- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Members of the D.C. Council thought they had solved the problem bedeviling motorists in the District how to find a parking space but Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that the solution was a mistake.
They shouldn't have tucked an amendment into a 34-page list of technical amendments just before leaving for recess, the mayor said. "Clearly public review was called for, not a final-hour revision."
But it's not clear whether he will attempt to change anything. The amendment, written by council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, would give her and her colleagues the right to park anywhere except in loading zones, in spaces restricted during rush hour or in front of firehouses, fire hydrants, crosswalks and no-parking zones. Mrs. Schwartz said the council deserved the exemption because members of Congress have it.
Mr. Williams said he agreed with council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, that the council erred in adopting the measure at the last minute without a public hearing.
"First of all, it was not necessary," Mrs. Patterson said, "and second is that there was no public hearing."
The Department of Public Works (DPW), which is responsible for issuing parking tickets in the District and whose ticket writers are regarded as the most efficient area employees, once exempted members of the D.C. Council. "In the past year," says Phyllis Jones, secretary of the council, "Public Works wrote new parking regulations and [the exemption] was omitted."
The exemption extends to D.C. council members the same parking privileges enjoyed by members of Congress including the freedom to park in bus zones, in restricted spaces near intersections, at building entrances and on restricted residential streets. It also would exempt council members from having to put money in parking meters.
The council passed the revision to the D.C. Traffic Act on a voice vote. The 77-year-old traffic act, approved in 1925, exempts members of Congress from getting parking tickets while on official business.
Mrs. Patterson was one of three council members, along with Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, to vote against the bill.
Mrs. Patterson said she was surprised when the bill came up during the hearing.
Mrs. Schwartz argued during the hearing that a number of D.C. government employees, including Mr. Williams, are already enjoying the exemption privilege. All of the District's agency heads and numerous other employees use city cars, and the District's parking-enforcement officers don't issue tickets to vehicles with city government plates.
Council members have never officially been included under that exemption umbrella, but tossing out tickets issued to the city's elected officials became a common practice at the DPW, according to Mrs. Jones.
"In the last year, Public Works wrote new parking regulations, and [the exemption] was omitted," the council secretary said. "This amendment was to clarify what has been practiced up to last year."
She said some council members have gotten tickets in the past year and were forced to pay them because the law did not specifically exempt them.
And because the council has always opted to use their private cars and not government vehicles, there was confusion over the law among new public works administrators and staff, Mrs. Jones said.
Several council members contacted by The Washington Times yesterday refused to talk about the exemption vote.
DPW spokeswoman Mary Myers said that if the mayor signs the measure, the department will instruct its officers not to ticket the personal vehicles of council members vehicles the officers will be able to identify by their special license plates.
But there are at least 20 other federal and local agencies empowered to issue parking tickets in the District, including the U.S. Mint, U.S. Park Police, U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department.
Some D.C. residents said they feel slighted that their voices were not heard before the council made the decision.
"I'm always concerned when at the end of a session, they go out and pass a bill for their benefit," said community activist Dorothy Brizill.
She said it's even more troubling that the council passed the parking exemption at the same time that it was considering offering amnesty for residents from old, uncollected parking tickets.
That measure, which the council eventually approved and which was signed by the mayor yesterday, tosses out all unpaid parking tickets issued before 1997.
Mrs. Jones said the technical amendments will go before the mayor for his signature and are treated like any other bill.


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