Lawmakers try to give owners crack at regaining dealerships

Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 11:23 p.m.

When financial trouble forced General Motors to set adrift hundreds of its dealers in May, the sting was felt in High Springs, where Jim Douglas Chevrolet was forced to surrender its GM franchise.

But federal lawmakers, including two who represent Alachua County and North Central Florida, are trying to give owners like Jim Douglas a crack at regaining their dealerships.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Maffei, D-N.Y., recently filed a bill that would require Chrysler and GM, two companies that have received government bailouts, to honor franchise agreements that were in effect when both companies filed for bankruptcy.

The bill also would require both automakers, to reinstate those franchise agreements at the request of the jilted dealers.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, last week became one of 77 House Republicans to co-sponsor Maffei's bill.

"General Motors and Chrysler have announced their intention to arbitrarily end their relationships with thousands of auto dealerships throughout the nation. This was done without any transparency, due process, recourse, or a transition period to settle their financial situation," Stearns said in a prepared statement.

The measure also has 125 Democratic supporters, including Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, who represents eastern Alachua County.

Jim Forrester, one owner of Jim Douglas Chevrolet of High Springs, which started selling used cars after GM closed it, said he is looking for another franchise but would welcome a chance to get the GM franchise back.

"I don't think what they did was right," Forrester said. "I'm disappointed we have to have the government to step in to fix a problem that they created to start with. I would want to have an opportunity to have my dealership reinstated."

Forrester was told the franchise's performance was "substandard" in a letter, although that was not defined. He believes the federal government mandated the criteria for closings for GM.

"I had to believe that meant that they felt only one GM dealer in Alachua County could make it," he said. "I wish they had told me that 83 years ago when we started. We wouldn't have wasted our time. We're looking for another franchise, hopefully not somebody involved with the U.S. government."

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