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Published: Tuesday, 1/26/2010

Feud with parking agency leads owner to close bar temporarily

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo business owner says he's temporarily closing his bar and grill after his long-running feud with the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority resulted last week in a physical confrontation with a meter enforcement officer and his own arrest by police.

"Closed for business due to harassment from the parking authority," reads the large white banner that adorns the front window of the Hat Trick Bar and Grill, 319 North Superior St.

Owner Ahmad Mahmoud, 43, put up the sign yesterday in response to what he described as harassment and vulture-like ticketing by ParkSmart meter enforcement officers, who work for the authority. He said that for the foreseeable future, he'll open only on nights of Toledo Walleye home games in the new and nearby Lucas County Arena.

"I know I'm losing money" by not opening more often, Mr. Mahmoud said. "But I'd rather lose the money than pay their tickets."

Mr. Mahmoud said that his Jeep, used by himself and Hat Trick employees for deliveries, has been ticketed two to four times a week since July when he opened the bar and grill in the former location of Spice Bar. He estimated he has been fined $500 to $600 thus far for parking violations.

Hat Trick is on the same block as Leo's Book Shop and China King restaurant, both of which recently closed. The bookstore's owner blamed aggressive parking-meter enforcement as one of several reasons for diminished customer traffic.

Brad Miller, owner of M&M Printing LLC, which also shares the block with Hat Trick, said ParkSmart officers seem to have stepped up meter enforcement in the past year, lying in wait for people they see exit a car and enter a store without putting coins in a meter. Customers return to find a yellow envelope tucked beneath their vehicle's windshield wipers with a $10 fine inside. The fine grows the longer the ticket goes unpaid.

Those with three or more unpaid tickets are blocked from renewing their vehicle registration with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

A sign in the window of Hat Trick Bar and Grill, 319 North Superior St., gives owner Ahmad Mahmoud's
reason for temporarily shutting the downtown business. A sign in the window of Hat Trick Bar and Grill, 319 North Superior St., gives owner Ahmad Mahmoud's reason for temporarily shutting the downtown business.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"The way they've been targeting the businesses is just asinine," Mr. Miller said of the meter officers.

The last straw for Mr. Mahmoud was an incident that occurred about 2:45 p.m. on Jan. 19, when a ParkSmart meter officer began writing him a ticket for his Jeep, which was parked near his business on Superior Street with its motor running. The meter was flashing "expired" in red.

Mr. Mahmoud recalled how he had dashed inside Hat Trick to briefly talk with two Ohio Lottery workers installing Keno game equipment.

He said he was walking back to his vehicle when he saw ParkSmart officer Matthew Blumm, 31, writing up the ticket.

Mr. Mahmoud said he complained to Mr. Blumm about the ticket-writing by noting how his vehicle's engine was running. Yet Mr. Blumm responded by pointing out that nobody was in the Jeep, Mr. Mahmoud recalled.

Wishing to avoid yet another fine, Mr. Mahmoud said he popped a quarter in the meter, which prompted Mr. Blumm to stop writing the ticket. But Mr. Mahmoud was still angry and admitted that he called Mr. Blumm a vulgar name and other insults.

According to a police report of the incident, Mr. Mahmoud proceeded to spit in the parking enforcement officer's face. The ParkSmart employee then spit back. Mr. Mahmoud told police that Mr. Blumm next punched him near his right eye.

"He swing at me but I didn't swing back," Mr. Mahmoud told The Blade yesterday in an interview. "I cussed him out; I called him every name I know but I never hit him."

He continued: "I backed off because I have five kids. If I had started hitting him, he'd never have gotten up."

Video footage of the confrontation, captured from a camera outside Hat Trick, shows Mr. Mahmoud next making a call on his cell phone - he claims to 911 - and the parking officer walking away and out of view. The altercation itself was only partially visible in the video footage.

On Friday, Toledo police arrested Mr. Mahmoud inside his business and charged him with menacing for the Jan. 19 confrontation with the ParkSmart employee. Mr. Mahmoud said he was released on $2,500 bond and is scheduled to appear in Toledo Municipal Court on Thursday.

"They embarrassed me in front of my customers," he said. "I don't need to go to jail for not paying a ticket or calling someone a name."

Mr. Mahmoud said he submitted the video footage yesterday to a police detective and plans to press assault charges against Mr. Blumm.

Attempts to reach Mr. Blumm for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. A message left for him at work with his manager was also not returned.

Clayton Johnston, parking authority president, objected to Mr. Mahmoud's version of how the altercation occurred. He said the ParkSmart officer never punched the business owner.

"There was no fight," Mr. Johnston said. "The owner called him all kinds of names, as he has before, and spit in his face. Unfortunately, he spit back."

He said that Mr. Mahmoud has harassed ParkSmart employees for months and stubbornly refuses to take their advice to park in the Superior Street garage across from Hat Trick.

"We have repeatedly asked him to not harass our people, who are just doing their jobs," Mr. Johnston said. "We have been doing this for 15 years and have had very few instances like this."

Mr. Mahmoud said he will not buy space in the nearby parking garage or lot because his deliveries need quick in-and-out street parking and because until recently the garage closed well before midnight on weekends and hockey-game nights while he continued working until 2 a.m.

Mr. Johnston also said ParkSmart has not stepped up its parking-meter enforcement: "It is not harassment; it is a steady, even-handed enforcement on a daily basis."

He disputed the notion that meter enforcement would hurt businesses, arguing that enforcement actually helps businesses because it deters squatters from parking in the choicest spots in front of storefronts.

Mr. Mahmoud said he offered a possible solution by asking the parking authority to have his own on-street parking spot, but Mr. Johnston said that was not possible because the spots are public property.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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