Towing service’s connection to Vidalia police chief not illegal

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, February 11, 2009

VIDALIA — The Vidalia Police used a wrecker service owned by the police chief’s step-brother, but that isn’t in violation of any state ethics laws.

The issue first came up Monday night when Police Juror Willie Dunbar voted against granting an occupational license to Cass Butler, owner of A-1 Towing.

Dunbar voted against granting the license because Butler is Vidalia Police Chief Ronnie G. “Tapper” Hendricks step-brother, and Dunbar said he did not want to see the chief’s step-brother put into the police wrecker rotation.

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The Vidalia Police use A-1 Towing, but Hendricks said he checked with the state ethics board before putting them into the rotation.

“I’m not going to get in trouble over some towing service,” Hendricks said.

In December, the Louisiana Board of Ethics released an advisory opinion regarding the matter, and it stated that A-1 could be placed on the rotation.

State law prohibits the immediate family members of public servants from bidding on or entering into contract with an agency or department under the supervision of the public servant.

The opinion states, however, that the definition of immediate family member does not extend to step-family.

“It would not be prohibited because step-sibling does not fit into the definition of immediate family,” Ethics Board Staff Attorney Courtney Jackson said. “If it was a blood brother, that would be different.”

A-1 Towing has been in business for approximately one year, and Butler said he has always been the sole owner of the business.

“I own it 100 percent,” Butler said. “I am 27 years old, and the bank was going to laugh at me if I went in there and said, ‘I want to buy a $60,000 wrecker.’ My (step-father and “Tapper” Hendricks’ father Ronnie Hendricks) just went there and co-signed with me.”

When he took over as police chief, there was only one towing service in use, Hendricks said.

Along with A-1, there are currently two other wrecker services in use by the Vidalia Police Department, Barlow’s Wrecker Service and Fred’s Wrecker Service.