- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has appointed two city officials to assess a plan approved Tuesday by the D.C. Council to offer amnesty for $347 million in parking tickets issued before 1997.
Mr. Williams assigned City Administrator John A. Koskinen and Sherryl Hobbes Newman, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, to study the cost to the city so that Mr. Williams can decide whether to veto the proposal. The council has promised to override a veto.
"We have concerns about the fairness issues and the financial impact," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams. "The legislation isn't fair to those who paid their tickets while others just threw them in a drawer and now don't have to pay. The council has essentially created a new complication and is penalizing the good citizen."
Mr. Bullock said it would be no simple thing to reprogram computers to integrate the initiative. He added that the majority of tickets "are not due to errors on the part of government."
D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty called the mayor's arguments "a red herring," saying it's a waste of resources for the city government to go after long-overdue tickets because little of the money owed would be collected.
"Very few people are going to pay those fines," said Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. "What people are complaining about is that they weren't told about any tickets and now are being told to pay them. A friend told me he had paid a ticket seven years ago and even had a hearing on it. But the Department of Motor Vehicles had no records, so they told him to pay again or he won't be able to renew his license. That is extortion."
In one of its final acts before adjourning for summer recess, the D.C. Council approved a measure that would provide full amnesty for unpaid parking tickets more than 5 years old, after residents complained and media reported that the DMV overbilled on tickets.
The agency has collected $17.8 million in ticket overbilling from 1981 to 1997, and officials have said they are trying to repay that money.
It was not clear whether the $347 million the city says it is owed for unpaid tickets includes any overbilled charges.
The council voted 11-1 for the amnesty. Only Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the committee that oversees motor vehicles issues, voted against it, saying the plan would reward those who don't play by the rules.
The mayor initially opposed the proposal outright because it would cost millions the city needs as budget revenues are declining.
To prevent a veto override, Mr. Williams would have to persuade at least five council members to change their votes at a time they will be focusing on their re-election campaigns. In addition, he is likely to have to explain why the city needs to collect the unpaid fines, which it has not needed to balance its budget for the past four years.
And he would have to justify his own amnesty plan, which took effect Monday. DMV officials are waiving late fees and other penalties for anyone with parking tickets issued before 1997. Mr. Williams last month announced the six-month amnesty as a part of his five-point plan to correct DMV problems.
The mayor expanded the amnesty to anyone living outside the District who hasn't paid an outstanding ticket. City officials said forgiving late fees could deny the city about $130 million.
Talk of a ticket amnesty didn't appease D.C. residents trying to renew car licenses and registrations yesterday at DMV service centers.
"I still had to pay $220 in fines for parking tickets I know I already paid years ago," said Elizabeth Ferrell of Southeast. "But they put you in the position that you have to pay because you have to drive."
Ms. Ferrell said she didn't understand why the agency didn't notify her about her outstanding tickets.
"I had the records of these tickets being paid until I moved recently," she said. "But in 10 years, I had never head about them, even in my other dealings with the DMV."
Bruce Skinner tried to get replacement tags and registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles a few weeks ago. Four days of back-and-forth trips to two different buildings revealed that he had $660 in outstanding tickets dating from 1985 of which he was unaware, including two dated 1993 and 1995 years he was in jail.
"This new system is messed up," he said. "Four days, and more than $400 in fines plus the money that I lost from work and I still don't have my tags."

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