Monday, June 30, 2008

Citizens Rise Up Against Abusive And Predatory Towing: Lessons Learned From "The Battle Of Orlando" photo

The City of Orlando, Florida was named after a Orlando Reeves, a soldier killed while attempting to fire a warning shot to alert troops of an impending Indian attack. One source says the story is without basis, but cities apparently need such legends; which inspire civic-mindedness and self-sacrifice.

In Orlando, an example of such civic-mindedness can be found in people like Orlando Weekly reporter Lindy T. Shepherd, who fought abusive towing and--in a manner similar to Orlando Reeves--sought to alert others of the danger...

Skirmishes by citizens with abusive towing in various locales tend to produce useful information about tactics that work, developed "on the fly" by these citizens fighting their small battles. In reading Shepherd's two articles about her situation, "By hook, crook or the book" and "I fought the towing company, and I won" some useful tactics become apparent.

Here, in a nutshell, is the "tactical information" that can be gleaned from the two articles.

* The article mentions "radio station personalities Doc & Johnny from WXXL" who were "patrolling the perimeter to warn potential victims."

Great idea! Most local radio stations depend on the "two wacky guys in the morning" format. Abusive and predatory towing seems like a perfect "drive time" topic, and the antics of radio personalities seem perfectly suited to warning victims of abusive towing.

* Tow truck drivers who engage in predatory towing have to move quickly. Consequently, they don't always follow the rules about securing vehicles, which can give citizens an opening for making a complaint stick.

* Shepherd carefully researched the statutes--in fact, she checked the state, county AND city laws--and found a crafty-yet-reasonable interpretation of the statute which requires a 50 percent "drop fee" if the vehicle "has already been connected to the towing or removal apparatus." But the driver in this instance didn't completely secure Shepherd's vehicle.

Though there was talk of revising the particular Orlando ordiance at issue--to clear up precisely this gray area--the tactic of arguing about whether the vehicle was connected to the towing apparatus or not could work in other locales.

* Shepherd found the towing contract for the parking lot on file with the city, as required. She was apparently looking for an illegal monetary arrangement between the towing company and the business with the parking lot. Though she found no such arrangement, her tactic of ferreting out the contract made sense, and could produce a windfall of useful information in some other situation, in some other city.

* Shepherd publicized the process to file a complaint specific to towing issues in her city and county.

* Some tow trucks are equipped with video cameras. But that is a double-edged sword. In Shepherd's case, the video footage (which Shepherd never saw) apparently worked in her favor, showing the tow truck was not moving when she approached and pleaded for her vehicle.

* By making the record with her two articles in 2003, Shepherd helped establish a historical record of towing abuse, laying the groundwork for what appears to be a decisive, crushing defeat of Paul Gren and his towing company half a decade later at the hands of the Orlando City Commission.

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