TAMPA, Florida - City employees in charge of rehabbing Ybor City and stimulating its economy failed to turn over public records to 10Investigates relating to towing problems in the popular entertainment district.
As part of its ongoing series on unlawful towing, 10Investigates asked the head of the Ybor City Redevelopment Corporation (YCDC) for any parking and towing complaints it had received in recent years. The head of the YCDC, which as created by the City of Tampa's Economic and Urban Development department to improve Ybor's image and economy, responded that she wasn't aware of any complaints.
However, additional public records requests revealed that wasn't the case.
In fact, the YCDC's director had sent an email the previous day to her boss, detailing a complaint that spurred a six-month discussion on parking improvements for Ybor City employees.
"About a month after I started (October 2015) I can recall a discussion regarding towing," YCDC Manager Courtney Orr wrote on March 22 in an email to Tampa's Administrator of Economic Opportunity Bob McDonaugh and city spokesperson Ashley Bauman.
"John Accardi of 717 Parking addressed one of our committees due to the community's concerns of towing parked vehicles from 717 parking lots," the email continued. "John told the committee that they wanted to be good neighbors and suspended towing in all 717 parking lots for the four weeks leading up to coming to our meeting."
But the next day, March 23, Bauman wrote 10Investigates that "the YCDC has not heard of issues pertaining to towing."
PREVIOUSLY: How to get a refund if you're towed illegally
Not only did the city fail to turn over the complaints it had collected, but the agency also failed to keep the audio recordings of the meetings where the issues were discussed. State law requires local governments to retain audio recordings of meetings for two years.
Tampa City Attorney Julia Mandell indicated she didn't think the law applied to audio minutes of meetings, once they are summarized into written meetings. However, she said the city would start retaining the audio recordings following 10Investigates' questions.
Towing victims have told 10Investigates they were concerned the YCDC was trying to sweep any parking/towing issues "under the rug" to avoid any bad publicity. But McDonaugh said Monday most parking and towing issues were out of their control, and they had received only one unsubstantiated complaint of parking problems via Facebook.
Since October, the YCDC has worked with the owners of 717 Parking to find a place where employees in Ybor City could park for an affordable price, without the fear of getting towed. Both parties report progress in the seven months since.
Records show towing has resumed in 717 Parking lots in Ybor City, but not as frequently as in 2015. 10Investigates went undercover on three weekends in April and found some 717 attendants didn't instruct drivers to put their parking receipts on their dashboards, as is sometimes necessary to avoid getting towed.
More than a dozen drivers have contacted 10Investigates in the last year about parking and towing problems in 717 Parking lots around Tampa, including overcharging from the company's main towing vendor, Target Recovery.
After 10Investigates exposed Target tacking inappropriate fees onto the bills of drivers whose cars were towed, the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission (PTC) cited the company and began to mandate refunds.
But still at question is whether Target is allowed to issue $25 nongovernmental citations on behalf of 717 Parking, on top of their maximum allowable towing fees.
717 Parking declined to comment on the story.
10Investigates will continue to dig deeper on questionable tows to get refunds for wrongly-charged viewers.
Find 10Investigates' Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.