- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

Tomorrow, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is scheduled to hold a hearing on one of the city’s biggest moneymakers ” traffic tickets. Frustrated motorists may somewhat appreciate the public airing. We suspect it will be another ruse, since neither Mr. Mendelson nor any other D.C. lawmaker has the political wherewithal to get to the bottom line. Why not? Because at least four separate agencies oversee parking and traffic enforcement, and the council acts as a shill.

The ticketing shell game began as a backdoor commuter tax during the early Barry years. The parking policies allowed the then-mayor to win favor (with unions and voters) by handing out wage-earner public works jobs to write parking tickets, and boot and tow vehicles. He also curried favor with the legal community by setting up a so-called adjudication bureau as a revenue backstop.

Enter Tony Williams as mayor two decades later, in 1999. By then, city leaders already had decided to split traffic and motor-vehicle responsibilities between a new Department of Motor Vehicles, a new Department of Transportation and a streamlined Department of Public Works. DMV would collect the potential tens of millions of dollars from the parking and driving infractions because, as Mr. Williams, the city’s former chief financial officer, keenly understood, DMV was hardly efficient, but that agency’s basic infrastructure for doing so was in place and most people were familiar with conducting business with DMV. That’s three agencies involved in City Hall’s public-safety farce. Add to that yet a fourth agency ” the Metropolitan Police Department. MPD is the agency that lets the contract for the speed cameras and the red-light cameras, while DMV collects the money from those infractions, too.

Each agency does its own thing, and no one holds them accountable ” least of all D.C. lawmakers, who approved legislation in 2002 that exempts them from the city’s parking regulations. Indeed, they don’t even have to feed parking meters.

Enter The Times, which revealed this just yesterday in an article headlined, “D.C. dumbfounded on parking fines”: D.C. agencies cannot agree on how much revenue the parking enforcement program has generated because they don’t know how to query the contractor running the program.”

To recap: The parking-enforcement policies began as a de facto commuter tax; at least four different D.C. agencies now handle parking and traffic policies; the council exempts itself from parking laws; the council holds public hearings to give the appearance of oversight and accountability (and wag fingers at the mayor); and the city is now so flush with money from its parking and driving laws that it cannot keep count.

A bit of advice to lawmakers: Hold a joint hearing. The three lawmakers chiefly responsible for making such a hearing happen are Council Chairman Linda Cropp, Public Works Chairman Carol Schwartz, who also oversees DMV and DDOT, and Mr. Mendelson, whose committee oversees the police department. Anything short of a joint hearing will be considered another ruse.

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