The mayor of Annapolis is learning a lesson about parking in his hometown.
In the city's historic district, where parking spots on thetraffic-clogged streets are at a premium, every residential sticker counts. Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins discovered that after he paid off a bet with five freebie permits.
Although the mayor apologized and tried to smooth over the issue last week, frustrated residents won't let the matter drop. Complaining that they often must circle their homes to find a parking spot, several residents have questioned whether the problem is more widespreadand have called for a full investigation.
"The obvious question is: How many illegal permits are in circulation?" Christina Jamison, aPrince George Street resident, asked the City Council.
In response, the council decided Monday night to have its finance committee study the permit program. The city's Ethics Commission also has agreed to investigate whether the mayor acted improperly.
"The residents of Annapolis deserve some honest and straightforward answers and explanations," said Heidi Berry, chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee, which requested the ethics review.
Downtown civic and business leaders, who have been struggling to find ways to ease the parking crunch, also have criticized the mayor since he acknowledged givingfive stickers to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.
City police discovered the permits were missing when they tried to contact the owner of a car with California license plates that was parked in the same spot for several days. Hopkins immediately recalled the permits.
The mayor's explanation that he distributed the permits to pay off a wager over a football game has failed to satisfy some residents and political activists.
"We're tired of people saying he's old andso it's OK," Berry said. "And we feel this (parking) problem is a lot bigger than people actually realize."
The Ethics Commission is scheduled to review the mayor's actions the first Tuesday of March.
In his apology, Hopkins said he "meant no harm" and was simply "acting in the spirit of the moment." He added that he applauded efforts to ease the city's parking woes and never intended to hurt the program.
The City Council is reviewing recommendations to relieve the congestion by creating a satellite parking lot and shuttle service, banning parking at City Dock, and increasing residential permit fees.
"This is a very sensitive issue to me," Alderman John R. Hammond, R-Ward 1, told Jamison. He said he believes permit snafus will be avoided once the parking program is computerized.
More than 1,300 permits have been issued for 830 spaces in the historic district Hammond represents.
At the request of Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, the finance committee has promised to review the "checks and balances" that allowed five permits to be missing for two months.
"There's atendency too often to sweep things under the rug," the alderman complained, urging the finance committee to determine how the incident happened.