All they needed was a gavel Tuesday night as the Brainerd City Council chamber closely resembled night court.
"This is Judge Jim Dehen and we are jury," council member Gary Scheeler said of a fellow council member and chairman of the city's Safety and Public Works Committee.
Before the committee were people who went to sleep in their homes with their cars parked on the street nearby only to find the vehicles were gone the next day. Eleven people appealed parking tickets before the committee and later before the entire council. Many involved $25 fines for snow removal ordinance violations.
Defenses were mounted regarding a lack of notice, confusion about where to park and ignorance of the ordinance. The most effective defense was for a group of car owners who actually parked legally after a snowplow went by the first time, only to have the plow go by again.
A handful of people attended the meeting to state their cases in person.
Steve Ace, a Bluff Avenue resident, said his car was towed after sitting on the street in front of his home for months. Ace said the only notice he received was a letter that came about a month after the car was towed away.
By city ordinance abandoned cars, or cars left unmoved, can be towed from city streets and for curb-to-curb snow removal.
Several residents were concerned about a lack of notice, prompting council member Bob Olson to question whether there was a better system.
"For years ignorance has not been an excuse," Dehen said, suggesting holding Ace's appeal until a police department representative was in attendance to explain how a car could sit for six months and then be gone in 48 hours. "Until we have that answer I don't think we can act on this one."
The car has been left in the impound lot, accumulating more fees, which had City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick wondering why the car owner didn't get the car out of the lot to limit expenses. In his appeal, Ace said he will not pay for a fine he knew nothing about or the storage fees going with the towing.
Another complaint came from a northeast resident who wondered whether Third Avenue Northeast was a north and south or east and west street.
Committee members Dehen, Scheeler and Olson split on the appeal decision.
The city council members were also split, voting 5-2 to deny the appeal and end the night court session.
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