Official gets parking boot for 9 unpaid city tickets Councilwoman says she has right to free parking

April 24, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, who amassed nine unpaid parking tickets in the past three months, was stranded at City Hall yesterday afternoon when her illegally parked car was booted by parking officials.

Ms. Branch, who represents the 2nd District and heads a council committee that deals with parking issues, owes the city $304 in unpaid tickets, including the $24 boot fee.

The boot, a metal device placed on a tire, immobilizes a car until the owner pays the outstanding tickets.

Ms. Branch disputed all but two of the parking tickets yesterday.

"Seven of the tickets were erroneous," Ms. Branch said. "Sometimes I am very busy and I don't bring [the disputed tickets] to the attention of anybody."

Ms. Branch said she got many of the tickets while parked at meters around the city.

She said her City Council-issued parking plate, which goes on the dashboard, makes her exempt from tickets.

Baltimore charges $20 for parking meter violations.

"I have the right to park at a parking meter" without paying, Ms. Branch said.

But city parking officials and the council president's office disputed Ms. Branch's claim.

"We have never been told officially that those dash plates are good for parking meters," said Bill Henry, chief of staff in the council president's office.

Parking Fines Office officials wouldn't release Ms. Branch's parking violation history yesterday, saying it must be approved by the city solicitor's office.

Ms. Branch's gray Chevrolet Caprice Classic was parked yesterday in the space of a colleague, 2nd District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, when it was booted.

Ms. Branch's secretary parked her green Isuzu Rodeo in Ms. Branch's assigned council space.

"I saw my colleague's space was vacant at the time, and I said to myself, I'll run in here real quick," said Ms. Branch, who was trying to make an 11 a.m. news conference nearby.

Mr. Ambridge said yesterday that Ms. Branch has parked in his space on other occasions. He would not comment further.

Ms. Branch said that Baltimoreans should take some comfort in her run-in with Parking Fine Office officials.

"It is reassuring to know that they don't discriminate against council people or their constituency," Ms. Branch said. "People should be glad to know that I'm being treated just like John Q. Citizen."

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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