Muscogee County School District attorney advises library staff to stop warning city service customers their cars will be towed

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 27, 2013 

Mark Rice mrice@ledger-enquirer.com Columbus Public Library staff members placed these notices on the windshields of cars whose drivers headed toward the adjacent City Service Center instead Thursday. n06/27/13

MARK RICE

Columbus Public Library staff members Thursday placed the following notice on the windshields of cars whose drivers they spotted heading toward the adjacent City Service Center:

"THIS IS LIBRARY PARKING ONLY. CITY SERVICES CUSTOMERS MUST USE CITY SERVICES PARKING GARAGE. VEHICLES WILL BE TOWED!"

A library security guard was in the parking lot Thursday afternoon telling folks that message, as were two security officers in the adjacent parking lot of the Muscogee County Public Education Center. The school district owns and operates the county's public libraries.

The Ledger-Enquirer shared this news with one of the school district's lawyers, Jorge Vega, of Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis & Rothschild LLP. Less than 1 hour later, Vega said he had advised interim library director Wanda Edwards to stop the written warnings, and he said the security officers also should stop the verbal warnings.

"You should be able to park in a public lot," he said, adding that no vehicles were towed.

Vega, however, emphasized, "I'm not saying that's the ultimate legal answer." He wants more time to research the legal question: In what ways can a public entity legally restrict parking?

The problem started earlier this month, when the City Service Center opened in midtown, relieving the Columbus Government Center in downtown of some high-traffic offices, such as voter registration and vehicle tags. But too many citizens aren't finding the City Service Center's parking garage convenient enough to park, and they end up in the library or school district lots.

"We know that they're (city) customers because they were there at 8:30 this morning, and we don't open until 10," Meridith Jarrell, the Muscogee County Library Baord's chairwoman, said during Thursday's meeting. "So when our patrons were here at 10, there were no parking spaces for them."

Thursday afternoon, plenty of spaces were available in the library and school district lots, but security officers still were directing city service customers to the parking garage, which also has free spaces but apparently doesn't have enough signs with that information for drivers entering Citizens Way off Macon Road.

"The only signage is on Rigdon Road, but they're not coming in from Rigdon Road; they're coming in through here (in front of the library)," Jarrell said. "I think we need some more signage."

Deputy city manager Lisa Goodwin just so happens to be a library board member, so Jarrell received an immediate answer.

"We are working on the signage," Goodwin said. "We are still in the process."

Jarrell responded with a laugh, "You are welcome, you already have our permission, to put a sign in our parking lot."

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