Parking ticket flurry annoys Towson

October 13, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Joseph Moran rushed through his errands in the Towson courthouse yesterday and --ed back to his expired parking meter -- just in time to be handed an $18 ticket.

"I'm ticked off," he said, flushing with embarrassment. "I was only a couple minutes late, and the meter only goes up to 15 minutes." He pocketed the ticket and quickly drove off.

Joseph Mueller, the Baltimore County parking enforcement agent who issued the ticket, agreed with Mr. Moran. "I feel sorry for people at these 15-minute meters," he said, "They ought to be 30 minutes."

But that's life in Towson and other business districts these days, where five ticket-issuers under contract to the county have been plying their trade since February.

While they've enriched the treasury by almost half a million dollars, their efficiency has infuriated motorists, merchants and politicians who say they're doing their job too well.

Mr. Mueller, who retired from Baltimore's Police Department after a 34-year career, makes $8.25 an hour working for J. L. Associates, the Silver Spring firm whose $200,000-a-year contract is up for renewal at Monday night's council meeting.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley is fighting the renewal, arguing that the firm has shown too little sensitivity and is "overzealous."

"Government is not just to get money out of people," the Towson Republican complained at a work session Tuesday.

Mr. Riley, known for his short fuse, said he got so upset about the parking ticket complaints his office has received that he tried write a ticket himself last week.

NB He told the council that he charged into action after watching

an agent block a lane of Pennsylvania Avenue next to the court buildings so he could -- out of his marked car and write a parking ticket.

Mr. Riley said he began chastising the agent, who at one point offered the councilman his ticket book and said, "What are you going to do, write me a ticket?"

The councilman said he was so angry that he actually began writing up the ticket, and the argument went downhill from there.

"People in Towson feel under siege by this group," he complained.

Philip Rockwell, project manager for J. L. Associates, said the company is not trying to be difficult.

"We're amenable to doing what the county wants," he said. But he noted that if the red meter flag is up, the officer is "duty $H bound to write it."

Towson Business Association director Susan DiLonardo said the most common complaint involves agents "hovering" over meters about to expire.

The most outrageous, she said, involved an elderly couple who parked at a meter and found an agent starting to write a ticket while the husband was still trying to help his wife out of the car.

For his part, Mr. Mueller said that if a driver returns to a car and he hasn't yet filled in the license plate number on a ticket, he will let the motorist go.

Ms. DiLonardo conceded that Mr. Mueller does show compassion in difficult situations. "He's made a point of becoming involved in the community," she said.

Mr. Riley complained about two other incidents. One involved tickets issued to his own Wiltondale neighbors who parked near their homes, but facing the wrong way. Those tickets were eventually voided by the county.

In another incident, agents mounted a raid on the Towson Bykota Senior Center, where they ticketed the cars of elderly visitors who had the temerity to back their cars into spaces despite signs that read, "head-in only" parking. The signs have been removed.

County revenue supervisor Kurt Louderback said county agencies approved both expeditions beforehand.

County administrative officer Merreen E. Kelly told the council that the company has achieved its main goal -- freeing police officers and cadets from tedious parking ticket duty.

He said the main purpose was not to make money, although that's what happened. In the first six months under the 1994 contract, parking fine revenues were up 78 percent over the same period last year.

Mr. Kelly said the agents issue three times as many parking tickets as police do and brought in $484,282 over the six-month period at a cost of just $95,085.

Mr. Kelly and several other council members said the Silver Spring firm is just doing what it has been told to do, and Mr. Louderback said his firm is charging less than half the amount that the county's own Revenue Authority wanted for the same job.

Meanwhile, Towson merchants have said that they want some of the parking fine revenue to hire friendly security "guides" to make shoppers feel at home.

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