Butch Butler is a paraplegic from Blowing Rock, N.C., who spends a lot of time vacationing in Charleston, as often as 12 times a year. When he arrives here, he tends to park in certain downtown parking garages, especially the city garage at Charleston Place, where he's used to finding convenient and plentiful handicapped parking spaces.

But for the past two months or so, the handicap-designated spaces at that garage have disappeared, he said.

Work crews painted over the handicapped markings, and cars without handicapped tags or mirror hangers filled all of the spaces.

It's a hassle and inconvenience, especially since many of the regular parking spaces don't provide enough room for a handicapped person to get out between cars, Butler said.

He loves the fact that the city provides such spaces for free but asked Watchdog to find out what happened to them at the Charleston Place garage.

He said he experienced the same missing handicapped parking problem at the city garage at Cumberland and Concord but recently found that those handicapped spaces have been restored.

The city is required by federal law to provide handicapped parking spaces, generally one for every 25 parking spaces.

When Watchdog called city spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn to find out what happened to the handicapped parking spaces, she replied in surprise, "There's no handicapped parking?"

She said she'd promptly find out what happened.

Vaughn said the company that manages the parking garages explained that a contractor hired about a month ago to restripe the parking lines painted over the handicapped parking symbol stenciled on the floor of the parking spaces and planned to repaint the symbols.

However, the contractor hadn't done so because so many cars promptly began using the convenient spaces. As of Wednesday, the city put notices on cars to say the owners were not being ticketed because the handicapped parking markers had not been displayed on the spaces.

Vaughn says she does not know why the wall-mounted handicapped signs also are missing.

Regardless, she says, now that the city knows of the problem, the handicapped parking spaces will be promptly restored.

This is not a problem the city takes lightly, she says. And she apologized to Butler and any other handicapped person who might have been inconvenienced.

"We really regret him having these problems."