisance Abatement Board would shut them down.
As a candidate for mayor, does it concern you at all that Miami Beach police have been dispatched more than 700 times to just two businesses in the City of Miami Beach?
Here are the responses, in alphabetical order, from each candidate:
Steve Berke: As a candidate for mayor, I'm extremely concerned that the City of Miami Beach seems to be partnered with two towing companies that have a horrendous history of using threats, extortion, and other bullying tactics as part of their daily business. Unfortunately, my car has been towed by both Beach and Tremont towing, so I have personally experienced some of these ruthless practices. Both companies hire thugs for drivers who berate and intimidate both our residents and the tourists who come to visit our city. To make matters worse, many of these employees have developed inflated egos due to the reality show "South Beach Tow" which seems to glorify their thuggish behavior. Not only does it leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but the amount of police that have been dispatched to deal with these companies is a waste of our taxpayer's money. What's surprising is that the commissioners seem to be complacent with the current system. If I am elected mayor, I would immediately look into reforming the current system because our residents definitely deserve better.
Michael Góngora: Did not respond to my phone calls, text messages or emails. However, last April he told me that the towing companies are a "horrible, necessary evil."
Philip Levine: Towing on Miami Beach is a long-standing policy and necessary public service in our city. We're on an island and our private and public space is limited. Many of our residents pay parking permit fees and for their quality of life illegal parking and towing is something that must be enforced simply as a matter of fairness. However, should I become Mayor, I will conduct a thorough assessment of all city services and operations during the first 90 days. During the course of that review, should I uncover a problem with the towing vendors I will implement corrective actions forcefully and fairly, including any necessary sanctions upon them in accordance with our city code.
Jerry Libbin: Did not respond to several email requests for a comment.