Essentially Ashland: By Lance K. Pugh

Who woulda' thunk it? The mayor appointed a Downtown Task Force (DTF) to ponder a troubled bruin, signs galore and our downtown parking policy. The group met, week after week, trying to do their best to unravel a Gordian knot of not knowing, though finally coming to some well-discussed recommendations

Somewhere in the middle of things the issue of how to recoup a few thousand dollars of ignored parking tickets was introduced into the mix. Someone said that the scofflaws should have their cars booted (immobilized as is the practice in some large urban areas), then towed, a process that would cost the car owner many, many hundreds of dollars. At first it was like a feeding frenzy as delinquent tickets seemed the sole focus of the group. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

The city has spent many millions of dollars through the yearly underwriting of the Chamber of Commerce to encourage tourism, which benefits the Festival, merchants and ultimately, the town at large. Yet the city council now seems ready to approve such booting for reasons ill-advised.

When visitors come to Ashland to see a few plays, enjoy our restaurants and retail shops, the want to feel welcomed and appreciated. When they see a car booted next to their own, they do not know the inner workings of our politics; rather they see public humiliation and personal inconvenience taking place in front of a two hour parking restriction sign. They can only assume that Ashland is Berlin in 1936 regarding parking enforcement. They will most assuredly keep their eye on their watches and cut shopping and dining short, lest they suffer the same fate as the neighboring booted car.

We could send a parking enforcement officer to the home of the ticket shredder, as well as certified letters from our municipal judge. Either could basically say: "Own up to the overdue tickets or we will impound your car." Instead of such a reasonable approach it appears that the council wants to make examples of such contemptuous violators of our outsourced parking law enforcement.

I attended all of the DTF meetings. At times many in the audience felt that they were wasting their time, that the council would toss their findings to one side and shoot from the hip, though they had not ground through the issues for six, sometimes spirited, meetings.

From the minutes of the Aug. 11 final DTF meeting: "Kramer/Stromberg m/s (motioned/seconded) that despite the language of the proposed ordinance, the Downtown Task Force recommends eliminating booting in favor of towing with adequate notice before hand. DISCUSSION: Laws suggested including language that notifies the vehicle owner that additional costs will be incurred by towing and storage. Municipal Judge Pam Turner expressed concern with the provision that requires vehicles to be moved to a different block in order to avoid a citation. Mr. Hanks agreed that the City needs better signage on this. Mr. Appicello clarified his staff has met with the Judge and are working to flush out some of these practical problems. Slattery noted the importance of placing a large orange sign on the vehicles 24 hours in advance of the towing. Mr. Appicello clarified this was included in the ordinance. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed."

Well, there you have it. The Task Force deliberated the issue of booting and with an eye towards the greater good of the community, then unanimously voted to ban the booting of cars in Ashland. It would appear that these merchants and community members clearly foresaw how a backlash against booting might work against the town's best interests. It would seem that the council is heading toward disregarding this advice in favor of booting, regardless of the consequences to merchants, whose very livelihoods hang in the balance.

If the members of the council had their life savings invested in a business downtown, I am sure booting would not have a leg to stand on.

(lance@jounalist.com was last seen suiting up for another city meeting, but he was having trouble putting on his boots.)