Sylva slips on parking ordinance; version passed not enforceable

In the “Oh, oops” category this week we have the town of Sylva, which, after extensive review, work and dispute ordered police officers this summer to begin ticketing business owners and their employees who take up precious parking spaces on Main and Mill streets.

Leave your vehicles elsewhere, they were told, or pay a $50 citation penalty. Two or three downtown workers were indeed ticketed by police after business owners ratted out fellow business owners for breaking the law. Feelings ran high.

There’s one small problem.

A key paragraph, the one specifying business owners and their employees can’t park on Main and Mill streets, wasn’t included in the ordinance passed, though plenty of other legalese was.

Town Attorney Eric Ridenour, during a town board meeting last week, sharpened his sword and committed public hara-kiri, complete with obsequious apologies for making the mistake.

But, interestingly, unless you were in the know already — or cared to stay afterward and grill the town’s commissioners and attorney — it was impossible to comprehend what had taken place during that portion of the meeting. Commissioners, and Ridenour, didn’t spell out what exactly had doomed their new ordinance and rendered it unenforceable. Clearly, however, everyone on the board had the head’s up before the situation went — technically, at least, if ever so obscurely and mysteriously — before the public.

Commissioners set a date for another hearing to pass a no-parking ordinance. Complete, they hope this time, with the key clause about the people targeted.

“You’re not going to print that?” Ridenour asked when queried after the meeting about what they’d all been talking about in such vague terms.

After explaining the situation, the attorney said he was deeply embarrassed by the mistake. In clarifying the paragraph during the draft process, the key language was inadvertently eliminated in the final version. Ridenour said he plans to personally repay business owners who were fined. That includes the penalty assessed to Dodie Allen, an auctioneer and perennial Republican state House candidate, who protested vigorously after being ticketed when she left her brightly painted “Follow Me to Victory” van parked outside her Main Street store.

Actually, another individual in town anonymously paid Allen’s citation, so Ridenour plans to reimburse them instead.

It was Allen’s protests that unveiled the error, Ridenour said. Allen took her complaints to The Sylva Herald, and owner Steve Gray reviewed the ordinance (as journalists should but rarely actually do) and discovered it applied to absolutely nobody, including Allen. He informed Ridenour of the oversight.

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