- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

To hear at least one Southwest resident tell it, Miss Cleo or someone like her apparently is employed with Affiliated Computer Services, the company that takes sneaky photos of vehicles moving in unlawful fashion.
Miss Cleo, of course, is the nationally famous TV-infomercial fortuneteller who makes a fortune with her tarot cards. She may be Jamaican. She also may be any old person who has worked hard to achieve a passable Jamaican accent.
Anyway, whenever the dedicated employees of the camera company come across a photograph with a license plate that is somehow obscured, they apparently solicit the help of someone with higher powers to interpret the vague markings.
The person must use the most scientific methods of detection available: tarot cards, crystal ball and horoscope. If that fails, the person makes a good guess based on experience and a feeling.
If it feels like an 8, it must be an 8, except if it is a 9, in which case the bureaucracy ensnarls the innocent in its grand moneymaking endeavor.
The innocent's name is Angela Brock-Smith, who was forced to play the game with a city that is ever responsive to the needs of its taypayers.
Miss Smith to the city: You messed up.
City to Miss Smith: Let's double your fine to $100 and double our pleasure.
Don't get the wrong idea. The powers-that-be in the city are not in it for the money. They have adopted this form of Big Brotherism to save lives.
When you write your check or money order to the D.C. treasurer please, do not send cash you should attach a note thanking the city for saving your lawless life.
As usual, the city is very efficient in dispensing tickets, starting with parking enforcement. Nothing excites the city's bureaucrats like a vehicle that has overstayed its meter-designated time by five minutes or has failed to meet one of the zillion conditions that go with the parking space. Nothing confuses motorists like the parking signs written in fuzzy legalese, with one qualifier after another.
Parking is almost a lifestyle in the city. You can't park there on this night because of the big blower that rolls down the street to blow the dirt and litter from one side of the street to the other.
A person is actually paid to perform this vital public service, and all you have to show for it is dirt and litter afoot and a ticket on your windshield.
Ticket-writing is the No. 1 industry in the nation's capital; watching the flying manhole covers the No. 1 pastime. You are bound to be hit by one or the other.
This is life in the big city, and what a life it is, with cameras strategically placed to monitor your citizenship on the roadways.
The city does not even bother to say, "Smile, you're on our version of 'Candid Camera.'"
Instead, the city sends you a notice of the infraction, along with a very nice photograph of your vehicle and a close-up shot of your license plate.
As an extra benefit, no points are assessed against the registered owner of the vehicle or the person who may have been operating it. This ensures that the offenders, even repeat offenders, remain on the roadways, if only to pay more fines. The more, the merrier.
Fortunately, the city finally has resolved Miss Smith's problem, although more than four months after the bogus citation was issued and only after her difficulty was publicized in The Washington Times.
It seems it was all a big misunderstanding among the various agencies: the Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the Automated Traffic Enforcement office, the Metropolitan Police Department and the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication. That comes out to a lot of acronyms and a massive headache.
Adjudication officials concede the system is flawed.
You think?
Incidentally, Miss Smith's vehicle has been out of commission since last summer. It sure would be a nice gesture on the part of the ACS to pick up the repairs on Miss Smith's vehicle, considering the aggravation.
It's the least the for-profit company can do.

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