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Predatory Practices of Parking Enforcement Agencies Comes Under Scrutiny of Town Council

Boone Police Chief Andy LeBeau speaks to the council about predatory parking.

By Zack Hill

As Boone continues to grow in size, population and businesses, parking has become harder and harder to come by. And though there is a necessity for enforcing parking regulations for residents and businesses alike, there is a growing consensus in the town that the practices of those parking enforcement companies who tow and boot vehicles are becoming increasingly predatory.

The issue was raised at a recent meeting of the Boone Town Council.

I think anybody that’s familiar with this town know that the private practices related to booting and towing are pretty predatory,” council member Dalton George said. “I hear consistently from the town it feels unfair. It’s taking a toll on the businesses being affected as well as the people going to those businesses.”

Joseph Mager is the owner and operator of Wildwood Community Market on Howard Street and was in attendance to speak about the issue.

“We’re adjacent to a private lot so we don’t have parking,” Mager said. “Being there for the last 10 months, we’ve had a front row seat to the practices. And I want to make it clear it’s not just about my business.”

“We have a gentleman who parks on a hill with binoculars to watch for people. I understand this a private lot so that’s within legal limits. What I’m observing is people using that lot and genuinely not realizing it’s not okay to park there. There’s inadequate signage,” Mager said. “There are two signs on either side of about 40 vehicles. If vehicles are parked there you don’t see them and people are genuinely caught off-guard.”

“The companies are currently charging about $160 to remove a boot,” Mager continued. “That’s a pretty expensive mistake if you are just inadvertently using the lot. We’re not just talking about students. A woman from Florida was parked there, was obviously not happy about being booted and commented ‘This is the last time I’m coming to Boone.’ If the signage is in compliance with the ordinances, maybe the ordinances are inadequate.”

“I want to say I was there [Wildwood Community Market] last weekend and I was afraid of boots,” council member Todd Carter said. “I ran in to get only what I needed and ran back out because of was afraid of shopping in that corridor.”

“I think this is something that’s universal outside of this particular lot,” George said. “A lot of these booting companies are acting in really bad faith. They’re paid by the boot so there’s no incentive to have human conversations.”

Boone Police Chief Andy LeBeau cited several incidents as well as a steady flow of calls to the police about parking that can take up officers’ paid time.

“The calls are usually ‘I’ve been inside somewhere for five minutes and now I have to pay $160,’” LeBeau said. 

He also noted that when officers are dispatched the towing company can be in violation of town towing laws such as having an licensed identification badge displayed.

“Just being rude has been a complaint for much of it. But I’ve heard of boots being put back on after a disagreement. But also failure [by tow and boot companies] to respond within 30 minutes and failure to call back within 15 minutes.”

The council discusses predatory parking practices in Boone.

Companies booting or towing cars are required to respond to a call from the vehicle’s owner within 15 minutes and be back to remove the boot within 30, per town ordinance.

“We’ve also seen them not wearing mandatory IDs for towing,” LeBeau said. “A woman who had parked in the designated parking for The Local alleged she had a 3-year-old with her, was early and didn’t want to wait for her party to arrive. She left to walk the street first, went back to The Local and ate, spent $100 and had a boot on because she didn’t go directly into the business.”

He cited another story in which a pastor went to The Local to eat and was booted.

“He dropped off a piece of paper two doors down, goes to The Local to eat, and is booted,” LeBeau said. “We do hear about a lot of things. We have to referee a lot of them. We’ve reviewed some body camera footage and understand why people are angry. A lot of times police intervention is needed just to keep the peace.”

“I can tell you that for quite some time we are the complaint department for this. We investigate [the towing companies] and if there’s a clear violation we charge them for it.”

“Booting a lady walking a three-year-old before going in the restaurant is just bad faith,” Carter said.

“The people who work for the company work on a contractual basis and get paid by the boot, and they certainly have an incentive for volume,” LeBeau said.

Mayor Tim Futrellle said he’d like to see some metrics on the loss of revenue for the businesses affected and subsequently the tax revenue for the town.

“I want to see the real effect of it,” Futrelle said. “Bottom line is when our businesses are losing out we’re losing out, and on top of that, the town is losing out.”

“This is a matter of what’s right and wrong, and this predatory practice is wrong,” council member Edie Tugman said.

“We’re paying police to subsidize the work these guys are doing in bad faith,” George added.

Council members also noted there’s often a $20 additional charge for a customer using a credit or debit card to pay for the removal of the boot when the cost of the running the transaction for the booting company is far less.

“Frequently the town takes it on the chin because people say they’re not coming back because of how they’re treated,” town attorney Allison Meade said. “I think we could consider adding a new signage requirement that says something along the lines of this is not a public lot.”

The council agreed to take the matter up for further investigation and potential action.

High Country Press will continue to follow this story and provide updates.