The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Mayor won’t vote on tow fee increase
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said she won’t vote Tuesday on a proposal to increase trespass towing fees in the city because a towing company contributed to her recent campaign.
She said Friday that she has decided not to do so to “avoid any appearance of any conflict of interest.” Dominion Towing South provided an $1,800 in-kind donation for large signs for her campaign for mayor this spring.
Greenlaw said in an interview earlier that she did not feel the need to recuse herself from the preliminary vote taken at the July 10 meeting, at which the council unanimously approved raising the fee from $65 to $125 per vehicle, because the donation was legal and state law allows officeholders to vote in such cases.
She said she worries about setting a precedent that might restrict council members from voting on a variety of issues because those issues could impact one donor or another.
“I don’t ever remember a vote in council where somebody abstained on the basis of receiving a campaign contribution, because it’s exempted and it is for a very good reason,” she said.
“If, in fact, every elected official had to abstain based on contributions to their campaign, they wouldn’t be able to vote on what came before them.”
She said she checked with the clerk of council, who reviewed council minutes and found no record of any council member abstaining from a vote because of a campaign contribution.
The Code of Virginia states that “no officer or employee of a state or local government shall accept any money, loan, gift, favor, service, or business or professional opportunity that reasonably tends to influence him in the performance of his official duties. This subdivision shall not apply to any political contribution actually used for political campaign or constituent service or purposes and reported as required.”
Greenlaw’s campaign erred in the original reporting of the contribution. Instead of listing it as a corporate contribution, it was entered as a donation from Kelly King, an administrative assistant with Dominion Towing who signed the check.
Greenlaw said her son, Wilson Greenlaw, who was the treasurer of her campaign, later corrected the error.
It appears that Greenlaw is the only member of the City Council who received a campaign contribution from a towing company this year. Council members Fred Howe III, Matt Kelly and Kerry Devine did not report any such donations.
Greenlaw said she received more than 100 checks during her campaign from various individuals and groups.
She said she discussed the matter with City Attorney Kathleen Dooley, who also consulted with Maria Everett, the executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.
Greenlaw said she probably should have disclosed information about the donation before the initial vote, and plans to on Tuesday, when the council is scheduled to take a final vote on the issue.
She said she discussed the issue with several council members and said she wants to do “what makes the council comfortable, as well.”
She maintained that the contribution did not influence her vote.
“People that know me know that I am fair and impartial in my thinking,” she said.
The topic of increasing the trespass towing fees initially came up in a City Council meeting in January. It was referred to the city’s Towing Advisory Board to examine and make a recommendation.
That board met on May 16 and recommended the council approve the increase. State law allows a maximum fee of $125, plus an additional $25 if a car is towed on nights, weekends or holidays. A tower can charge for two of those three scenarios at one time, potentially increasing the maximum fee to $175.
Many Virginia localities do not establish a local maximum fee, using the state guidelines instead. Among them are: Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, Westmoreland, Louisa, Orange and Culpeper counties.
Stafford County allows tow operators to charge $100 plus a $35-per-day storage fee for every day beyond the first 24 hours.