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Coleman says the repairman at the body shop told him the alternative was to have his van hauled to the city tow lot. Coleman's chances for more amenable service, however, would have been just as poor there. Kansas City runs the Heaven's Gate of vehicle impounding.Kansas City's tow lot, controlled by the city's Neighborhood and Community Services Department, screams stench. In the spring of 1996, to make way for the Hilton Flamingo Casino, the city moved its lot from the banks of the Missouri River to 3800 Raytown Road. It costs the city $150,000 a year to rent the spot, and the operation has become a logistical and administrative nightmare.
The lot's electronic security gate and camera surveillance system haven't worked in months, and lot workers say 24-hour security guards hired from the Uni-Guard Security Company of Kansas City randomly miss their shifts, giving thieves a free pass to steal cars and equipment. The lot's "Do Not Enter" sign deters stragglers as well as if it read "C'mon In and Don't Leave Empty-Handed!"
Gary Summerskill, a tow-lot crew chief, gets the chills just thinking about what could happen on his shifts at night.
"They drive in and we chase them out," Summerskill says of intruders. "I was driving around the lot the other Tuesday night and I see something out of the corner of my eye, possibly a cat. I go down two rows to cut in and I see two black boys creepin', all hunched over. They see me and I see them, but I'm no hero. I called the cops. I think the guard was there, but they climbed over the fence. About two or three weeks ago, a guy came in and stole a car, drove right out. I could get fired for saying this, but we're a towing company. Do you think the neighborhoods department knows anything about towing?"
A new triple-wide trailer, built on the lot six months ago to replace a smaller office trailer, went without electricity until recently because the city's own Neighborhood and Community Services Department couldn't obtain the proper city building permits. Motorists hoping to reclaim vehicles usually went to the big, empty trailer first, giving them momentary panic attacks about whether anyone was there to help them.
The new office finally opened last week, but the lot's current location -- which accommodates 15,000 cars -- bulges at the fences with unclaimed cars. To make things even worse, lot operators sometimes hold auctions on days when the Royals or Chiefs are playing, when there's no place to park nearby. And inefficient record-keeping and communication between police and lot operators create a backlog of illegally parked and abandoned cars on city streets.
City councilwoman Teresa Loar, who wants towing reform, says the city's "too afraid" to address the issue. "The city does this business very poorly, and we are losing money when we could be making a lot of money for the city. It's the biggest mess I've ever seen in my life. Something is terribly wrong and the city is just as responsible as anyone doing the gouging."
Two years ago, overwhelmed with complaints and lawsuits from car owners and tow operators, Kansas City officials began plotting reform strategies. Right from the start, however, the city's leadership resembled a three-headed chicken with its heads cut off. Last summer, the city demonstrated its own confusion by completing a trio of studies covering tow-related issues and possible improvements.
Is Kansas City's towing situation such a mess that it takes three overlapping reports to wreck-tify it?