Municipal towing jobs given to company of South Dundas councillor

The towing company owned by South Dundas Coun. Bill Ewing, seen here during an April 2016 council meeting, did towing work for the township during the winter. The municipality was billed for just over $4,000 for the work. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

SOUTH DUNDAS – A South Dundas councillor invoiced the township over the course of the winter for just over $4,000 in towing expenses for the municipality, Brockville Newswatch has learned.

Invoices obtained by BNW through the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act show the municipality was given four invoices by Bill’s Towing & Recovery for towing services between December 2014 and March 11, 2016.

South Dundas councillor Bill Ewing is also the owner of Bill’s Towing on Muttonville Road in Morrisburg.

The township says it “did not hire a contractor specifically for towing but used a towing service to float a sidewalk machine.”

The invoices are from Nov. 12, 2015, Dec. 2, 2015, Jan. 20, 2016 and Feb. 3, 2016 to move a sidewalk plow between Morrisburg and Williamsburg as well as a trip to Iroquois for maintenance.

Each round trip was $170 and there were 20 round-trips, including a trip to Iroquois for maintenance.

The total of the invoices, including tax, was $4,034.10.

Coun. Bill Ewing said he’s been moving vehicles for the municipality since he got into business. “One day, the roads superintendent (Chris Bazinet) came to me, well I was in the building here, and the roads super came to me and asked me whether I could move the machine and what it would cost,” he said.

“The rate that they pay is the same rate you would pay if I moved your car from Morrisburg to Williamsburg…it’s no difference in any rates it’s just an agreement, they asked me whether I could do it, whether I would, sure!” Ewing said.

Ewing is confident there was nothing wrong with continuing the relationship with the municipality once he became at South Dundas councillor and doesn’t believe there is any conflict of interest. “I’m not concerned about it in the least.”

“They came to me and asked me and who else are they going to call to do it at five o’clock in the morning (5 a.m.)? My business is to get up and go early in the morning or whenever you get a call. There maybe somebody else that might have done it but, I can guarantee you they would have been doing it for the price that I did.”

Ewing said he’s received no negative comments from the public about conducting business with the township. “I don’t figure my business should suffer because I’m a councillor. As far as I’m concerned it’s straight above board.”

CAO Shannon Geraghty said the work did fall within the procurement guidelines, meaning the job didn’t need to be tendered.

“Anything over $5,000 needs to be tendered so it’s that one-time purchase of $5,000 or more. It’s no different than our plumbing services. Over a course of a year we would spend over $5,000 in plumbing services but each purchase is below that threshold,” Geraghty explained.

“I put the trust in my director (Chris Bazinet) as far as his opinion and what he feels is right. Regardless of whether we went over 5,000 (dollars) or not it’s still under that threshold per purchase,” he said.

The CAO said the 2016 budget includes the purchase of a trailer to shuttle the sidewalk machine next winter – the towing was a “short term fix…going forward we’ll have a trailer and we won’t have this issue anymore. Would I do it over again? Absolutely! In a heartbeat.”

As far as the rationale for the decision, Geraghty deferred the question to Chris Bazinet.

In an interview with BNW, Bazinet says Bill’s Towing was chosen based on the equipment he has. The director of public works explained that Bill’s Towing had the only flat deck vehicle in the region available that could get low to the ground to pick up the sidewalk machine.

“It’s actually irrelevant that the councillor runs that company. So we were looking for a fast response flatbed to pick up our sidewalk tractor, so, his service mirrored what our requirements were. So at three o’clock in the morning when we call him and tell him we need to move our sidewalk machine he’s there to respond,” Bazinet said.

“That’s the piece of equipment we need, nobody else has that piece of equipment or has that response time,” he said.

Bazinet seemed to be flabbergasted the media was making hay out of the issue. “There’s only one wrecker service here. So if he wasn’t a councillor, you and I wouldn’t be talking about this. I would have used him anyway. It had nothing to do with he’s a councillor, it’s the truck I wanted, end of story!” Bazinet exclaimed.

He says it was a “minimal experiment” for one winter and the township will take delivery of a $6,500 trailer tomorrow to be able to move the machine around next winter.

Bazinet said he didn’t research other towing companies in the area because “there’s nobody else available…the guy’s right beside our shop basically. There’s nobody else around that has a flat deck to pick up a four ton machine.”

During the interview, Bazinet said he was shocked that the media has “chosen to focus on this…it’s ridiculous” and planned to release a statement.

When asked whether Bill’s Towing had access to the municipal department not afforded to other towing companies, Bazinet said it was “irrelevant.”

“You know what? There’s a caveat to this whole thing…his service was awesome! Above and beyond. I’m shocked that everybody’s focused on this minimalist (expense).”

“If I look at it from a global perspective, the experiment that we tried to upgrade the service or maintain the service for the residents of Williamsburg was a success. So now we’ll have our trailer behind our own truck and we’ll know exactly what to do,” Bazinet said.

The director said he always spends taxpayer money to the best of his ability. “Just because it happened to be a councillor, to me, from an a strictly operational perspective, is irrelevant.”

“At the end the day, as far as I’m concerned, as far as the policy is concerned, we followed everything.”