ST. PETERSBURG — In the wake of a well-publicized towing scam during the Tampa Bay Rays home opener, the City Council decided Thursday that rules regulating lots and haulers are fine for now.
"The key is education," Chairwoman Leslie Curran said. "If you don't want to be towed, don't park where there's a sign that prohibits parking. We should just continue to monitor (parking) and see what happens."
Council member Wengay Newton proposed that parking attendants at private lots wear identification and register with the city to prevent a parking scam he witnessed last month. Upon returning to his car after the Rays' first home game, Newton saw several motorists complain about getting their cars towed from an adjacent lot.
Newton said the towed cars were part of a scam in which nearby residents hid no-parking signs and then collected money from people who paid to park. While they were gone, a towing company pulled the cars.
It's a long-standing scam that would be prevented by the identification badges, said Newton, who was disappointed that he didn't find support from Mayor Bill Foster and city staff.
"Staff is more sympathetic to the parking attendants than the people who are getting ripped off," Newton said. "We have to do what we can to protect our residents."
Foster said while he appreciates Newton's intentions, requiring badges and processing identifications would be too cumbersome for infractions that are limited in scope.
"It's like taking a cannon to a knife fight," Foster said. "With the particular lot Wengay is talking about, we took care of the problem. But doing this would add another layer of government and another regulation that we have to monitor."
City parking manager Evan Mory said he will review more than 80 lots and the signs at them to make sure they are visible, as well as continue to publicize parking tips on the city website.
"It's not a do-nothing approach," Mory said.
Police Sgt. Gary Dukeman said the towing company, Apex Towing, was fined $188 for each of the cars towed that night because motorists weren't properly notified of the tow, as county law requires.
Dukeman said officers were more aware of potential scams since opening night, but said it's still up to motorists to make sure their vehicles are safe.
"It's buyer beware," he said. "If you don't see an identifiable sign, it's a risk. You should know there are opportunistic criminals out there."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.