Note from Dan: While my family and I are away at the beach this week, I’m treating you to some columns from the past year. This one was one of my favorites. It appeared Aug. 28, 2011.
Life is full of major and minor outrages, and last week, I heard about one of the latter.
It involves Joyce Crouch, 65, of Salem and a $25 parking ticket she got in Roanoke on Wednesday.
She’s retired, and disabled as a result of a knee replacement that didn’t work. She also has a hernia condition that prevents her from stretching out her arm. Joyce can’t even use the drive-through teller at a bank. Her husband Carson is disabled, too.
As a result of her conditions, Joyce has a handicapped placard that allows her to park in disabled parking spaces.
Wednesday she had an appointment at a Carilion Clinic rehabilitation center. She parked her Ford Expedition SUV in a handicapped space at McClanahan and First streets in south Roanoke.
Because the hernia makes it difficult for her to reach up to the rearview mirror, she didn’t hang her placard there. Instead, she stood it up neatly in a slot on her dashboard, so it would be obvious. She said she’s been doing this for at least three years without any problem. (It’s illegal to drive around with a placard hanging from the mirror.)
Joyce’s appointment lasted for an hour, and when she returned she found a parking ticket on the SUV.
Her offense? She didn’t hang her placard from the rearview mirror. The listed violation was: “Improper display of placard.” A little farther down on the ticket was this comment: “Placard on dash beside rehab center.”
This means the ticket-issuer actually saw Joyce’s placard and busted her anyway.
From the listed time, she could tell the ticket had been issued 13 minutes before she got back to her SUV. Joyce said she called a phone number on a pamphlet the officer also left, and asked a city employee who answered to send the ticketing officer back to her parking space.
She wanted to explain that her disability was the reason she hadn’t hung it from the rearview mirror. It’s a pretty good excuse.
The city employee wouldn’t do that and said Joyce would have to talk to a supervisor. Except the supervisor was not there. So Joyce said she left a message. She got no call on Thursday.
She also called her son-in-law, who’s a police officer. He encouraged her to go to court and fight it. Joyce may do that if she can’t get hold of a reasonable person. I decided to try to do that for her Friday.
I called the city Department of Billing and Collections and spoke to Christina Cherro, the senior tax compliance administrator. She looked through messages in her inbox and couldn’t find one from Joyce. I gave her Joyce’s phone numbers and Cherro said she would call her (they later found Joyce’s message, and someone else from Cherro’s office called Joyce).
The parking enforcement section of the city code, 20-76, addresses this subject. It says a placard must be hung from the rearview mirror, and the fine is $25 if it’s not. (It’s $125 if there is no handicapped tag or placard.)
In Roanoke, the parking police ride around in funny little three-wheel vehicles called Cushmans that look like the clown carts you see the Kazim Temple guys bring out for parades.
“When they’re driving, and they’re passing handicapped spaces, they’re looking for the placard on the rearview mirror,” Cherro told me. “If the placard is properly displayed, they don’t have to get out of their Cushman.” She said the parking officers are timed on their routes.
“I don’t make the city code. I just make sure it’s enforced,” Cherro added. You’ve heard that one before.
Cherro also told me that when she spoke to Joyce she would most likely urge her to explain in writing why she hadn’t hung her tag the legal way, because perhaps something can be done.
Dana Long, manager of billings and collections, said the department took over parking ticket enforcement July 1 and is still on a learning curve.
“We want to be fair and consistent,” she told me.
Some things should be done, in this case and others.
First, the city should tear up Joyce’s ticket and apologize for writing it. In the worst-case scenario, a parking cop shouldn’t have to waste more than 45 seconds ascertaining if there’s an unhung placard, then hopping back in the Cushman and proceeding on his way.
That’s a tiny favor to pay someone who’s disabled. They deal with all kinds of indignities and lack of accessibility every day.
Second, the city might want to consider rewriting its code in a way that puts the convenience of handicapped people above the convenience of its Cushman-riding parking cops.
That might prompt the Cushman cops to better focus their time and effort on the selfish dolts who have no disability and who park in handicapped spaces anyway.
Those $125 tickets would be lot more profitable to the city than the $25 ones. They should tow or boot those cars, too.
That would get the attention of the real scofflaws here, rather than the little old ladies who can barely walk and can’t reach.