By Mark Barnes
Rumor control is not often brought up at city council meetings but at the most recent one on June 4, city officials were concerned that a local citizen was allegedly spreading untruths about the city. Discussing what they should do about it, city officials wanted to stress that the Kuna administration needs to assure churches and organizations that what the individual is saying to them is not true. Jokingly, several city council members also mentioned that perhaps a local paper might find some interest in this story.
The story begins almost two years ago.
What is true, both parties agree, is that Robert “Ernie” Terrell of Black and White Taxi caused the city of Kuna to enact a taxi ordinance. That ordinance is at the heart of the issue.
City Attorney Richard Roats said that at the time, the taxi ordinance was put in place to protect Kuna citizens. It was a vastly scaled down version of Boise’s taxi ordinance and its efforts were to make sure that anyone operating a taxi in Kuna would have insurance, drivers pass a criminal background check and operate cars that have passed a safety inspection. Other city’s taxi licenses would also be recognized within city limits.
Despite an April 19, 2011 public hearing in which Terrell spoke for 40 minutes ultimately agreeing that the licensing fees were appropriate and he would comply with the newly passed taxi ordinance, his troubles with city hall had just begun.
According to city records, Terrell missed numerous deadlines to provide records of car inspections and proof of insurance the city required to authorize his taxi license. City records also show that numerous extensions to these deadlines were recommended and allowed by city staff including some request directly from the mayor.
Deputy City Clerk Chris Engels says that over the next year the city bent over backwards to allow Terrell to get his paperwork in order. The city was interested in promoting business, not stifling it through bureaucracy.
At some point he was granted a license but the city says he failed to provide the proper documentation to renew his license for the following year.
Terrell disagrees with the city’s record of events. He feels that the city was maliciously singling him out.
City records document that throughout 2012 it was back and forth with Terrell over licensing issues and his failure to comply with the city’s taxi ordinance and with Kuna city code regarding his operation of his business out of his residential home.
By fall of 2012 city hall went through the proceedings to revoke his license to operate a taxi service in the city of Kuna.
According to City Attorney Richard Roats, Terrell continued to operate his business under the pretense of a church, the Black and White Taxi LLC Church. City officials believe that he thought the taxi ordinance would not apply to a non-profit organizations that offers rides, either free or for a donation to the public. This isn’t the case according to city officials.
“It’s a ministry for me,” said Terrell. “My mission is to help keep drunk drivers off the road and help the elderly.”
Eventually, according to the city, Terrell’s business was cited for violation of the taxicab ordinance of Kuna for failure to have an active taxi license. Terrell pled guilty on February 13, 2013 and, according to the ordinance, is not allowed to operate a taxi business within the city of Kuna for five years.
Now city officials claim that Terrell is spreading false information to churches and non-profit organizations.
Terrell is claiming that the taxicab ordinance requires a taxi license for any organization or person who gives rides to people in the city. According to him, this includes school bus drivers, ACHD Commuteride, the Senior Center and any church that has a van and gives rides to its members.
“He is incorrect, because the churches own their own van and provide services for their own members, not the general population,” said Deputy City Clerk Chris Engels. “Commuteride is facilitated through the transit authority. They already have background checks for those drivers and licensing.”
She explained that rides given to people for hire, donations or free, who are not part of a single member organization, do not fall under the taxicab ordinance. She added that the city has made every effort to make Kuna a business friendly place. “A business license only cost $2.50,” she said.
“It’s a malicious prosecution,” said Terrell. “The city is anti-business.”
“My ministry is just as valid as their ministries. It’s my personal ministry to give rides to people. The five people running this city understand I’m only doing this to help others. Since January 13, I’ve not been allowed to run my business. There are hundreds of people calling me everyday for taxi service. I do this for my community but now I send the business to my brother.”
His brother, Norman, owns and operates B&W Taxi. According to Deputy City Clerk Chris Engels Norman is licensed to operate a taxi service in Kuna.
“I’m not going to lay down and be kicked like a dog,” said Robert Terrell. “My company is going to contact every citizen and tell them they need to overturn this ordinance.”