Remedying a ‘failure to act’ three years ago, County Commission reinstates towing ordinance

Action allows for some levity amid public health emergency considerations

The County Commission meets in downtown Sarasota on April 8, with County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and County Attorney Frederick ‘Rick’ Elbrecht at a table facing the board members. That seating arrangement has been in effect during the public health emergency. File image

It could be characterized as the remedying of an “Oops.”

However, given the gravity of the novel coronavirus public health emergency, with local government leaders having had little to laugh about over the past couple of months, a May 6 Sarasota County Commission agenda item presented an opportunity for some levity.

After spending nearly 80 minutes on COVID-19 updates, the commissioners began the day’s public hearings. The second on the list involved a staff recommendation to correct what staff material noted was an inadvertent failure to act about three years ago. As a result of that failure, a PowerPoint presentation said, the county’s towing ordinance had expired.

Administrative staff was seeking board approval of an amendment to the towing ordinance that should have been voted on prior to June 30, 2017, a PowerPoint slide noted. The board should have voted “to extend or remove the sunset date,” as a staff memo explained.

Chapter 122, Article II, Division 3, of the Sarasota County Code “pertains to the County’s Nonconsensual Towing and Removal and Storage of Motor Vehicle regulations,” the May 6 staff memo pointed out.

In 2007, the County Commission seated at that time extended the ordinance’s expiration date to July 30, 2017, the memo said. “The proposed Ordinance No. 2020-0005 removes Section 122-79, pertaining to the sunset date, thereby reinstating the … regulations,” the memo explained. With the commission’s approval of the proposed ordinance, the memo said, the regulations would be retroactively effective as of July 1, 2017.

“Staff has consulted with the Sheriff’s Office on the proposed ordinance,” the memo added.

“The Sheriff’s Office utilizes the Towing Ordinance to provide authority for the removal of wrecked or disabled vehicles from accident scenes and in the event the owner is incapacitated, unavailable, or otherwise does not consent to the removal of the vehicle,” the PowerPoint presentation pointed out.

Among the “Whereas” clauses in the proposed ordinance was one that read, “[I]t is in the best interest of the people of Sarasota County, and an express requirement of Florida law, that the Ordinance continue as law throughout Sarasota County without any lapses …”

The final clause said, “[T]he County may apply the Ordinance retroactively because there is clear evidence of legislative intent to apply the law retroactively, and the Ordinance does not create new obligations, impose new penalties, or impair vested rights.”

Chair Michael Moran. File image

The May 6 agenda classified the consideration of the ordinance as a public hearing with a presentation upon request only.

After reading the agenda item aloud, Chair Michael Moran announced that he had no cards from members of the public who wished to address the board. He then asked whether any commissioner wanted a staff presentation; none did.

After Moran formally closed the hearing, Commissioner Nancy Detert said, “I would bravely move acceptance of non-consensual towing and storage of motor vehicles.”

“I’ll be equally brave and second the motion,” Commissioner Alan Maio added, prompting laughter from Moran.

When Moran next asked whether Detert or Maio wished to comment on the motion, Detert replied, “I think we’d better not.”

Likewise, Maio told Moran, “No, thank you.”

Moran called the question, and the motion passed unanimously.

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