RUMFORD — Selectmen unanimously voted Thursday to allow cab companies to continue operating for 30 days while officials draft an amendment to the town ordinance, which now bars anyone with a criminal conviction from being a driver.

The decision followed an hour of testimony from people who spoke against the town’s ordinance that was amended in 2007 to prohibit drivers with convictions. That provision was only enforced recently by police Chief Stacy Carter, who said the companies must cease operations or find new drivers.

Road Hog Express owner Joseph Downs and Courtesy Cab owner Clarence “Tommy” Tompkins agreed to only allow their drivers with no disqualifying convictions to pick up fares in Rumford during those 30 days to lessen any liability to the town.

“I’m very happy with the way that it turned out tonight,” Tompkins said after the meeting. “I think the police chief did not want to shut us down and the selectmen did not want to shut us down.”

“I’m thinking that if we can all get together and come up with some reasonable bylaws, including possibly getting the bylaws from the two towns that were in the paper today, and seeing if maybe we can use them as guidelines, we can come up with something reasonable,” he said of a Sun Journal story about ordinances in Lewiston and Bangor that regulate taxi businesses.

Many who spoke were upset that the ordinance doesn’t set a time limit of three or five years on cabbies’ criminal convictions from the time that license renewals are sought.

“Out of all them things that are in the bylaws, I think some of them should have like a five-year deal, I think some of them should have a 10-year deal,” Tompkins said.

The angst began after selectmen OK’d license renewals for the two cab companies and a third on Dec. 23, then the applications were given to Carter a few days later to do insurance checks on the companies.

He did that, then knowing about the ordinance, he ran criminal background checks on provided lists of drivers and learned that 9 of 12 from Road Hog and Courtesy Cab had criminal convictions dating back to 1968.

That meant they are barred from operating cabs and is why he asked selectmen Thursday night to revoke their licenses.

“These guys could be out of a job and lose their houses,” Tompkins said. “I think it’s very unfair to pull our licenses and I don’t know why in 2007 and 2008 this wasn’t looked at.”

“Our desire isn’t to shut down the cab companies,” Carter said. “We need them. Unfortunately, we have an ordinance which is the law and we still need to abide by the law.”

“Are you going to put us out of work?” someone from the crowd suddenly asked.

“Yes we are,” Carter replied.

Selectman Greg Buccina offered a ray of hope. He said he found a clause in the ordinance that gives selectmen the option to change the ordinance at their discretion.

“I think there may be a way to give a stay of execution,” he said.

Selectmen then recessed and called attorney Carey and learned that Buccina was correct.

When they resumed the meeting, Buccina said Carey advised them that they can work with Tompkins and Downs to change the ordinance.

“It’s a risk we are taking,” Buccina stressed. “We’re knowingly going to be having employees in violation and we could be putting our town at risk in light of a lawsuit.”

“We need to work with you to be compliant with this ordinance and let you operate for up to 30 days….but we do not condone sidestepping any laws, but I believe we can find some balance and workability,” he added.

After more discussion and testimony, Carter asked selectmen “to move as quickly as possible to limit liability” to Rumford.

Selectmen will work with the owners and
town attorney Thomas Carey to draft an amendment. Then they will convene required public hearings and hold a special town meeting to fast track a vote on the revised ordinance.

Buccina then motioned to allow all three Rumford cab companies to continue to operate until the board can draft amendments to the ordinance and hold a special town meeting. It was approved 4-0.

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During Thursday night’s Rumford selectmen meeting, Selectman Greg Buccina, left, and police Chief Stacy Carter in the background listen as Courtesy Cab owner Clarence “Tommy” Tompkins tells the board that it would be “very unfair” for selectmen to pull his license to operate taxis in Rumford based on a previously unenforced ordinance that makes it illegal for owners to operate with drivers with criminal convictions dating back several decades.

During Thursday night’s board meeting, Rumford Selectman Greg Buccina responds to angry taxi cab owners and drivers, and people who rely on taxis to get around town, who came to the meeting to voice their ire about a previously non-enforced ordinance that bars cabbies with criminal convictions from operating taxis in town.

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