Saturday, October 22, 2011

The big, bad wolf cometh...

The Northwest Herald reported yesterday morning that the Woodstock City Council approved a hike in parking fines last Tuesday night "with no discussion".

Why was there no discussion? Items reaching the City Council appear on an agenda for the meeting. Most items slide through without discussion or individual consideration, because they are voted on as part of the Consent Agenda. To get individual discussion, a Council member must request that an item be pulled. A member of the public can ask for an item to be pulled for discussion; if a Council member then is willing to ask for that, then it is pulled. Usually, Council members agree.

But the increase in parking fines drew no attention and no discussion. Not one Council member or the Mayor objected to a 100% increase in parking fines on all City streets (except the Square). Now there is nothing left but the screaming and gnashing of teeth.

So I guess I'm glad that I got my one parking ticket in Woodstock in February 1996, on my first morning in Woodstock. There were no warning signs on the highway into Woodstock, and I did not know of the overnight parking restriction. On my windshield I found my parking violation. "Welcome to Woodstock. We're glad you are here and see that you are from Virginia. Pay $5 or else. And have a good time in Woodstock."

Now, instead of $5, the City of Woodstock has decided to nail parking violators $20.

All this causes me to wonder why the Woodstock Police don't uniformly enforce parking violations. Some areas get rigorous attention, which accounts for the $3,000 or so in monthly parking fines. And some residents, who violate parking laws every night, do not ever get a ticket. Is this fair?

The City didn't have to increase the parking fine. All it had to do was order that every parking violator got a parking ticket, every time. In a month, don't you think a resident would "get the message" from 30 $10 parking tickets?

Parking fines were worth $19,515 to Woodstock in the first six months of 2011. This pace could mean $39,000 is sucked out of Woodstock pockets in 2011.

Look what happens if you don't cough up your $20 fast enough. If the fine is unpaid for 30 days, it jumps to $50. That's a 150% increase. Is this illegal? Usurious? Extortion?

And look at another unfair aspect of the parking violations. If you violate parking rules on the Square, you get a pass the first time. All you get is a warning, which very likely ends up on the ground or in a trash barrel. After that, the second violation gets you a $10 fine; $20 for the third violation; $30 for the third. Does this open the City of Woodstock to a constitutional challenge of its parking fines off the Square?

A street is a street. Can you imagine if the City Council decided to nail parking violators on the Square for $20 for the first time?

Was there any notice of the parking violation fines increase? Sure there was. All you had to do was go to City Hall or the Woodstock Library after 1:00PM last Friday and read the packet that was prepared for Council members? Like, who does that?

Think that was enough notice? I don't. And publishing the agenda online on Friday afternoon isn't enough notice either, because the details of action to be taken at the next City Council meeting are not fully disclosed. If you did happen to review the agenda online before the meeting, here's what you would have seen:

"(Item) 7. Parking Ticket Increase - Adoption of an Ordinance amending various fine provisions of the Woodstock City Code."

Would that have been enough to wean you away from your TV that night? I doubt it. Was it carefully worded to cause anyone who did read it to believe that only some fines would increased whereas, in reality, all were being increased, except for streets on the Square.

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