A parking ticket is visible on the windshield of a car parked at a meter on Superior Street in downtown Toledo.
Parking in Toledo is a headache, and not just for downtown visitors who think it costs too much and there aren’t enough spaces. Parking is a battlefront in the recurring turf war between Mayor Mike Bell and the police and command officers’ unions.
Nearly two years ago, the Bell administration told the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, which monitors the city’s nearly 1,000 parking meters, to begin writing tickets for other sorts of parking violations as well. City officials said they were responding to complaints from downtown businesses that enforcement of parking regulations needed to be stiffened.
The Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, Toledo Police Command Officers Association, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7 filed grievances. Writing tickets, they said, was the job of police and two civilian parking aides.
The city backed down, but that didn’t mean that Toledo police began to do the job more regularly. Toledo doesn’t have enough police officers to assign them to parking patrol. That would be an ineffective use of well-paid, highly trained employees.
So some drivers continued to park illegally in handicapped spaces, in front of fire hydrants, and in loading zones, often with impunity because police were busy doing more important things — such as responding to the shootings that have become a nearly daily occurrence.
Suddenly, it’s 2011 all over again. The Bell administration recently told the parking authority to start writing the tickets, ticket writers hit the downtown streets, and the police unions grieved, insisting again that this is police work.
In fact, TPPA president Dan Wagner complains that the city is wasting money employing a private company to enforce parking meters when police could do the job. The number of police officers would have to grow significantly for that to happen.
A police class is in training. Another class is expected to begin this year. But the addition of these two classes won’t free up any officers to spend their days writing parking tickets. In September, Police Chief Derrick Diggs said the new recruits in training were “desperately needed” to bolster the overworked force of about 575 officers.
But this battle isn’t really about who gets to write parking tickets. It’s about who gets to define the jobs of city employees in an economic and work environment that’s changing.
Mayor Bell, squeezed in recent years by the recession and Gov. John Kasich, wants as much flexibility as he can get in how he allocates the city’s resources to provide needed services — including safety — maintain and even improve the city’s infrastructure, and encourage development. In this economic reality, it makes no sense to pay anyone $50,000 a year (plus benefits and overtime) to patrol downtown streets for vehicles that are double-parked.
Union officials want to maintain rights and privileges that were won by the sweat and blood of previous generations of public workers. They know that once writing parking tickets is privatized, those police jobs will be lost forever and the police force will never grow to previous levels.
While they work out a new relationship, tickets don’t get written. And downtown business owners and law-abiding drivers continue to be frustrated.