After a year of courtroom fights, Ace Auto Parts has surfaced as the winner of the Camden towing contract.
The appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled today that the city’s first pick for a towing company was right, pushing Original Hargrove Demolition Co. aside.
In February 2011, the city published an 11-page explanation of why it named Ace the “lowest responsible bidder.” Hargrove bid $362,787 and Ace $580,425 for the right to remove and store abandoned, disabled and impounded vehicles for the city for two years.
But Hargrove took the city to court, and in June, Camden Superior Court Judge Deborah Silverman Katz, former county counsel, issued a verbal opinion stating that the city acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in disqualifying Hargrove’s lower bid.
Then Ace appealed, and the appellate court ruled that Katz “mistakenly exercised” her discretion in calling the city’s rejection of Hargrove’s bid as arbitrary and capricious and awarding the contract to Ace.
The court reinstated the resolution awarding the contract to Ace.
The fight for the city’s lucrative towing contract is a hotly contested battle that has come up roughly every two years since the late 1990s, but this was the first time a Superior Court judge ruled against the city’s choice.
Ace has been doing the towing for the city for almost two decades but its always faced competition to get the bid. The company towed about 2,500 vehicles in 2010. In addition to the fees levied by the contractor for towing and storage, the vehicle owner pays the city up to $30. SOME BACKGROUND HERE.
The city previously said it rejected Original Hargrove’s bid because the company did not have a compliant storage facility for impounded vehicles and lacked the proper equipment and experience.
Hargrove’s controller, Kelly-Jo Gripe, previously said the demolition and recycling business was simply looking for new revenue.
Since the June ruling, Hargrove had been towing for the city. When contacted today about the reversal, Gripe said: “We are evaluating our options.”
No word yet on when Ace will start the city’s towing.
“We will take appropriate measures for a smooth transition to ensure no disruption of services,” city spokesman Robert Corrales said.