Published: Aug 24, 2012 02:14 PM
Modified: Sep 18, 2012 11:44 AM
CHAPEL HILL - At least two Town Council members think Chapel Hill has a good chance of reinstating its towing rules.
The town may be on shakier ground trying to save its ban on cellphone use while driving, council members Lee Storrow and Laurin Easthom said.
The Town Council decided by consensus behind closed doors Wednesday night to appeal a judge’s ruling striking down the towing rules, after consulting with Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos. The state’s Open Meetings Law allows public bodies to meet privately to consult with their attorney.
The council voted 6-3 to appeal the judge’s ruling striking down the cellphone ban, with council members Easthom, Storrow and Matt Czajkowski dissenting.
Karpinos declined to comment.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who voted against the cellphone ban in March, said the appeal could be filed with the Court of Appeals within days.
“Generally, we’ll be concerned about making sure we have some certainty around municipal authority, since that’s really the core of the question, and it actually is implicated in both issues,” Kleinschmidt said.
The appeal also will seek a stay of Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s order so the town can resume enforcing its towing rules, he said
The order has “broad, far-reaching effects well way beyond the borders of Chapel Hill,” Kleinschmidt said.
Other cities may be worried about their own ordinances, he said.
Easthom, who also voted against the cellphone ban, said she thinks the towing ordinance more clearly helps protect residents’ health, safety and welfare.
The cellphone ban is “a controversial issue, an issue that the state has differing opinions on,” she said. “I just feel like this is a state decision. I don’t think it’s a town matter.”
Storrow, who initially supported the cellphone ban, said it’s time to move on.
“I’m inclined to think it’s time for us to focus on more pressing issues for the town,” he said.
There might not be a final decision until spring, Kleinschmidt said.
Town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said the town has received 18 towing complaints since May.
Attorney Thomas Stark, representing George’s Towing & Recovery, said the appeal surprised him.
“This is really about the property owners that have private lots that they provide for their customers and people who seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them, that they should be able to take those spaces for their own use,” Stark said.
The council approved the towing ordinance in February and enacted it May 1; the ban on cellphone use was scheduled to take effect June 1.
Hudson halted enforcement of both ordinances May 2. On Aug. 2, he agreed with a lawsuit filed by George’s Towing that the towing ordinance was unconstitutional regulation of trade.
The town’s ordinance set a $125 fee for vehicles towed from private lots, required lots to have signs and required tow operators to take credit cards and call police when they remove vehicles.
Hudson also found that the town did not have the authority to regulate cellphone use while driving since the legislature already has cellphone-while-driving laws.