Posts about Parking Tickets
Since 2008 DC Council member Jack Evans has used Constituent Services Funds to reimburse members of his staff for 29 parking tickets totaling $3,341.19. The office of the DC CFO says that's taxable income.
No other council member has used the fund for that purpose except Michael A. Brown, who paid for 2 tickets totaling $255.38 during the same time period.
The revelation raises questions about the liability of Evans' staff, and their employer, to pay taxes and fines on reimbursements not reported as income.
Evans' treatment of parking tickets as work expenses also raises additional questions about the motivations of his campaign to roll back parking meter rates and hours of enforcement. Evans is the primary advocate on the DC Council for rolling back parking restrictions.
A review of campaign finance records shows that since 2008 Evans has made 29 payments from the Constituent Services Fund totaling $3,341.19 to the DC Treasurer, at PO Box 2014. That is the address for paying parking tickets to the DC DMV by mail.
Schannette Grant is Evans' chief of staff and oversees the fund. In an interview with the Washington Post she said "Sometimes, we will go to a community event at night and park at a meter where it's only good two hours. That would be a work... expense."
The Washington Post article focused on Evans' use of the Constituent Services Fund for sports tickets, and found that practice to be perfectly legal. Meanwhile, Greater Greater Washington contacted the Office of the DC CFO about the legality of Evans' use of the fund to reimburse staff for parking tickets. According to Natalie Wilson, a spokesperson for the CFO, "based on District tax law, the income received is taxable to the recipient/employee."
Greater Greater Washington attempted to contact both Grant and Evans' Director of Communications Andrew Huff via email on Tuesday, inquiring whether the reimbursements were reported as income. Unfortunately there was no reply. An additional voicemail to Evans' office left late on Wednesday also received no reply.
It should be clear that penalties for breaking the law are never tax deductible work expenses. Parking tickets are no exceptions. Parking laws and fines, like other public laws and fines, are meant to serve the public interest. The city government should not be in the business of paying its employees to break the law.
Evans, the long time chair of the council committee that writes tax law, would surely agree with this principle. The fact that he views parking laws and fines as somehow not like other laws and fines sheds light on his failed campaign to make on-street parking cheaper or free.
By setting parking meters at market rates, parking turnover and availability are maximized such that the broadest possible number of drivers can take advantage of on-street parking. Enforcement is critical to ensure this turnover and availability actually occurs. In short, the city's parking rates are designed to maximize the efficiency of the system.
Evans does not seem to recognize these efficiencies. He seems to think of parking as an entitlement. That may explain his unique view of parking tickets as work expenses, and his attempts to deregulate and subsidize parking.
The DC Council has bruised its reputation with a pair of self-inflicted wounds: over-priced leased SUVs and Verizon Center ticket squabbles. It can take steps to regain credibility by repealing its members' parking ticket exemption, stop accepting free sports and entertainment tickets, and release data on official credit card purchases.
The District deserves respect for generally good financial stewardship. Closing the $322 million budget deficit will create the 16th balanced budget in a row. DC continues to maintain a large reserve fund, an
A A+ bond rating overall and a AAA rating on income tax-backed bonds.
Instead, the press and public are rightfully very focused on a pair of Lincoln Navigators and prime seats to watch Lady Gaga. Are these questionable distractions symbolic of a Council that doesn't "get it" during these tight times? Looking forward, what could the Council do to make some immediate progress towards repairing its credibility?
Council fix #1: Repeal the parking ticket exemption.
In 2002, the DC Council voted to exempt itself from many parking regulations while on official business. Part of the justification was the odd reasoning that if US Congressmen should not have to pay tickets, neither should members of the DC Council.
This exemption sends an unfortunate message to residents and commuters. 13 members of the Council are too busy or important to deal with finding and, if necessary, paying for legal parking spaces. This double standard means that legislators who write laws to create and regulate parking really don't have the same experience with how those laws impact normal drivers.
Furthermore, free and nearly unrestricted parking removes nearly any incentive for Councilmembers to walk, bike, carpool, taxi or take transit.
Council fix #2: Stop accepting free tickets from sports and entertainment venues.
The problem is that now two Mayors in a row and the DC Council incorrectly concluded that residents cared about how the tickets were distributed between the Mayor and Council. The real issue is why Council members and staff are involved with these tickets at all.
Some Councilmembers justify their access to the tickets by donating most if not all of the tickets to schools and community organizations. Sure, these organizations benefit from tickets to be auctioned off as fundraisers.
The bottom line is that the Council (and Mayor) should not be receiving tickets as gifts from for-profit businesses that regularly have tax and regulatory matters under consideration by the DC government. Donating the tickets to community groups doesn't resolve the issue because it enables incumbent Councilmembers and the Mayor to leverage their office to do favors for selected constituents.
Let the Verizon Center and Washington Nationals distribute tickets to schools and community groups on their own.
Council fix #3: Release purchase or credit card transaction data for official
and constituent services expenses.
There is a natural curiosity and suspicion about the use of government credit cards. While those purchases are no different than any other tax dollar spent, residents remain sensitive about those who have the privilege of carrying a DC government purchase card.
Since January 2009, DC Government executive branch agencies have released a list of all purchase card transactions in the Data Catalog. This transparency has given the taxpayer and media the information with which to scrutinize how these purchase cards are used.
The Council could copy the way DC government agencies already release this financial data to promote transparency of Council official
and constituent services funds. This would enhance spending and procurement transparency by the Council.
Correction: A long-time Council staff person pointed out that the Councilmembers release all revenues and expenditures for constituent services funds on the Office of Campaign Finance site. The same transparency should exist for all official Council expenses.
None of these three suggestions will repair overnight any recent damage done to the reputation of the Council or the District as a whole. But implementing these three fixes quickly and in their entirety will show residents and the region that the Council wants to take measurable steps in the right direction.
This afternoon, Greater Greater Wife and I parked at a metered space downtown to eat at an outdoor sidewalk cafe. I put a few quarters in the meter, which was about 10 feet from the cafe. When we finished eating, the meter wasn't yet blinking "expired." I turned around to say goodbye to her, walked over to the car, checked my email for no more than a minute, and then when I looked up, a DC parking enforcement officer was putting a ticket on my windshield.
There's definitely an initial rush of frustration and even anger upon getting a parking ticket, especially when you were about five feet from the car at the time. It would have been nice if the parking enforcer had even acknowledged my presence instead of walking away without a word. However, I'm not going to whine about parking officers trying to "pick your pocket." My car was, indeed, not moving and sitting in a space at a moment when the meter was showing zero time. If you don't want to get a ticket, be more careful not to break the law (or be on the lookout for enforcement officers).
We do need one parking improvement mostly unrelated to my experience: pay by phone. 7 minutes per quarter feels like a ridiculously small amount of time. However, two dollars for an hour, while not cheap, doesn't feel nearly so bad. Plus, not everyone has eight or sixteen quarters lying around, and if you do, they run out fast after parking a few times. I parked on Mass. Ave near Union Station recently, and had to go into a nearby bank to get rolls of quarters to feed the meter. Once I'd put in the maximum two hours, nearly half (to be precise, 40%) of the roll of quarters was gone in one swoop.
Meanwhile, I think nothing of spending $2 for a Metro ride to, say, Rockville. I pass the SmarTrip over the sensor and that's it. A phone system would considerably alleviate the perceived pain of parking meters. If I could just use a credit card or even pay by text message, it would be similarly painless. DDOT is supposedly planning to pilot a pay-by-phone system in Dupont Circle. Let's do it!
If you're curious why I have been parking so much, it's because Greater Greater Wife is dealing with a knee injury that restricts walking. This is a good example of why we need performance parking: people who can't take transit for reasons of physical impairment, whether temporary or permanent, need to have spaces to park. It hasn't been hard to find spaces since DC raised the rates to $2 an hour, but we simply can't go to many neighborhoods on the weekends because all the spaces are full, or pay $15 for a quick one-hour lunch in Woodley Park, as we had to recently. That's almost as expensive as a ticket.
Sometimes, the most heroic of politicians get fooled by proposals that sound like they'll save the world but turn out to be terrible policy. The political organizers-in-training running mock superhero campaigns for DC Mayor fell into this trap, as many of them hastily jumped on a proposal from Adam Green Goblin to eliminate street cleaning tickets in DC.
The noble Adam Green was transformed by a chemical serum, adrenaline, when DPW "courtesy towed" his car around the corner to make room for snow removal. The new space had a different street cleaning day than the place he'd parked, leading Adam to get a street cleaning ticket. DPW also couldn't tell Adam where they'd put the car.
From that day forward, Adam Green Goblin began roaming the city trying to stamp out street sweeping tickets. He created a Facebook group arguing that the tickets are just a revenue generator for DC. He also added that Georgetown has no street cleaning (nor does Ward 3), making the tickets an unfair burden on residents of other neighborhoods.
It is indeed unfair for some neighborhoods to have sweeping and not others, but the solution isn't to stop cleaning the streets. Residents of the areas with street sweeping originally petitioned DC to start it, due to high volumes of trash and chemicals on their streets. Residents would certainly not like the way their neighborhoods looked if DC stopped cleaning. And when we don't take debris off the streets, it washes into storm drains and rivers, or blows into trees and parks. On my street, after DPW does not clean the streets for the winter, the gutters are full of tree material and some trash, and many streets nearer businesses accumulate a lot more trash.
The new street sweeper cameras, which have enraged some drivers, are also making a difference to DC's trash and pollution. According to testimony from DPW head William Howland at a January 2008 hearing, cars parked illegally during sweeping hours significantly impede DPW's ability to get trash off the streets. Each car forces the sweeper to go around, making it miss three parking spaces worth of gutter. Cleaning vehicles collect 10 pounds of oil and grease per mile swept, and 3 pounds each of nitrogen and phosphorus.Green Lantern, who created a petition for neighborhoods to request an end to street cleaning. This came despite his strong advocacy for green jobs and green roofs. Batwoman also endorsed the campaign, as did Batgirl, despite her major policy plank of "cleaning up our streets," which she must mean only in the crimefighting way. The Atom came out against street cleaning tickets, while advocating for cleaning up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and city parks, "crack[ing] down on illegal dumping" and prosecuting polluters. Wonder Woman talked about the issue, too, but confined her comments to the unfairness between Georgetown and other neighborhoods, rather than attacking street sweeping itself.
Of course, the DC government could definitely make the street sweeping system more user-friendly. For example, right now each neighborhood generally uses the same two cleaning days for every street, like Monday on one side and Tuesday on the other side. Drivers often have to drive to an adjacent neighborhood to find a usable space. DPW could reorganize the routes to stretch across most of the District on each day, sweeping one street across neighborhoods Monday, a different street Tuesday, and so on.
DC could allow drivers to register their cell phone numbers or email addresses to receive a text message or email if they're ever ticketed or towed, to avoid someone getting multiple tickets within a few hours of each other or tickets after a courtesy tow. And they should absolutely make sure they don't lose track of cars entirely due to bureaucratic mistakes.
It's true that we ought not to see ticketing drivers as a nice way to raise revenue. The ticketing system's goal, first and foremost, must be to promote the right behavior, like not parking in rush hour restricted areas or blocking street sweepers. But ending street cleaning and coping with trash-strewn, chemical-coated streets isn't the answer.
What about Georgetown? Why don't they have street cleaning? So far, I've asked many people, and gotten numerous as-yet-unconfirmed answers. Some have said that the streets are too narrow for sweeping vehicles, or that Georgetowners just didn't want to have to give up parking on one side of the street some days. All neighborhoods with street sweeping did originally opt in. Maybe the BID spends its own money to keep the neighborhood clean, or neighbors do the work themselves. At one point, the Citizens' Association of Georgetown recommended instituting street sweeping.
One source said that DPW does some manual sweeping. If they do, and if it costs DPW more to keep Georgetown clean than other neighborhoods, that's unfair. Someone else told me that they heard that as part of DC's water quality settlement with the EPA, DC will be expanding street sweeping to all neighborhoods. Either way, I'll keep investigating to get real answers. Adam is right to ask questions about the apparent inequal treatment of Georgetown and nearby neighborhoods, but wrong to recommend that we eliminate cleaning entirely, or tickets for those who don't move their cars.
I call on Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and the environment-loving members of the Facebook group to rescind their support for the Green Lantern and Adam Green Goblin's plan. Instead, they should cast their votes for Wonder Woman (my recommendation), Cyborg, Superman or Spider-Man, the candidates who weren't corrupted by Adam Green Goblin's populist-sounding but dangerous proposal. If these Mayoral candidates were serious about fixing this inequity, they'd instead push for reasonable street sweeping reforms and investigate the real reasons Georgetown has no street cleaning. Since they're actually just fictional superheroes with campaigns run by national community organizers in town for a boot camp, Greater Greater Washington will investigate and push on this issue instead.
Have the Washington Post's editors already reassigned Eric Weiss's responsibilities? Just one day after we broke the news that Weiss was leaving the Post, fellow metro reporter Tim Craig took the old, already-reported story of DC's planned increase in ticket enforcement and bust out with a full-throated blast of Entitled Driving Journalist Syndrome.
Is Craig vying for Weiss's "war on drivers" beat? Or do the Post's editors want to make very clear that, despite Weiss's departure, they have not wavered in their belief that no government nor person may stand in the way of their inalienable right to drive into DC from their suburban homes and park wherever they want, whether a legal space or not?
In classic Weiss style, the lede cites suburban drivers who just can't stand the fact that DC's government doesn't put their needs first, even when they break the law:
Maricruz MaGowan, an economist who lives in Bethesda and works downtown, considers the District's aggressive parking enforcement program a hidden commuter tax. "They target drivers from Maryland and Virginia. If they need the money, enact a tax on drivers who use the streets, but do it openly. This is ridiculous."Craig has even outdone his predecessors. Not only does he incorporate the "war on drivers" frame, mixing in the "tax" hysteria, but he breaks out the ridiculous assertion that we've started hearing from opponents of reducing parking minimums or performance parking: that DC's policy aims to eliminate cars completely.
... Over the next year, hundreds of thousands of commuters and D.C. residents could experience similar frustrations as the city prepares for a major expansion in its parking enforcement.
Officials at AAA Mid-Atlantic, who deem the District the most "motorist-unfriendly city" in the nation, are critical of the new enforcement efforts. ... "This is part and parcel a war on the motorist," said John Townsend, a AAA spokesman. "It's a sneak tax and a sneak attack on motorists and tourists. ... They are trying to make the District a car-free zone."
Of course, neither Craig nor Townsend explain how forcing drivers to obey laws is secret evidence that the city wants to wipe them from the city. I don't seem to remember any Washington Post article talking about bicycle ticketing on New Hampshire Avenue which claims DC is trying to eliminate bicycling, for example. If any of you ever get a ticket for "jaywalking," make sure to call up Craig and encourage him to write that article saying that DC is engaging in a "war on people" in hopes of removing all pedestrians.
Councilmember Jim Graham was unfazed, telling Craig, "Cars are not a threatened species anywhere in the world, and certainly not here." He called the "war on drivers" concept "absurd" and explained that he was happy to "take the heat" to pay for the important programs retained in the DC budget. It's too bad the Post's slanted reporting makes him feel like enforcing the law is "heat" at all. Drivers ought to be praising the Council for more enforcement, since it benefits everyone.
MaGowan (who, ironically, works for the EPA) was upset that DC gave her a ticket for parking during a rush hour period. I've driven during rush hour, and one of the more annoying aspects is when two or three lanes have to funnel down because one single driver left their car on a road with a rush hour restriction. When that happens, the capacity of the road loses an entire lane. If we tolerate that, we might as well remove the restriction and let people park there at any time.
I'm sure Craig could find a few drivers to quote who are annoyed at other drivers who don't move their cars, and glad to see enforcement to keep things moving. But that didn't fit the anti-government frame Craig, Townsend, and/or the Post's editors wanted to push. But Tim, if you change your mind, give me a call for a quote. Meanwhile, welcome to the beat.
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