WILKES-BARRE – Bitter rivals in the towing industry, Bob Kadluboski and Leo Glodzik III have long shared a dislike for each other.
If city council has its way, they'll also share a dubious distinction: Both will have lost the contract to tow vehicles in the city based on complaints about their business practices.
In 2004, Mayor Tom Leighton terminated the contract of Kadluboski, owner of City Wide Towing, based on complaints he was rude to customers and failed to provide itemized receipts – allegations Kadluboski continues to vehemently deny.
On Thursday, city council passed a resolution asking Leighton to terminate the contract of LAG Towing Inc., owned by Glodzik, for allegedly violating several provisions of his contract, including charging people whose cars had been stolen.
Different towers, same story.
Why have there been so many issues with the towing contract? And what can the city do to ensure they don't continue with the next tower, whoever that might be?
The issue has become a major distraction for council as it deals with a multitude of pressing issues. Council President Bill Barrett said it's time to settle the issues, once and for all. It needs to be resolved for everyone's sanity, Barrett said. There are obviously issues. It needs to be addressed, and it needs to happen now.
Kadluboski held the exclusive contract to tow cars ordered removed by police or other city officials from 1996 until 2004. He paid nothing to the city for those rights.
After Leighton terminated Kadluboski's contract, it was put out for bid, with the award going to the company that paid the most to the city. Glodzik won the contract in 2005, outbidding two other companies by offering to pay $50,050 a year. The four-year contract was renewed in 2009 and is set to expire in May 2015.
Criticisms of LAG went public in July, when Forty Fort resident Mark Robbins began a crusade to expose alleged price gouging by Glodzik.
Robbins, who claimed Glodzik damaged his car when he towed it, frequently attends council meetings to blast city officials for seemingly failing to investigate his complaints. Council appointed a committee to look into the matter, but it met for the first time only recently.
Scrutiny of Glodzik's business practices heated up in the last two weeks after council Vice President Tony George began investigating allegations Glodzik had taken advantage of 82-year-old Natalie Aleo, whose stolen car he had towed.
Barrett, who has been on council since 2004, said during the years he has heard gripes about Glodzik and Kadluboski, the latter of whom continues to operate a towing business that focuses on patrolling private parking lots.
Before this month, the main complaints about Glodzik focused on the prices he charges for tows of cars involved in accidents. Some people complained they had been charged $500 or more, which Barrett previously said seemed high.
In Kadluboski's case, the primary complaint was that he engaged in predatory towing practices for aggressively monitoring private lots and towing unauthorized cars, even if the lot owner did not order the car removed.
In two of the more notable cases, Kadluboski towed an unmarked state police cruiser from a private lot on Union Street and ignored pleas of city officials who asked him not to tow vehicles of people attending a funeral.
Kadluboski adamantly has defended his practices, saying he's only doing the job he was hired to do by private businesses.
Glodzik contends his rates, which range from $125 to $175 for most tows, are in line with the industry.
Hoping to rein in towing complaints, Barrett pushed for an ordinance, which was passed in September 2010, that placed restrictions on towers, including the maximum rates they could charge. It also set an annual licensing fee, and required a tower to obtain the authorization of a private lot owner before a vehicle could be towed.
The ordinance was suspended two months later, however, based on concern over which department – police or code enforcement – would enforce it. The suspension was supposed to be temporary, but no action was ever taken to restore it.
Given recent developments, Barrett said it might be time to reconsider introducing a modified ordinance that would focus primarily on setting maximum rates towers could charge.
George, LAG's leading critic on council, said he's not sure council could set rates for private tows not ordered by the city, but believes it can set maximum rates for any tower under contract to tow vehicles.
There are always going to be complaints, he said. If you have your car towed or I have mine towed, you're going to be upset. But there has to be a limit of what can be charged for towing and storage fees, and when you can start charging them.
George said he's also calling for improvements in how the city police department tracks city-ordered tows of vehicles, which would help ensure people are notified quickly if their car or truck was involuntarily towed, or was stolen and has been recovered.
George, a retired police chief, said the city used to have tow cards that officers filled out whenever they ordered a car towed. That made it easy to track each vehicle.
The computerized incident reporting system in place now does not allow for a police officer to check a box indicating if a vehicle was towed, he said.
That means in most cases the department's records officer must read through the narrative of the report to find that information. That's a time-consuming process and means some tows might be missed, he said.
That creates problems if the city wants to compare the reported tows to receipts Glodzik is supposed to keep to ensure nothing improper was done, George said. Tracking problems also can lead to delays in notifying victims if a stolen vehicle has been recovered.
That was one of the issues in Aleo's case. Her car, which reportedly was stolen Dec. 10, sat in Glodzik's lot for more than a month because police never notified her it had been recovered.
George contends Glodzik told Aleo she owed nearly $2,000 in towing and storage fees, which prompted her to sign over the title to her car. Glodzik maintains the car's engine was blown, and he told Aleo the $2,000 was an estimate of what it would cost to get her car fixed.
Police Chief Gerry Dessoye has acknowledged police were to blame for the delay in notifying Aleo. New procedures have been put in place to address the issues, he said.
As for Glodzik's contract, terms in the document require that the city hold a hearing and give him an opportunity to address complaints before the agreement can be terminated.
Leighton, who has the sole authority to terminate the contract, said he does not know yet if there is enough evidence to seek a formal termination hearing. He first wants to meet with a special committee set up to investigate LAG before going that route, he said.
We've got to make sure there's reason to have a formal hearing, he said. We'll continue to meet and go from there.
The city needs to ensure it follows provisions in the contract closely or else it could face a lawsuit similar to one Kadluboski filed that challenged his termination. Kadluboski's suit alleged the city held a hearing, but did not allow him to attend it to respond to complaints.
A federal judge ruled in Kadluboski's favor in 2008. The city settled the suit for $250,000.