After lengthy remarks suggesting that the Scott administration was “overly punitive” to a Black businessman, City Council President Nick Mosby found himself alone today when the Board of Estimates voted to terminate a contract with Universal Towing LLC.
As happened two week ago, Mosby used his control of the board’s agenda to allow the tow company’s attorney and owner to question the motivations of Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, who issued a report critical of the company’s handling of three police-initiated tows.
The Scott administration suspended the company based on Cumming’s findings that it had disregarded police instructions to drop off the vehicles at a city lot and failed to run proper VIN checks on the vehicles.
The complaint came from the National Insurance Crime Bureau and Baltimore Police’s Regional Auto Theft Team and was not generated by the IG.
A year before, the inspector general confirmed another complaint that Universal Towing had submitted false subcontractor payments to appear to be in compliance with the city’s minority- and women-owned business goals.
Even though Cumming had found in a separate investigation that White-owned Auto Barn was overcharging the city on towing contracts, some leaders in the Black community have said she was singling out minority businesses.
The Mosby Report
Then came the IG report on the travels and private businesses of Mosby’s wife, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
Some of the findings from that investigation, which Mosby had herself requested, infuriated the couple. Soon the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, together with Universal Towing’s attorney, was calling for “equity in investigations” by the inspector general.
Today, without specifically mentioning the mayor or the inspector general by name, Mosby questioned the reasons for terminating the contract.
“Why this particular vendor?” Mosby wondered after Universal Towing owner Malik Stuckey and his attorney had completed a long Q & A session over arcane aspects of towing regulations.
“What’s the motivation of termination before it’s set to expire?” Mosby asked city attorney James Corley.
“My position is the timing is irrelevant,” Corley replied. “If we were not to take any action, we would be condoning the behavior, which does not deter [others] from the taking future actions like this.”
Matter of Miscommunication?
“My concern is about being overly punitive to a Black-owned business that’s set up in the city that was able to break into something known as a medallion contract after decades of not identifying a Black-owned business function in this arena,” Mosby continued.
“It just gives me great pause and concern that, in the midst of a global pandemic, obviously there was some miscommunication and obviously there was some issues. There should be some punishment, but are we targeting termination for this particular business? And we have not gone back to see if that miscommunication also applied to other vendors?”
After nearly an hour of back-and-forth, Scott’s two appointees – Acting Public Works Director Matt Garbark and City Solicitor James Shea – called for a vote.
They were joined by Scott and Comptroller Bill Henry in the 4-1 vote terminating Universal’s contract.
The termination does not bar the company from bidding on future towing contracts.