‘Boot man’ booted?

Published 11:04 pm Thursday, March 18, 2010

In an effort to obtain the appropriate business license, one Troy man may have just earned himself some unwanted attention.

Kurt Henderson, known commonly by Troy’s college student population as the “boot man,” has been operating a wheel-lock service for private apartment complexes. However, he recently sought city support for an ordinance officially allowing private property owners to hire a private vehicle immobilization company.

And that move has raised some questions of legality, said Mayor Jimmy Lunsford.

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The Troy City Council on Feb. 24 voted to send a resolution to the Alabama Legislature that would give private property owners the authority to hire a wheel-locking service for anyone violating parking policies. This is the third year the council has passed such a resolution, but it has never had time to pass both the House and Senate before the sessions ended.

This year, Lunsford said Councilwoman Wanda Moultry questioned why this action would have to be approved at the state level if the city of Troy already had this type of a business in operation.

City Attorney Dickey Calhoun’s answer, offered this week, may have surprised some people: this type of business shouldn’t be operating.

“It is my opinion…that it is unlawful for a private individual or entity to enter onto private real property and to wheel lock…a motor vehicle,” Calhoun’s opinion reads.

That opinion he said is based on finding no city ordinance or state law permitting the action and on the opinion of an attorney with the Alabama League of Municipalities.

“He’s not authorized in my opinion to do it,” Lunsford agreed.

But Henderson, who said to his knowledge is the only person locally operating this type of business, disagrees. While Henderson has a business license, there is no city business license that permits immobilizing vehicles.

“(The city has) said I could use this license until they passed an ordinance,” Henderson said, referring to his existing business license.

Henderson said he has been operating a business in Troy for the last 20 years. He used to have a wrecker service and body shop, but in the last three years he has focused strictly on the wheel-locking service

Henderson’s business license is issued as TIS, LLC., which he says is for a wrecker service. He also said the council told him when he raised the issue on March 11 and March 25, 2008, he would be permitted to operate his wheel-lock service until the state resolution passes.

However, Troy City Clerk Alton Starling said the only authorization from the council was approval of the same ordinance that has been passed once again this year.

“Even if someone says it on the council, if the five members don’t vote, it isn’t an ordinance,” Starling said, referring to Henderson’s comments about his understanding from the council.

Lunsford said, because of the city attorney’s legal interpretation, he believes any business that implements a wheel-lock service at this time would be doing so illegally, and legal action could be pending.

“(Henderson) couldn’t keep doing it legally,” Lunsford said.

The mayor said the city’s police department would be required to answer complaints if someone calls about immobilized vehicles.

Many local apartment complexes managers said using a wheel-lock sevice is useful.

“It’s basically just to ensure the people that live here always have somewhere to park,” said Brittany Tomlin, manager of Troy Place Apartments. “We have visitors’ parking, and that’s for the guests to park.

Linda Jordan, with Porter Properties, said she uses Henderson’s wheel-locking service for University Corners, Village Apartments, University Apartments and Trojan Arms.

“It’s so my tenants will have somewhere to park. If we don’t do that…one of my tenants might go to Wal-Mart or the grocery stores and come back and not have anywhere to park,” Jordan said. “It’s very effective.”

Jordan said it would be hard to regulate parking in apartment complexes without wheel locks.

“I wouldn’t (stop using it) unless I was told I couldn’t do it anymore,” Jordan said.

But while apartment complex owners use the wheel-locking service with their tenants in mind, there are some of these tenants that say they would be glad to see the “boot man” go.

“We’d be so happy. I think it’s a scam,” said Jamey Wallace, a Troy University student from Valley and resident of The Grove.

“I’ve had to pay for several friends to get boots off their cars and (for) my girlfriend.”

Eric Keller, university student from Birmingham, is a frequent visitor to Troy Place Apartments.

“There’s only about 20 or so visitor parking spots here,” Keller said, as he was getting ready to leave the apartment complex Thursday afternoon.

“When there’s a party here, no one can find a parking spot.”

While Keller said even as a visitor he understands the purpose of wheel-locking cars, he said he believes charging $60 is too harsh a punishment.

“I just don’t personally feel it’s right,” he said.

While city officials say wheel locking is not allowed in Troy, Troy University falls under a different category.

“It’s a state agency, and we don’t regulate state agencies,” Starling said.

Troy’s Dean of Student Services Herb Reeves said the university may use a wheel-lock on a vehicle when a student has five or more unpaid parking tickets or tickets that total more than $150, a student or faculty member fails to have a parking permit after three citations, someone parks in a handicapped spot or if a student parks in the grass.

“Our policies as far as parking and all are made by the Board of Trustees or if given approval by the board the administration or the chancellor,” Reeves said.

Troy University’s Police Department is responsible for its wheel locking service.

Lunsford said the next step of this legislation will require passage by the Pike County Commission since it includes Pike County. Then it will have to meet the OK of state legislators before wheel locking is permitted again locally.