- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

A furious fuss erupted yesterday between the Department of Public Works and a D.C. Council member over who should get the blame for dramatically increasing parking fines.
The Department of Public Works posted a notice on its Internet site detailing the 50 percent increases, noting that they were approved by the council, and this angered council member Carol Schwartz. But she conceded that she and her colleagues did, in fact, vote for the increases. She suggested they were Mayor Anthony A. Williams' idea.
In a letter delivered yesterday to Leslie Hotaling, the director of the Department of Public Works (DPW), Mrs. Schwartz accused the agency of distributing "misinformation."
"How dare you place responsibility for the increases in parking fines on the Council!" she demanded. "You, better than anyone, know that not to be the case. In the future when you issue press releases that mention the council's role in a policy decision, do so in a manner that is factual and does not rewrite history."
"The council did ultimately albeit reluctantly agree to a more reasonable compromise," she conceded in her letter to Miss Hotaling. "But it was always the mayor's proposal, and not ours."
Mrs. Schwartz and nine other members of the D.C. Council Kevin Chavous, Jack Evans, Sandra Allen, Adrian Fenty, David Catania, Jim Graham, Harold Brazil, Vincent Orange and Linda W. Cropp voted last summer to exempt themselves from restrictions on curbside parking anywhere in the city except during rush hour, in loading zones, crosswalks, no-parking zones or adjacent to fire stations or fire hydrants. Mr. Williams approved these exemptions.
Since then, two council members who voted against the special privileges have received and paid the largest number of tickets. Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, received six tickets, and Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, received two. Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, also voted against the special privileges for council members.
The parking fines were increased effective as of Monday from $20 to $30 for parking in an alley, disobeying an official sign, parking in a no-parking zone and parking for more than two hours in a residential parking area without a permit; from $15 to $25 for parking at an expired meter; and from $20 to $500 for a commercial bus or sightseeing vehicle parked in front of a residence or in another illegal space.
Mrs. Schwartz's two-page letter was read at a budget oversight hearing for the council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment. Mrs. Schwartz, the committee's chairman, wrote the letter in response to a notice that the DPW posted on its Internet site last month announcing the new fees.
"The increases were passed by the Council last summer as part of the Fiscal Year 2003 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2002 and published in the District of Columbia Register on August 23, 2002," the Internet notice said.
Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the DPW, said yesterday that the notice was posted to inform motorists of the change, not to assess culpability for the increase. "The reference is intended only to set a time frame and a context of which the measures were approved," she said.
The council last year unanimously approved a budget support act that cut spending and increased revenue to offset a $323 million deficit. The higher fines were included in that legislation.
The higher fines were proposed March 18, 2002, and the council did not hold a hearing or take a recorded vote on the measure. The fines were deemed approved on July 13 when the council passed the budget support act before its summer recess.
Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mr. Williams, yesterday accused Mrs. Schwartz of deception. "I didn't see the council sending out a press release advising the citizens of the increase in fees," he said. "That's not a fun thing to do," he said.
But he defended the increase in parking fines. "Compared to most major cities, our parking fines are on the lower end of the spectrum. You get a parking ticket in a no-parking area in New York City, you are going to pay 75 bucks," Mr. Bullock said.
The council yesterday unanimously voted to eliminate the $10 fees charged to drivers who successfully appeal parking violations. "It is absolutely absurd that the city keeps the money even if it is proven that a ticket was issued in error," said Mrs. Schwartz, the primary sponsor of the legislation. "It deters the individuals from even attempting to appeal what they believe to be an improper ticket."

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