Question for Dunellen:
How did an unlicensed towing company that employed
Mayor Seader's brother-in-law
get on the police towing rotation list?
The Borough of Dunellen (Middlesex County), like many New Jersey municipalities, grants licenses to automobile towing companies. Those who get the licenses are put on the “towing rotation list” and are dispatched by police when vehicles need to be towed and impounded. Since the license holders are allowed to charge some fairly steep rates for their services and since they don’t have to compete for business in a voluntary market, these towing licenses are often sought after and valued by towing companies.
For calendar year 2009, there were four towing companies licensed by Dunellen Borough: a) Piscataway Auto Truck, b) Majestic Towing, c) R&D Towing and d) Lou’s Towing. (See Resolution 02-16-2009: #6, passed on February 16, 2009.) In early 2010, the Borough revoked the license held by R&D Towing and refused to issue the company a license for 2010. (See the Borough's January 13, 2010 letter.) The stated reasons for Dunellen's adverse action against R&D are set forth in a January 12, 2010 letter by former Dunellen Police Chief Gerald J. Cappella. R&D appealed its license revocation and as of the date of this writing, September 17, 2012, the appeal has not yet been adjudicated. In April 2012, however, the Borough authorized payment of up to $10,000 to retain Hon. C. Judson Hamlin, J.S.C. (Ret.) and James Wronko, Esq. to serve, respectively, as Independent Hearing Officer and Special Prosecutor for R&D’s appeal (See Borough Council Resolutions 04-23-2012: #10 and #11).
According to the Borough Police Department’s towing logs for the latter part of December 2009 and January 2010, R&D's final dispatch by the Dunellen Police was on December 29, 2009. The same logs, however, show that another company--J&L Auto Center--began towing for the Borough on January 6, 2010. According to the towing logs from after February 2010, which are too numerous to include as exhibits, J&L was regularly dispatched as a tower by the Police Department during 2010 and 2011.
There are two interesting things about J&L:
· It employs Randee Staats who is Dunellen Mayor Robert J. Seader's brother-in-law. Staats also served on the Borough’s Planning Board and Recreation Commission. (See Staats’ 2011 Financial Disclosure Statement and the minutes of the Council’s March 5, 2012 meeting which include a statement by Mayor Seader indicating that J&L employs one of his wife’s brothers.)
· J&L was not licensed by the Borough until March 5, 2012--more than two years after J&L was first placed on the towing rotation list. Indeed, Dunellen didn't issue licenses to any towing companies during 2010 and 2011 despite the fact that Dunellen Ordinance § 268-2(c) states, in pertinent part, that “License Required: No tow operator shall operate with the Borough of Dunellen without obtaining a license in accordance with the provisions of this section.”
The fact that no towing licenses were issued for calendar years 2010 and 2011 is evidenced by Borough Clerk William Robins’ February 24, 2012 letter in response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. According to that letter, the most recent meeting at which the Borough licensed towing companies was the February 16, 2009 meeting mentioned above. Further evidence of the fact that no towing licenses were issued by the Borough for calendar years 2010 and 2011 is contained within the Clerk Robins' May 29, 2012 letter in response to my May 18, 2012 OPRA request. According to that letter, no documents satisfied my request for "Any resolution or other writings that appointed any towing companies in accordance with Borough Code 268-2 for the 2010 and 2011 calendar years"
It is possible, perhaps likely, that the Borough wouldn't have issued any 2012 towing licenses if it wasn't for the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s February 25, 2012 letter. After receipt of that letter, the Borough, on March 5, 2012, passed Resolution 03-05-2012: #8 which granted 2012 towing licenses to: a) Piscataway Auto and Truck Repair, b) Majestic Towing and Transport, Inc., c) J&L Auto Center and d) Somerset Hills Towing.
So, the question I have for the Mayor and Council is: Exactly how did J&L, a towing company which employed the Mayor's brother-in-law, get on the Police Department's towing rotation list on January 6, 2010--just a few days after a competing company, R&D, was thrown off that list? Had J&L applied for and received a 2010 license, it would have automatically been placed on the rotation list by virtue of its license. Since J&L wasn't licensed until over two years after it started doing police tows, someone apparently worked behind the scenes and allowed this unlicensed company to mysteriously begin receiving police tow dispatches.
I think that Mayor Seader, the Borough Council and Administration owe the public an answer to this question. On June 17, 2012, I tried bringing this matter to the Borough's attention through a written complaint. What I received in response, however, was a September 11, 2012 letter from Borough Attorney John E. Bruder in which he says that neither J&L nor Mayor Seader did anything wrong.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project