Dallas County Commissioner Clay Jenkins rounded up reporters this morning to help spread the good word about the county's plan to help owners get reunited with cars impounded at Dowdy Ferry Auto Services.
The county had an auction planned this week for the 1,400 cars still sitting in the lot, where they'd been towed under an exclusive deal struck by former Constable Jaime Cortez.
But after protests from folks who said their cars had auctioned off without their knowledge, or that the lot's fees had gotten too steep for them to pay, Jenkins said the county's going to cap the fees owners owe at $326.85, and put off the auction for at least another three weeks. "No vehicle will be auctioned until all proper notices have been given," Jenkins said.
Then Bob McGrath, the man Jenkins dubbed Dallas County's own Czar de Cars, took the podium, reassuring everyone that over the next three weeks, the county's going to make "one last effort" to track down the cars' owners and reunite them before any auction takes place. While 3,600 other cars have already been auctioned off the lot, McGrath wanted to be clear he's only concerned with the cars that are left there today, and the "boxes and boxes of records" he's got to help track down their owners. "This isn't to suggest that anything has been done wrong in the past," he said.
"It's going to be very easy, I think, to come and get your vehicle," McGrath said -- you'll need a driver's license, proof of insurance, and the car needs to be titled in your name. "If it's their car, we're gonna try like the dickens to get it back to them."
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The czar also unveiled a new hotline and email account for owners to get in touch: 214-653-7572, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
McGrath said April 15 is the earliest the county might hold an auction, though it could be even later than that. He'd been hired originally as an attorney for county commissioners, but from now until his contract runs out on May 2, he'll be handling the cars at Dowdy Ferry. Even if all the cars aren't out of there by then, he said, "I hope to have the process running smoothly, so that maybe when that last car is sold, Judge Jenkins and I can stand there and raise our hands and say we've done a good job."
Commissioner Elba Garcia's office would help with Spanish translation, he said. Any cars that won't run when an owner comes to reclaim them can be towed either for free, or about $20, he said -- McGrath wasn't sure if those details had been settled yet with towing companies.
"I don't like the fact that they've sat out there for four years, but that isn't anybody's fault," McGrath said. "I'm not suggesting there's anything criminal involved in waiting that long."