Towers threaten suit over city ordinance

By David Johnston

The City of DeKalb could be facing a lawsuit over revisions of its towing policy ordinance passed by the DeKalb City Council Monday night.

Pat’s Towing, owned by Pat Elliot, definitely will sue the city, according to manager Kenny Elliot. Northern Illinois Towing might also sue, owner Mike Fitzgerald said. He said nothing is definite yet but said he is talking to his attorney because “the city can’t regulate the towing rates.”

First Ward Alderman Ron Matekaitis said he had confidence in the research of City Attorney Jerry Shapiro, which indicated the city possesses authority to regulate the rates up to $45. “I have every reason to believe the reasoning Jerry used is valid and will be proven so,” Matekaitis said.

In a letter to the council, Shapiro advised that under federal law, the city probably has the authority to set rates up to a level of $45 and perhaps higher.

owever, Elliot said the rates the council set are too low. He said the $35 rate is so low it would have the effect of regulating the towing companies out of business.

Elliot also said the city’s purpose in regulating towing in the first place was to get rid of the “fly-by-night” towing companies. If that is the case, he asked, “who’s going to tow at those (the new) rates? … The ‘fly-by-night’ outfits, that’s who.”

“We used to move three cars for every one we towed, but with these new rates we’ll have to tow all four to make the same money,” Elliot said. He said that under the new rates it would cost people less when they get towed, but it will cost them more often. “We’re going to tow more cars now—we have to to make the same money,” he said.

Elliot continued, “We used to let people call in for visitors, but we’re not taking phone calls anymore.” He also said under the new low rates they no longer would “get out of bed at four a.m. (to respond to night calls) or use dollies on cars. We’re just going to drag them out in the street and tow them.”

Matekaitis said, “I think that’s anger and frustration speaking. When he actually gets out there, I don’t think he’ll do any of that … I don’t think the towers are going to engage in a practice that reflects badly on the owner. The property owners are hiring the towers; they do business at the will of the land owners.”

Elliot said not only are the towers losing, but the tenants also are because towers no longer will be able to afford extra services. He said Pat’s has designated certain spaces as visitor parking, but said they would have to limit that parking due to the new ordinance.

The new ordinance requires immediate release, defining it as within one hour of demand. Elliot said this would enable people to get out of paying fees by claiming the tower did not release their vehicle immediately.

Elliot summed up his grievance by saying the ordinance “doubld my expenses and halved my income.” He asked, “How can you expect anyone to stay in business under those conditions?”

Matekaitis said, “Whether the cost of staying in business exceeds what he expects to return is a decision anyone in business has to make.”