Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Just the Ticket

It must be nice to live in a place where you can get a parking ticket voided by having the mayor on speed-dial.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Contrary to popular belief, the city’s parking department does have a forgiving side — if you live in Rio Vista.

Public records from the Police Department and City Hall spell out the city’s willingness to bend the laws for the influential neighborhood, a near-downtown enclave of the well-to-do.

That willingness has led to the voiding or refunding of thousands of dollars worth of tickets, the written censure of a police officer for issuing citations there, and an extended grace period for the local homeowner’s association to find their own solution to the problem. All this in a city where the hard-line ticketing operation has long been a subject of complaints and which recently hired a collection agency to go after out-of-state scofflaws.

Parking Manager Doug Gottshall said the city has at times voided tickets en masse, such as to a crowd attending church, but no other neighborhood has a special standing arrangement like Rio Vista. “Not that I can ever remember or ever imagine,” he said.

The latest “handful” of parking ticket write-offs came in March, he said. “We decided to do it in the interest of peace,” Gottshall said. Before that, the records show, the city’s interests came to the rescue of Rio Vista residents twice, with offers to refund or void 392 tickets worth at least $9,400. The police officer who worked the Rio Vista zone was disciplined for writing too many tickets, according to documents pertaining to the case, and he was ordered to back off.

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The hands-off policy was put to the test a month ago, when a resident’s complaint led to another spate of tickets. Gottshall, the city’s parking manager, said he voided the tickets in agreement with Andersen. “It was a decision I initiated after talking to [Sturman of the civic association], thinking we still had this arrangement,” Gottshall said. For the future, he said, “We’d rather this thing get straightened out once and for all. It’s just a mess.” Andersen agreed. “If they just feel that all they have to do is call City Hall and complain, that’s not the appropriate attitude,” Andersen said. “Now they’re aware they’re in violation of the law.” Sturman said the city has been willing to “jump through hoops” for Rio Vista. Asked why, he lowered his voice. “The mayor lives in our neighborhood,” he replied. [Sun-Sentinel]