Image: The Montgomery County Commissioners Court and Sheriff’s Office have begun to play the game of “towopoly” through the unnecessary regulation of towing companies at the behest of the most politically influential ones, such as Milstead Towing, TJ Knox (EMC Towing), and Dustin Rutherford (multiple towing companies).
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe and Montgomery County, March 5 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court has opted into “crony capitalism” at its very worst and begun to play the game of “Towopoly” with intense regulation of towing companies and the destruction of free market enterprise. The formal action occurred at the February 12, 2021, Commissioners Court meeting on a unanimous vote.
Fourteen (14) different towing company owners contacted The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, over the past three days with complaints about the County’s “towopoly” and the political favoritism both the Commissioners Court and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office appears to show towards favored towing companies. All fourteen companies are a part of the current rotation plan but have requested anonymity for fear of political reprisal by members of the Commissioners Court, the County Judge, or the leadership within the Sheriff’s Office.
What has become rather apparent is that the Commissioners Court action had nothing whatsoever to do with public safety and had everything to do with regulating commerce for the benefit of the politically-favored towing companies over their market competitors.
The Commissioners Court mandated a new towing rotation plan which divided Montgomery County into four towing districts roughly corresponding to the four Commissioners Precincts, North (Precinct 1), South (3), West (2), and East (4). The Commissioners Court mandated fifteen (15) towing companies in the South, West, and East, and twelve (12) towing companies in the North. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office, directed to implement this intensely bureaucratic-overregulation of free market enterprise, has issued a towing rotation slightly different as shown immediately below.
The towing rotation has 11 companies in the North, 14 in the South, 18 in the East, and 17 in the West. The general rule is that no towing company may be a part of the non-consensual towing rotation – primarily for vehicle accidents – unless the towing company is the owner of a vehicle storage facility in that particular zone. Interesting, the Adamick family has three towing rotation spots in the North zone, towing magnate Dustin Rutherford has three towing companies in the North zone, politically-connected TJ Knox, the owner of EMC Towing, has at least two of the East zone spots, and Milstead Towing has at least two of the South towing spots. According to this newspaper’s confidential sources, there are several other family-owned towing companies who enjoy several spots in the towing rotations.
The plan for towing rotations within four districts and the implementation of that plan is a stark example of the principle that whatever government does, government does poorly (other than law enforcement and national defense). In this instance, the beleaguered Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office of Sheriff Rand Henderson now finds itself in the business of direct regulation of commerce. Under the leadership of Captains Tim Holifield, Kenneth Dunlap, Melvin Franklin, an expensive taxpayer-funded computer, and expensive taxpayer-funded computer software, the Sheriff’s Office has attempted to implement the mercurial demands of the members of the Commissioners Court. Captain Holifield made clear on February 12, “we will implement whatever is the Commissioners Court’s pleasure.”
To date, the rotation has been a bureaucratic disaster. A mere six weeks ago, the Sheriff’s Office announced it would begin a towing rotation in twenty-four (24) zones across Montgomery County to replace the random selection chipping system at each accident scene where several tow trucks might appear to see which towing company would “win” the random selection by drawing a chip. The towing companies each would quality under the 24-zone system if they maintained a storage lot anywhere within Montgomery County. Of course, each company would also have to pay a $25 fee for each zone times the number of tow trucks for each company operating in those zones.
A mere 43 days into the implementation of the 24-zone system, the Commissioners Court expressed its ever-so mercurial will and demanded implementation of a 4-zone system instead. As a result, towing companies which had purchased towing lots in order to meet the requirements of the 24-zone system now found that their major capital investments were a waste of resources and actually constrained them to doing business in areas of Montgomery County in which they didn’t want to suffer restriction. Several towing companies purchased lots in what became the West district only to find out six weeks later that they would now only be able to operate in that zone, which is one of the less active areas of towing business in Montgomery County. Similarly, Milstead Automotive will enjoy an enormous competitive advantage in south Montgomery County by excluding a number of towing companies which had previously competed against that company in that market, while TJ Knox’s EMC Towing will enjoy the same competitive advantage in the lucrative and busy Grand Parkway towing area in East Montgomery County.
Many of the towing companies feel that Captain Dunlap, in particular, betrayed them by assuring those towing companies they’d comply with Montgomery County’s new towing policies by purchasing a lot anywhere in Montgomery County. They’re also wondering whether the Sheriff’s Office will refund their fees paid for the 24-zones, but, to date, the Sheriff’s Office is silent about such refunds and didn’t respond to this newspaper’s inquiry about them either.
Captain Dunlap has apologized to a number of the towing companies he misled and he’s admitted he gave them “bad information,” but those apologies don’t help the towing companies to pay their expenses in what are now very limited towing markets, as a result of the Commissioners Court’s economic restrictions.
“It seems like the towing policy was written to protect Amy Milstead and TJ Knox,” several towing company owners told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity. Milstead even went to Austin in June, 2015, to testify before the Texas House of Representatives in favor of a local bill which authorized the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to enact a towing ordinance. Milstead represented to the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures. Milstead told the Committee members when she testified on April 6, 2015, in favor of the towing ordinance bill, that she was there on behalf of the towing companies of Montgomery County. Several of those company owners objected yesterday and told this newspaper “I didn’t even know she was trying to get that bill passed.”
Both the Commissioners Court’s action and the Sheriff’s Office’s implementation of the towing rotation policy would seem to violate Section 2308.209 of the Texas Occupations Code, which mandates:
“The commissioners court of a county in which a list is maintained under Subsection (c) shall adopt policies to implement this section in a manner that ensures:
“(1) equal distribution of nonconsent tows among the towing companies that perform nonconsent tows in the county…”
What has become very clear is that the Commissioners Court’s adopted policy and the Sheriff’s Office’s implementation don’t even come close to an “equal distribution” of nonconsent tows among the towing companies. Rather, the politically-connected towing companies in the East (TJ Knox), South (Milstead), and North (Rutherford and Adamick) have successfully cornered the towing markets and driven out many towing companies who had previously competed against them. As one towing company owner told The Golden Hammer, “Just look at Captain Dunlap’s ‘Tow Company Zone Assignments’ [shown above]. You can see it’s not an equal distribution, because there are 11, 14, 18, and 17 companies in each of the four zones. That’s not equal!”
What adds insult to real injury to the free-market economy is the statement by Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts, who said on February 9, 2021, in a Commissioners Court meeting, “We’re not in the business of regulating commerce. That’s not our job. It’s all about public safety.” But no law enforcement official could answer what the. “public safety” concern might be to require the implementation of the “towopoly.” No law enforcement official, County Commissioner, or the County Judge could provide even one instance when a long line of tow trucks at an accident scene created any sort of injury, death, or danger. There are no statistics available on any “public safety” concern with respect to tow trucks.
Even delays arising in clearing accident scenes don’t seem to result from lines of tow trucking companies competing for the non-consent tow for a wrecked vehicle. Under Sheriff Tommy Gage, the Sheriff’s Office routinely would call the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in to accident scenes to require the state agency to investigate and work the accident scene. Those DPS calls would often lead to delays longer than an hour in clearing the accident scene and in allowing tow trucks to do their business, according to several towing company owners who spoke with this newspaper. Numerous tow trucks would show up the accident scenes, because it took so long for DPS to work them. In 2020, however, Sheriff Rand Henderson changed that policy and how requires Sheriff’s Office patrol officers to work accident scenes rather than calling DPS in to work them.