The local towing company that has held the contract with Oak Lawn for village business for more than 15 years almost lost it this week, but received a last-minute reprieve after a tense discussion among Village Board members on Tuesday.
The issue was first raised during the public comment portion of the meeting when Ed Forsythe, a longtime employee of Jack’s Towing, pleaded with the board to retain the company’s services. For more than 15 years, Jack’s, located at 4400 Southwest Highway, has been the company used by the police department and the village whenever vehicles need to be removed from local roads.
Forsythe feared the decision to change towing companies had essentially been made, but urged the board to reconsider, saying it would cause at least two Oak Lawn residents, including himself, losing their jobs.
“Everything we do is for the good of the village,” said Forsythe, noting that the towing company depends entirely on the village for business, and there have been no complaints about service. “I’m 60 years old. What else am I going to do?
Village Manager Larry Deetjen addressed the situation later in the meeting, pointing out the 15-year contract that a previous administration had awarded Jack’s Towing in 2000 had run out last October.
“They have been on a month-to-month contract since then,” said the village manager, asserting that Mike Queenan, the owner of the company, had been notified the previous year a change in vendor was a possibility.
“It is a business decision. It is nothing personal,” he said, assuring the owners of Jack’s that there had been no complaints about service. But he said the 15-year contract was unusually long, and it was time for a change.
He said that he had put the contract out to bid, and a committee, made up of himself, Police Chief Michael Murray, village attorney Pat Connelly, and Steve Barrett, director of the Public Works Department, thoroughly vetted the five companies that submitted bids.
He said that at the committee’s suggestion, TechniCraft in Justice and Walsh Towing in Chicago, had agreed to share the village’s towing business, pointing out that prior to 2000, the business had been shared by at least two companies.
However, the idea of taking the contract away from a local company did not sit well with Trustees Alex Olejniczak (2nd) and Bob Streit (3rd).
When Olejniczak questioned the necessity of making a change, since there had been no complaints about Jack’s work, Deetjen raised other issues.
He pointed out that Jack’s is located on village property, and has not paid any rent since the contract ended. Furthermore, he said the village has determined that the company has somehow managed to avoid paying any water or sewer charges for the past 15 years.
“They are in arrears on utilities,” he said.
Olejniczak agreed that the village is entitled to get any money owed to them, but said that putting village residents out of work is the wrong thing to do.
“You’ve got a good Oak Lawn business here. Why would you even want to change?,” wondered Olejniczak, who had asked that the vote be postponed to allow further review of the process.
Streit spoke more stridently, asserting that Deetjen’s efforts indicated a lack of loyalty by the administration. “The only thing you get after providing nearly two decades of dedicate service to the village is fired,” he said.
“No one has gotten fired yet,” retorted Trustee Tim Desmond (1st). “Try to tell the truth, if you can.”
Indeed, no one did get fired, because Desmond, Olejniczak and Streit voted against the move, and Mayor Sandra Bury sided with them to break the 3-3 tie.
“I just think after all this discussion, we need to look at the matter further and make sure the right decision is made,” said Bury.
Deetjen said his next step in light of the vote, will be to draw up a contract for Jack’s, to be offered for the board’s consideration.
“But the village cannot do business with a company that is in arrears in rent and utilities. It is against the law,” he said.
Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who voted to change companies, said he had no problems with Jack’s but felt the vetting process was thorough and “a 15-year run is a long time.”
“I know “Jack,” (the company owner), and my only regret is that I guess I won’t be going out for any more beers with him,” he said wryly.