GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The Democratic "Restore Galloway" ticket is calling on Republican Mayor Don Purdy to cut his towing business ties with the township, alleging a conflict of interest.
Purdy is the owner of DP Towing in the township and is on call - on a rotating basis with four other towing outfits - to tow vehicles involved in accidents or being impounded by the Police Department. He is running for re-election to his Township Council seat this November.
Incumbent Councilman Jim McElwee, who is also seeking re-election, and the Democratic ticket's other candidates, Bill Montag, Cliff Sudler and Mike Suleiman, issued a statement this week alleging that the Police Department saying it is not a conflict of interest to call the mayor to tow vehicles doesn't pass anyone's smell test.
The slate said Purdy "should do the right thing" and end his business relationship with the township.
Purdy said McElwee and the others are playing politics and stressed that he is not paid by the township for his services.
"This is not a contract I'm bidding on. I feel like I'm talking in circles. There is no township money exchanging hands. Towing companies are paid by either the insurance company or the customer involved in the accident or impound," Purdy said.
He said he would never "do anything to put the township, my family or my business in jeopardy."
McElwee said he doesn't think Purdy is doing anything illegal but that it is inappropriate, since the mayor is benefiting financially through the township while he is office.
"This is not a new issue. This has been debated back and forth for a while. The Police Department makes it possible for him to tow cars. As an elected official, you have a responsibility to remove any unethical perception of a conflict of interest," McElwee said.
"A lot of people from the public believe this is a conflict of interest, and we're just adding our two cents. As the mayor he has the authority to make changes in policy that affect his business," McElwee said.
The Democratic candidates said that after concerns were raised in 2010 by residents and Republican Councilmen Tom Bassford and Dennis Kleiner, then-township Solicitor Mike Blee determined Purdy's business relationship was not a conflict of interest. At the time, Bassford told The Press of Atlantic City that he was "philosophically opposed to any councilman doing business with the township."
Purdy said he makes sure to leave the dais during Township Council meetings whenever anything about towing is discussed or voted on to be sure to avoid any perception of impropriety.
"And we don't play politics up on the dais. This shows that he (McElwee) has no morals, and I thought he was in this for the good of Galloway but he's not," Purdy said.
Council on Tuesday evening voted to introduce an ordinance to reduce insurance coverage for those that tow for the township from $2 million to $1 million. Purdy recused himself from the meeting during the discussion and vote.
Purdy pointed out that in 2009, when he first ran for a council seat, he had been towing for the township for about 10 years. The towing service he provides was examined by lawyers during the campaign and no conflict was found, Purdy said. Then in 2010, the issue was re-examined by the township solicitor and no conflict was found, he said.
Purdy said that when on call, towing operators are contacted by the Police Department if there is a vehicle that needs to be towed as a result of an accident or impound.
He isn't the only elected official in Atlantic County that tows for the municipality where he is elected. Former mayor and now Northfield Councilman Frank Perri owns Perri Auto Repair and Towing Service and tows for the municipality in rotation with five other companies.
"Over here this issue still comes up every once in awhile," said Perri, a Democrat. "I am not on a bid contract. This is on a rotation basis, which makes it fair to everyone. We don't bill the municipality, we bill the vehicle owner. There have been legal opinions back and forth on both sides for years."
Political adversaries have filed complaints against Perri over the 21 years he has been in politics, including complaints with the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, he said. Just this year, the issue resurfaced when the Northfield council moved to try to send towing service out to bid so Perri would be removed from the rotation, he said.
Perri said that as an elected official he expected the scrutiny, but he added that both he and Purdy were doing this work before they were elected.
"We were elected by the people knowing what we do for a living. I stood next to my tow truck in campaign literature. It was full disclosure. It's not like we are hiding anything," Perri said.
He called the attacks on Purdy another part of "political silly season" and had some advice for the Galloway mayor: "Hang in there or get out. Stick to your guns or get out."
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