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City seeks competitive bids for towing

Frederick H. Bealefeld, IIIStephanie Rawlings-BlakeKraft Foods Group Inc.

Baltimore officials are seeking to award contracts for the city's lucrative towing business, closing a loophole that allowed a small circle of companies to dominate the $4 million-a-year industry while bypassing the city's competitive bidding system.

For decades, the city has funneled its towing contracts to 10 companies known as "medallion" towers, which were not required to demonstrate that they were best equipped to provide the service or charged the lowest rates. Nor were companies held to the city's standards for minority particpation.

After The Baltimore Sun investigated the practice last year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and City Councilman James L. Kraft called for a review of the process of awarding the medallion contracts.

The transportation department has issued a request for proposals for the towing contracts. Bids are due at the end of April, and the contracts will likely be awarded in late spring or early summer, officials said.

"It's opening up the bid process for the lowest bidder," said Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the transportation department. "The city's model is to get the best competitive bid for the lowest price and we have to engage minority businesses."

City budget director Andrew W. Kleine said the city expects to save at least $1 million a year by awarding the contracts competitively.

The medallion companies were not involved in the city police department's kickback scandal, in which some officers have pleaded guilty to accepting money from a Rosedale garage for steering towing business there.

The medallion companies' group did not respond to a request for comment.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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