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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Parking ticket fever hits Hoboken and a remedy for some hit with the plague

Consider this a temporary reprieve from Carmelo "pay to play" Garcia," the Assemblyman who has stitched together the most beautiful quilt of Hatch Act evasion pocketing money from vendors to the Hoboken Housing Authority.

And look it's a multicultural quilt, Hamiltons, Benjamins all denominations coming together to Mr. Carmelo's bank account. This diversity of benevolent currency brings a tear to your eyes. (Talk among yourselves and the editors of the Hudson Reporter.)

While Mr. Carmelo remains on evasive maneuvers, having absolutely nothing to say about his pay to play scheme as Executive Director of the Hoboken Housing Authority, let's tackle the thorny problem of a Hoboken bureaucracy run amok.

We're of course talking about the overly efficient for many Hoboken Parking Utility.

A sample pile of parking tickets not Hoboken.
But it's the fear and reality for many in town who feel blitzed.
Some have a strong case for overcharges and will see a City refund.

Hoboken is taking action apparently from some systematic overcharges on a number of parking violations, on average it comes to about $20. But, when you total up the errors compounded by other potential mistakes the City may in the end be returning almost $100,000 to the citizenry victims.

According to a Star Ledger story, one man led a personal battle after arriving to move his car during a snow emergency and not being allowed to do so, car keys in hand. It's a legal violation more wrong than where he parked and he is joined by approximately 3,000 others hit with overcharges.

Now everyone has a parking story in the Mile Square City. You can't live in Hoboken without having one, whether you were ticketed, booted, towed or had a friend decline to visit anymore because after circling your neighborhood for 20 minutes they gave up on trying to find a parking spot.

Back when Hoboken replaced the crooked quarters regime leader, the new guy Ian Sacs came in and overhauled many things - including the parking meters looted of about four million quarters. That's right, Hoboken had a vendor, a south Jersey mob connected arcade firm doing the count on its premises not even ten years ago. So the quarters were "collected" and transported down to a back room where a count was taken and month in and month out more and more quarters kept disappearing from the deposit slips.

Sacs however wasn't really credited much for the achievement of putting an end to the practice. He was reviled and attacked at most every City Council meeting taking some of the most abusive attacks of any Mayor Zimmer director month in and month out.

He was guilty of many things as far as the Old Guard council was concerned, worse than the guy before him who failed to pay tribute and get the green light to pocket all the quarters without kicking up properly. 

That led to one former parking director being outed in a council meeting and landing up in state prison.

Back to our story, at least one City approved towing firm was billing "clients" amounts exceeding the City ordinance. From the Star Ledger:

Hoboken passed a resolution to give a $20 to refund more than 3,200 drivers whose cars were towed in the city dating back to December 2012. That adds up to more than $64,000 that was wrongly collected and is now heading back into the pockets of drivers.

This one particular overcharge was a clerical error, the city said: What should have been a $25 service charge was automatically billed as $45. The error has since been corrected in its computers, the city said.

For starters, the city will refund money to 2,322 drivers who had easily identifiable information and New Jersey license plates. The others towed vehicles were from out-of-state or from leasing companies and will require more legwork to track down, Hoboken spokesman Juan Melli said.

The City is also reining in other errors seeking out other injured parties who were charged inappropriately a storage fee of $30 per day. In the end, the City may be returning $100,00 or more to all the individuals - a process requiring labor intensive review.

As it should.

The Ramones pumped out their Blitzkreig Bop but in Hoboken
many residents feel like they are facing a different blitz - of parking tickets.

Talking Ed Note: Who hasn't had a friend call on a mobile saying they can't deal with visiting you anymore because there's no parking on a Saturday night, they don't want to get a ticket because the signage created more than a decade ago uses the exact same colors, is confusing and on and on it goes.

Reports of the ticketing efficiency though has the perception of reaching all time highs. There's a sense that not only do you risk a ticket or a boot in Hoboken but you may be ticketed multiple times in minutes, hours, days and come back to find a stack of them for an oversight, like an expired inspection sticker.

Worse, MSV has heard strong reform backers recount individual stories of abuse. One said some time back a whole side of their block had been booted. Turned out to be a complete cluster&%#*. Not one of the people booted had done anything wrong in parking and a city employee believed to be relatively new erred. All of the victims shuffled down to clear the matter up and were told by the unmovable bureaucracy they had to go through the process - no different than criminals being booked and fingerprinted. Outraged bonding among the victims commenced.

If that's your warm and fuzzy encounter with local municipal government, what taste do you think that leaves?

In the end, Mayor Zimmer owns it. All of it. As the CEO of the Hoboken government she's responsible for all of her directors, their achievements and their failures. That's how it works.

Sometimes as CEO, you have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and look beyond the line item on a profit and loss spread sheet. This is one of those times.

With the tremendous progress the mayor has made in stabilizing the City's finances among the crisis to crisis problems she had to endure in her first term, this is one that has a direct bearing on how many residents will view her personally - fair or not.

The matters of public perception is a political reality and one demanding it be embraced. While the City Council has begun reviewing some aspects of parking in committee, the mayor should be leading the charge and reconsidering the ridiculous signage with the same green and white colors on both sides among the long list of issues which can be tackled.

It's time and for many, it's way past time.

As for Mr. Carmelo, his time was up a long time ago. If he had ANY honor, he would have resigned already. But there is no honor among thieves, this is Hoboken.