- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The 535 members of Congress can do it. So can the 13 members of the D.C. Council. So can Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

So can the city’s 271 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) members, the Metropolitan Police Department officers who drive marked or unmarked cars and almost anyone who drives federal vehicles, city parking officials say.

But ordinary taxpayers can’t do it.

This elite group of drivers can park anywhere in the District when they’re on “official business,” and not get a ticket or risk getting their vehicle towed.

And some drivers think they can park anywhere they want without paying a penalty.

Officials say some clergymen merely place homemade signs on their dashboards identifying them as “church officials.” It often works. Some churchgoers double-park around their places of worship on Sundays. Double-parking is illegal in the District and carries a $50 fine, but this is not enforced at some churches.

The double-parking has left residents, churches and city officials at odds over the enforcement of D.C. parking laws. Mr. Williams last week postponed double-parking enforcement around churches until at least late August.

The District, which has about 4,000 curbside parking spaces, officially exempts high-ranking city officials from certain parking restrictions only when those officials are on “official business.”

But that rule is generously defined and nearly impossible to enforce, parking officials say.

To enforce the “official business” rule, an officer would have to find the owner of the vehicle and ask them what they were doing and whether the purpose was “official,” says Mary Myers, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works. “We trust that they are on official business,” she says.

Members of Congress granted themselves special parking privileges in 1925. This allows members of Congress to park at red meters, within 45 feet of an intersection, in bus zones, in residential parking permit areas and in business intersections — infractions that would cost a D.C. resident a total of $165 in tickets.

Police now have begun double-ticketing ordinary citizens for the same offense — someone who parks in a No Parking zone, for example, can get a ticket for parking there, and another ticket for “failing to obey a lawful sign.”

The D.C. Council voted to exempt itself from the same parking restrictions in 2002.

Kevin Morison, a spokesman for Metropolitan Police Department, says tickets can be issued to marked and unmarked police cars; officers are allowed to park illegally only when they are responding to an emergency, he says.

Mr. Morison says officers likely park illegally when they are not on official business, but he concedes that enforcing the law is all but impossible.

ANC members are similarly exempt from residential permit and parking meter regulations, a privilege routinely abused.

Dee Hunter, chairman of ANC 1B, says he uses his “Advisory Neighborhood Commission, on official business” placard anytime he parks his car. He uses it to park illegally outside his church in Northwest.

“I use it anytime I park anywhere,” Mr. Hunter told The Washington Times on Sunday. “I go to church. I parked there with it this morning.”

But he told The Times yesterday that although he keeps the permit in his window at all times he only parks illegally when on ANC business.

Miss Myers says the signs that identify them as “church officials” do not exempt them from parking laws. “I have seen homemade things that are in their windshields. But no, we do not honor those.”

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