City awards parking passes 1,000 permits given this year as increase in garage fee nears

Distribution is selective

Public Works head reports he's 'trying to clean the act up'

July 18, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore parking garage users brace for higher fees next month, some savvy, well-connected businesses and organizations are skirting parking levies altogether by enrolling in a little-known city program that doles out free parking permits.

This year, the Department of Public Works has given about 1,000 free permits to city officials, apartment complexes, tourist attractions, glass companies, universities and small businesses.

Scrutinizing how and when the passes are used is difficult because not all of the holders are known. Several private companies refused to make public a list of who has a permit. And Public Works officials assign most of the permits to departments, not to individuals.

The cost to the city of its permit system is not insignificant. If all 1,000 permits were used during a work day just once a week, Baltimore would lose between $80,000 and $400,000 a year, depending on the location of the meters.

Under the system, individuals are allowed to park freeat any of the city's meters or at designated spaces on city streets.

Among the two hundred city employees who have permits are several high-ranking city officials -- including George G. Balog, head of Public Works; Walter G. Amprey, superintendent of schools; Daniel P. Henson III, head of the Housing Department; and Police Chief Thomas C. Frazier. Amprey, Henson and Frazier also have city vehicles and chauffeurs.

Several midlevel mid-level office management employees also have the permits, including some at the mayor's office, and Public Works, housing and health departments.

The program, which is handled by the Parking Division, existed years before Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was elected in 1987.

"I'm trying to clean the act up," Balog said. "I inherited this."

Balog said he revoked 69 permits last year and plans to continue to pare the list of those who park free according to the new policy he has followed lately regarding distribution of free parking permits.

He said he has set up criteria for those applying for the permits. The requests, Balog said, must meet requirements for health, safety, welfare or economic benefits to the city. No written list of the complete criteria exists, Balog said.

As an example of an organization falling under the health or welfare guideline, the American Red Cross receives four permits that allow holders to park anywhere because the organization collects blood for the good of the community.

But the permit status of several organizations and businesses is harder to categorize under Balog's guidelines, including Harbor Cruises and the consulates of Italy and France.

In those cases, Balog said, he allows organizations to keep the permits because they have held them for years. The permit handout has been in operation for so long that reasons for such organizations' permits are hard to find. Carrollton Bank has had its permit for eight years.

After the bank's couriers received warnings from Police Department officials that they were parking illegally while making drops and pickups, bank officials appealed to Public Works officials for help.

"We only use it to park in two or three spots simply for convenience," said Edward R. Bootey, a senior vice president at the Baltimore-based bank.

No other banks receive the parking perk, according to a list of permit owners provided by the city.

Because the program operates quietly, few know that it exists. And for those who do, it can give them an edge over their competition.

Take the case of Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and Trigen Energy Corp., two utility companies that re- cently battled over who could supply energy to downtown businesses. Trigen has 17 parking permits. BGE has none.

"I was unaware of any special program," said BGE spokesman Art Slusark. "Obviously this is something that that we need to explore."

Slusark said that some BGE employees get parking tickets while conducting company business.

Balog said that he has forbidden individuals from obtaining the permits. He allows only approved organizations to have permits according to the new criteria, he said.

But one man, longtime Afro-American newspaper sports editor Sam Lacy, has a personal parking permit that allows him to park free at the newspaper.

"There are a few exceptions," Balog said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore won 10 general parking permits after Monsignor Jeremiah F. Kenney talked with Balog about parking problems the church had before Mother Teresa's visit in May.

A church worker received a $32 fine for parking in front of the Basilica of the Assumption while on an errand. After Kenney asked Balog for help, the church received the permits.

Now a few bishops and department heads have the permits, said spokesman Bill Blaul. He said the permits are not to be used for personal business.

"We regard them as a matter of convenience," Blaul said.

Not all of the permit recipients would explain how and why they have free city parking.

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