What started out as a discussion to improve the parking situation on the DTM appears now to have turned into an episode of Game of Thrones, complete with threats of government seizure, and talk of bullying and personal vendettas. So, what the heck is going on?
“As a rule,” says Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signor, responding to questions about the on-going legal battle between the City and Water Street Parking Garage owner Mark Brown, “I don’t comment to the press on litigation.”
However, the high-powered Richmond attorney doing the actual litigation for the City doesn’t appear to follow the same rule.
“For months Mark Brown has been trying to bully the City into giving him control of the Water Street Parking Garage,” Tom Wolf with LeClairRyan told Cville Weekly. “He has even threatened to close down the garage, which he has no power or authority to do. Mr. Brown’s first lawsuit was meritless and this new one is a transparent attempt at further bullying. The City is not intimidated by Mr. Brown’s threats.”
Wolf went on to claim he’s representing the City at a discounted rate because he “loves litigating against bullies” like Mr. Brown.
In addition to Mayor Signer, The DTM asked other City Councilors, City Manager Maurice Jones, and City Attorney Craig Brown if they agreed with Mr. Wolf’s characterization of Mr. Brown and the situation. And why the city has seen fit to threaten the use of eminent domain to take over the Water Street Garage.
“The City of Charlottesville does not provide comment related to litigation,” responded Miriam Dickler, the City’s director of communications.
City Councilor Bob Fenwick does, though. “Tom Wolf has a right to say what he wants,” he says.
“Mark Brown may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the claim by the City’s attorney that Mark has been bullying the City of Charlottesville, or is even in a position to bully the City of Charlottesville, is silly and melodramatic,” says Dave Norris, the former Charlottesville City Mayor who now manages the Charlottesville Parking Center.
Indeed, considering that Brown’s company has 19 employees and an annual budget of $3 million, while the City has 940 employees and annual budget of $160 million, some might wonder who the real bully is here.
“The City’s heavy-handed threat to use eminent domain against Charlottesville Parking Center and spend many millions of dollars to seize CPC’s assets is an egregious abuse of governmental authority – and a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars, as it will not add a single space to the inventory of downtown parking,” says Norris. “Threatening eminent domain to resolve a pricing dispute with someone you don’t care for is not a rational or helpful strategy – but then, personal vendettas rarely are.”
Well, this ought to end well.
Meanwhile, as the lawyers on both sides cash in, and the City commissions studies and transfers $500,000 from the capital improvement program contingency account to create a new “Parking Division” branch of local government, parking downtown is still perceived as a pain in the ass to visitors and DTM businesses and employees alike.
The two sides will go at it in Charlottesville Circuit Court on June 27 at 3pm. See you there!
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