Mayor calls for refunds after cars towed during Johnson City Christmas tree lighting

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – While people celebrated Johnson City’s Christmas tree lighting earlier this month, several Label Restaurant bartenders and servers worked their shifts only to spend the money they earned getting their towed cars back.

“It didn’t pay at all to come to work that day,” bartender/server Mary Reams said. “I spent everything I made getting my car the next morning out of the towing service. It makes me very angry and very sad.”

Her co-workers Lyndsy Roberts and Becca Kinsler can relate. They both also parked on Buffalo Street on Friday, December 1 and said they both paid more than $100 apiece to get their cars back.

“That made me feel like I paid to work that night,” Roberts said. “There was no communication whatsoever about us being towed.”

“That was my entire evening’s worth of tips,” Kinsler said. “If you can see a pattern with people being towed, then obviously there was some form of miscommunication.”

Not everyone agrees. The Johnson City Development Authority insists the agency provided more than adequate notice ahead of the tree lighting event.

“Not sure there is really a story here,” Downtown Development Director Dianna Cantler said. “I feel we followed protocol on making sure people saw the street was being closed, parking was not allowed and cars would be towed.”

Cantler said crews put up paper signs on power poles with warnings on Thursday afternoon. According to the city, crews put up official signs Friday morning.

“We try to make sure they are replaced if we find they get torn down, however, the signs the city put out could not be moved, so I know they were there as well,” Cantler said. “I really believe the notice was more than adequate. Another side of this story might be, should downtown business owners encourage their employees not to take the closest parking spaces to where they work, but leave them for customers?”

Neither Roberts nor Kinsler said they saw those signs. They believe cars likely blocked the official signs.

“There normally will be flyers on cones and flyers on these light poles,” Roberts said. “There was no paper that I could see.”

“No visible sign,” Kinsler said. “I just feel like if more people had been informed properly, it wouldn’t have been such a large issue.”

Reams said she didn’t see any signs either.

“If there was better communication, I don’t think it would’ve been such a problem,” she said.

Mayor David Tomita says after talking to the owner of Label, he asked the city to create a task force, not to place blame, but instead to make sure there’s a policy in place that outlines who’s responsible for notifying the public and who decides if and when to start towing cars.

“It is not the first time that I’ve heard that perhaps we needed a little clearer policy, a little clearer marking, different colored signs,” the mayor said. “Then, I just don’t think just because we can tow them we necessarily do.”

The mayor, who’s pushing for refunds, says two fellow commissioners have already offered up money to help cover some of the expenses. He hopes it doesn’t come to that, but added, “We’ll find a way to make it right.”

 “I feel particularly bad for the folks, because it’s Christmas time,” Mayor Tomita said.

Commissioner Van Brocklin said he feels “badly” for the three employees.

“I am not sure what the postings looked like – I suspect that it was posted, but there have been issues with towings occurring in the downtown in the past that have had more to do with signage that was not readily apparent than with willful disregard,” Commissioner Van Brocklin said. “I remember what it was like when I was a student – I would have been impacted very negatively if I had had to pay a tow ticket. I feel badly for the three from Label who were towed – so, will assist a bit.”

Commissioner Fowler called this an “unfortunate situation.”

While the JCDA maintains the agency did more than required for notifying the public in this case, the downtown development director told us members can discuss this situation at its event wrap up meeting this week.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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