Mayor was told last year some SafeClear drivers had criminal backgrounds

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It took two more SafeClear-related deaths for city officials to revisit their program (here was the first) to see how tow truck drivers are getting their licenses (via the Chronicle):

The city has suspended the licenses of 16 wrecker drivers who work under the Safe Clear mandatory towing program as part of an effort to tighten rules, Mayor Bill White announced Monday.

Many of those drivers should not have obtained licenses because they had criminal records, White said. They first were denied, but later succeeded through a too-lenient appeals process, he said.

Good grief. SafeClear proponents assured the public when the program was rolled out that a thorough screening process was in place to prevent criminals from being a part of the forced-towing program. What’s most amazing to me is that Mayor White never asked anyone to review the process that licensed tow truck drivers, even after he and Council were told there was a problem one year ago:

Suzanne Poole, president of the Houston Professional Towing Association and a critic of Safe Clear, supports the new rules, saying they will strengthen the licensing process.

“I think it’s going to give it accountability and it’s going to take away the discretion of a hearing officer,” she said.

Poole had complained to the City Council in November 2005 that felons were granted licenses after their applications initially were denied.

Asked about her comment, White said Monday he had discounted Poole as a critic, but that she was right.

There’s some arrogance for you. Mayor White just dismisses critics instead of considering there could be some merit to the complaint.

Again, Mayor White and City Council were told one year ago that criminals were driving Safe Clear wreckers and no investigation was initiated. That’s outrageous.

Now there are new rules in place to prevent this from happening again:

To tighten the process, the Houston Police Department now will require a retired assistant chief to preside over appeals hearings instead of a sergeant. The chief must create a written record of why the denial was upheld or overturned and request a letter of recommendation from the officer in charge of the mobility incident division.

“People were just routinely being able to overturn the decision of police officers on appeal,” said White, who called the appeals process flawed. “That’s not what we intended.”

The rules change also means dozens of wrecker drivers not in the Safe Clear program will have to reapply for their city licenses, White said.

Imagine, a government program that wasn’t running as was intended. Perhaps this time the mayor will make sure the licensing process is reviewed periodically.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.