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BOC bans car-booting within the county

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In the wake of an incident, in which several government workers' cars were booted outside a local bowling alley, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) have banned the use of vehicle immobilization devices within the county.

The board of commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday -- with Commissioner Michael Edmondson opposed -- to adopt the new ordinance. The measure makes it illegal for private companies to enforce parking restrictions, using car boots or other immobilization devices.

According to county officials, the ordinance stems from a July 22 incident in which nearly 20 people, most of them employees of the Clayton County Juvenile Court, were booted during a quarterly bowling outing at Pin Strikes Entertainment Center in Stockbridge.

The new ordinance established a definition for booting devices and declared that "the immobilization (booting) of vehicles by private companies leads to unnecessary anger, conflict, a drain on public safety resources better spent elsewhere, and does not resolve the issue of the improper use of a parking space."

The ordinance further states that, "It shall be a violation of this ordinance for the owner of real property or a person or other entity that rents, leases or is otherwise in control of real property to authorize, allow, or cause an operator vehicle immobilization service to boot any vehicle located on the real property."

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell, who sponsored the resolution, said other local governments have banned booting because of the complications associated with it. He said he believes booting puts citizens at a "serious disadvantage."

"We have wrecker services in this county that we control, and those owners of private parking lots can employ those services and they accept checks, they accept credit cards ... a lot of times these people only want cash," Bell said. "Our employees were parked at a facility. They [the booting company] put the signs up and then booted the cars. All of the other counties, including the City of Atlanta, that have booting, have had difficulty because of the methodology they use, not being controlled by the state or the local government.

"All of the people I know are getting out of the business," he said, "and I suggest that we not go into the business."

BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph sided with Bell and said that citizens should not be forced to fork over cash to an unregulated business. "I think that when somebody gets booted, they are at a strategic disadvantage," Ralph said. "They come back and find a boot on their car and find somebody that is demanding payment. Trying to get contact information from them can be difficult. You're literally held hostage and forced to surrender dollars for something that there is absolutely no regulation for in this county."

Edmondson, who disagreed with the ordinance, said that the county has not had a history of problems associated with booting and worried about the effect the ordinance would have on "free enterprise."

"I'm not aware of any problems that we have had in the county with booting," he said. "I'm wondering why we are making rules when we don't have a problem."

In a separate action, during the BOC's meeting on Tuesday, Ralph implored the board to inquire about the status of a letter sent last week to Gov. Sonny Perdue, concerning the actions of Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin. During the meeting, County Finance Director Angela Jackson said the county had received tax proceeds for the month of June, but not for the month of July.

Last week, commissioners Ralph, Sonna Singleton, and Gail Hambrick, voted in favor of sending a letter to Perdue, asking him to force Baskin to deliver the county's weekly tax proceeds to the county, and give reasons as to why he should not be removed from office. Members of the board claimed that Baskin had failed to turn over the county's tax proceeds since early June, following an incident in which the county forcibly reclaimed take-home vehicles provided to the Tax Commissioner's Office.

During the meeting, Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas said the he had offered the two vehicles back to Baskin's office, if he would agree to not use them in a take-home capacity.

"After an exchange of e-mails ... I outlined that it was never the intent of the Board of Commissioner to keep that office from having any vehicles for doing day-to-day business, and if Mr. Baskin would simply communicate to the board his willingness to live within the confines of their request, which would be not to take the vehicles home, that he could have the two vehicles back," Cohilas said. "I have not gotten back any commutation from Mr. Baskin or his office that he would comply."

Baskin, who was present at the meeting, declined comment on the matter.

By consensus, the board asked the county's legal department to come back with a status update on the letter to the governor's office by Thursday.