- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2006

Four months ago, when The Washington Times reported that the family and friends of D.C. Council members bestowed with special low-number license plate numbers had racked up more than $20,000 in unpaid parking fines, Mayor Tony Williams along with several council members called on the offenders to pay their outstanding tickets. The malfeasance continued, however, and unpaid fines now total more than $24,000.

Unlike most car registrations, which cannot be renewed if parking fines have not been paid, the vanity plates can be returned to the Department of Motor Vehicles and even reissued with outstanding tickets. Because of frequent switches, the DMV has trouble keeping tabs on who has what tag. For instance, a car with a license plate registered to community activist Hazel Brown, who died in July, was ticketed in August. The whereabouts of that plate, distributed by outgoing Council Chairman Linda Cropp, are unknown. Tags with outstanding fines have simply fallen out of circulation in other cases as well.

Council members have been firm in their public criticism of those who ignore their parking tickets — at least in public, that is. “Everybody needs to pay,” said lone Republican council member Carol Schwartz. “There should be no special treatment for anyone who has a low-level tag,” said council member Jim Graham. Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty was equally forceful. The D.C. Council’s view on parking, however, is anything but egalitarian. A 2002 bill sponsored by Mrs. Schwartz allows council members to flout parking laws when it suits their interest and they can claim to be on official business.

DMV Director Anne Witt intends to recommend that Mr. Fenty, as mayor, abolish the practice of handing out special license plates. Family and friends of council members who receive the low-number tags are, like everyone else, expected to be law-abiding citizens and pay their parking tickets. It’s clear that the problems with low-number tags, which have no real value for the District anyway, permit this kind of rampant abuse by scofflaws.

It’s bad enough that council members relieved themselves of the burden of following parking restrictions; a “friend of the council” tag shouldn’t be taken as clearance to violate parking laws with impunity. But so long as parking tickets are allowed to go unpaid, that message won’t be delivered.

In light of the apparent difficulty the DMV has reining in the abuses commit by those with the special tags, the practice of City Hall giving out low-number tags should be abolished altogether.

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