- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Family and friends of D.C. Council members owe more than $24,000 in parking fines on their special license plates — about $4,000 more than was owed in June when members promised to make the violators pay.

At least five council members are scheduled to leave office in January, pending the outcome of Tuesday’s elections. Thousands are owed for parking fines on their special license plates.

Top violators include community activist Hazel Brown, who died in July. Her license plate was cited in a $100 ticket for parking too close to a fire hydrant in August.

The plate, issued by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, is co-registered to Mrs. Brown’s husband, William, who died in 2000.

“We don’t know where the plate is,” Cropp spokeswoman Denise Reed said.

The Washington Times reported in June that plate holders owed the city more than $20,000 in fines.

Council members and officials with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) said the violators would be forced to pay their tickets.

Several council members said they had called all of their plate holders and instructed them to pay. Others said they had planned to ask them to pay at some point in the future.

Mrs. Cropp, an at-large Democrat who will leave office in January, called all of her plate holders in June and asked them to pay. Still, plates assigned to her office total $395 in tickets.

“I’m sure she will ask them again, if she knows who they are,” said Miss Reed, the lawmaker’s spokeswoman. “I think she had the confidence that these are friends that she issued tags to, and I suspect that she felt they would’ve reconciled [the tickets] by now.”

Parking tickets on plates distributed by council member Vincent B. Orange Sr.’s office total $1,000. His spokeswoman, Estell Lloyd, said there are no plans to contact plate holders before the Ward 5 Democrat leaves office in January.

“It’s not the council member’s responsibility to collect parking tickets,” Ms. Lloyd said. “It’s not our responsibility to collect funds. That’s almost like prying into somebody’s private life to say that they owe tickets.”

DMV records show that a license plate registered in Mr. Orange’s name has accrued $660 in parking tickets.

Since the early 1970s, council members and the mayor have distributed the special plates — which feature low numbers — as political prizes.

When lawmakers leave office, the plates they have handed out are supposed to be returned to the city to be reassigned to new officials.

The Times found that the tickets on those returned plates often go unpaid and are passed on to the next plate holder.

Council members’ staffers said that lawmakers often swap tags so that constituents can have the number of their choice, which causes confusion.

Meanwhile, former advisory neighborhood Commissioner Charles White owes $3,085 in tickets on his special license plate — $230 more than he owed in June.

His tag — issued by council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican — expired in March.

Mrs. Schwartz said she has asked DMV to force Mr. White to pay his tickets and bar him from re-registering his tag. He was not allowed to re-register, but DMV records show that his expired tags are still gathering parking tickets.

“I am furious with both DMV and [the Department of Public Works] for not having this car booted, taken off the streets and having this expired tag taken away,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “The fact that he’s been driving around on expired tags and hasn’t been booted — it’s gross incompetence by the agencies of the District of Columbia.”

Phone numbers listed for Mr. White have been disconnected.

When a typical license plate receives a ticket, the violation is entered in the DMV computer system, and the fine doubles if the ticket is not paid in 30 days.

Residents with more than three delinquent tickets have their cars towed by the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Residents must re-register their plates every two years but are not permitted to do so without paying their outstanding tickets.

“Obviously, I would hope that persons who receive tickets will pay them, but that is not an issue that my office has a role in,” said council member Kathy Patterson, a Ward 3 Democrat who will leave office in January. “Issuing and following up on parking tickets is an executive function, and one that the [DMV] is well equipped to handle.”

Tickets on plates distributed by Mrs. Patterson total $760.

DMV officials said they plan to track down former special license plate holders who have delinquent tickets after the plates are returned early next year.

What’s more, DMV Director Anne Witt probably will ask the city’s new mayor to abolish the special license system, spokeswoman Janis Hazel said.

“If allowed to brief the new mayor and council, she will raise this [issue],” Miss Hazel said.

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