Communication breakdown leads to flurry of tows
Moorhead city officials. MSUM Public Safety. The students. – Who’s to blame?
More than 126 cars were towed from the blue snow district during the 12-hour snow removal periods last Wednesday and Thursday, Lt. Tory Jacobson said.
It was the first time the three-day procedure for snow removal was used since established last year; and although city officials said they did everything they could to warn the public, many students were still unaware of the temporary parking regulations.
On Wednesday, no parking on the north and east sides of the street went into affect from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. – about 80 cars were parked illegally and towed. On Thursday, about 50 more were towed from the south and west sides of the street.
City officials make effort to warn residents
“We’re certain we gave enough warning,” Jacobson said. “We understand it’s difficult to reach everyone … some people have gone so far as saying we should contact each individual by phone. We don’t have the resources to do that.”
Moorhead city officials sent out press releases to the local media organizations and contacted both Concordia and MSUM.
“There were multiple public meetings, mailers to home owners in the district and to campuses in orientation packets,” said Chad Martin, Moorhead’s operations director.
Two blue snow district signs are also in place on each block of the snow district. The signs read: “Snow Removal District – Subject to tow” along with a web address directing drivers to more information on scheduling.
Martin admitted that there may have been some gray areas on Tuesday, with emails worded unclearly, but he said with the mass flurry of information on Wednesday, students should have known.
“We’re never trying to surprise people,” Jacobson said. “We advertise, contact the media … whatever they can do to get themselves in the know.”
Students towed by surprise
Despite the efforts of city officials to warn the public, many students were still caught off guard.
Chelsea Marquette, an art and design senior, was walking to her car after class Wednesday morning when she realized her car had been towed. She ran inside to warn her roommate, who was also parked illegally.
Her roommate Chantel Fugere, an art and design senior, said she thought she made it to her car in time because it hadn’t been towed, but she was wrong.
“I was about to get in my car to move it when an officer pulled up next to me and told me I could not move my vehicle,” she said.
The officer told Fugere that the towing company had already been called for impound.
“There was already a tow truck assigned to that vehicle,” Jacobson said, later explaining that once a car is called in for impound it has to be taken or the owner has to pay an upfront fee for the arrival because there’s a contract between the city and towing company for sending a truck and driver.
Unclear email fails to help students
Fugere hadn’t known about the temporary parking regulations because she had not checked her email Wednesday morning.
The email wasn’t sent to the MSUM student listserv until about 8:45 a.m., after towing had already begun.
Fugere said she believes the number of illegally parked and towed cars could have been signifcantly lower if the email had been sent 24 hours in advance and if the email had been stated more clearly.
“When I did go home and read the email it really made no sense to me,” she said. “Because it said don’t park in front of even number houses in residential areas, but parking in front of an academic building, to me, is not parking in a residential area.”
Fugere and Marquette were both parked along the north side of Ninth Avenue in front of Hendrix Clinic and Counseling Center.
Along with the email, a text message was also sent to students signed up for e2campus text alerts. The text message was sent at 10:55 a.m. on Wednesday.
Although many students are placing blame on the school for not notifying them earlier, Jessica Jasperson, a mass communications and English senior, said we can’t place the blame on just one person.
“I think it would be easy to place blame on a specific person, for example Greg Lemke who did not send out the e-mail until Wednesday morning when Concordia sent out the e-mail on Tuesday,” Jasperson said. “However, the city of Moorhead should have broadcast many announcements in between fall and winter, as well as before and after the first snow fall no matter the amount of snowfall.”
Jasperson’s boyfriend, Joel Kromer, a social work senior, had his car towed from 13th Avenue on Wednesday.
“Joel and I did not receive any information prior to Wednesday, and we both do not have cable, buy the newspaper or listen to the radio on a regular basis, which perhaps would have informed us of the snow removal plan,” Jasperson said.
Time, money wasted due to towing
Due to the miscommunication or lack thereof, much time and money was wasted on both the city’s side and the students’ side.
“Moorhead wasted the time of the towing company they hired, the time of the police officers, the time of many students and taxpayers money,” Jasperson said.
Although the only role of the police was to assist the wrecker, Jacobson said, “It’s going to be several thousand dollars just to the police department. It was very non-cost efficient.”
Students also beared some of the burden. It cost $95 to retrieve one’s car from the impound lot, plus an additional $10 for each day the car was held, which caused financial stress for some students.
“It’s an extreme inconvenience, and the worst time it could happen,” said Marquette, who couldn’t afford to retrieve her car until she got paid on Friday.
Kromer also couldn’t afford to pay the fee until he was paid on Friday, but was able to negotiate a deal with the police to only pay the original $95.
Now that people are aware of the snow removal district, the city expects everyone to be better informed and prepared for the next snow removal.
For more information and a full map of the blue snow removal district, visit http://www.ci.moorhead.mn.us/snowdistrict.
BY JASMINE MAKI
PHOTO BY JESSICA FLEMING