For months now, a man has been living in a black ’90s Cadillac in a Riley County parking lot in downtown Manhattan, and officials have had little luck removing him from the lot.
At the county commission meeting Thursday, county counselor Clancy Holeman presented the commissioners with a plan to change the county’s parking lot resolution to prohibit citizens from living or camping in any county-owned parking lot. He said the amendment would give the county teeth in getting the man to move.
“That’s what’s driving the need to change, but it’s designed to be a protection for all county owned lots, not just against this one vehicle,” Holeman said.
The man, reached for comment Friday morning, declined to give his name but said he first moved to the parking lot north of the county office building after a spat with the Riley County Police Department. In the months he’s been living out of the car, the man said RCPD and county officials have been pestering him. When asked if the car runs, he said, “It can, from time to time,” and that he plans to move the car next week.
But Holeman said that’s been an empty promise he’s made several times. He said officials have indeed contacted him, but those contacts have been part of efforts to help him find another place to live and to find a job.
The county can’t simply tow the man’s car away, either. Holeman said the county is narrowly limited in how it can enforce its codes, and towing isn’t one of the listed penalties.
“Basically all we’re left with is going for an injunction in district court, which could end up with a contempt violation and potential jail time, or in the code for the enforcement of county resolutions, there’s the potential for jail time, too,” Holeman said. “But it doesn’t have to be jail time under either option. That’d be up to the judge.”
The county would make every effort to make sure whatever process the county creates is legally sound and protects individual rights, Holeman said. Presumably, people living out of their cars would qualify for court-appointed counsel in the face of potential criminal prosecution, he said.
“All we’re trying to do is make sure the lot is free for its intended purpose: it’s a public owned lot,” Holeman said. “It’s not a place where you’re supposed to live or camp. And I think the lot has some health concerns as well.”
The commissioners said it was time to finally deal with the issue.
“I hate the fact that that thing has been sitting there for months,” commissioner John Ford said. “It should have just taken a phone call to get resolved. We’re doing the right thing and doing it the right way.”
Holeman said he would consult with county prosecutors and RCPD to make sure they’re comfortable with enforcing the changed parking resolution. Any amendment to county parking regulations must have airtight, narrow legal language, and once Holeman finalizes a draft, he said he’ll return to the commission for final approval.