Time expires on free parking

O'Malley orders city employees to turn in permits

February 19, 2000|By GERARD SHIELDS | GERARD SHIELDS,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley revoked all free on-street parking passes for city employees yesterday after discovering that Baltimore has issued 1,800 in the past year to city workers, schools and nonprofit agencies.

The immediate revocation of the rearview-mirror tags, which allow some city workers to park at meters without paying, will free needed parking spaces in a downtown area with only 2,000 meters, O'Malley said.

The mayor ordered all city employees with the passes -- including 23 in his office -- to turn them in immediately and announced that any future special parking privileges will need the approval of the city's highest ranking officials, Cabinet directors.

"Government workers shouldn't have privileges that aren't available to the public unless there is a compelling reason," O'Malley said. "These tags are gone."

In addition, the free passes have been given liberally to agencies ranging from the Consulate of Italy to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Those parking passes will expire June 30, and applications to renew them will be scrutinized, O'Malley said.

O'Malley ordered city Public Works Director George Winfield to stop issuing parking permits except on an emergency basis.

"I don't profess to be an expert on the history or the ins and outs of permit parking in Baltimore, but for the life of me, I don't know why we need 1,800 special tags," O'Malley said.

Parking has become an increasingly coveted commodity in downtown Baltimore.

A survey two years ago by the Downtown Partnership indicated that the city needed 3,600 new parking spaces downtown just to meet the needs of area businesses. Last year, the city agreed to spend $47 million to build four parking garages.

Most recently, O'Malley helped retain 350 jobs at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Inc. by promising the company 400 city downtown garage parking spaces at a reduced monthly rate of $50 per space, after the company threatened to move to Owings Mills over its parking frustrations.

Over the past two decades, some businesses and organizations have been able to avoid the parking headaches by enrolling in the little-known city permit program. Under the system, individuals are allowed to park free at any of the city's meters or at designated spaces on city streets.

Distributing the permits was at the discretion of former Public Works Director George G. Balog. Three years ago, the number stood at 1,000.

O'Malley compiled the free-parking permit list after a public information request by a weekly newspaper, the Baltimore Press. The free passes could be costing the city up to $800,000 in parking revenue a year, said O'Malley spokesman Tony White.

Word that the passes could be revoked worried some businesses that rely on the free parking for clients. The Downtown Dialysis Center at 821 N. Eutaw St. obtains 60 of the parking permits each year, necessary for patients who receive treatment.

"It's pretty critical for our patients," said Toby Panting, regional director. "We have limited parking as there is."

Likewise, the Living Classrooms Foundation in Fells Point said its 28 free passes are important to get educators to the facility at 802 S. Caroline St.

Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, vice president of the foundation, said Living Classrooms intends to continue applying for the passes but called O'Malley's scrutiny a good idea.

"That should've been done a long time ago," said Cunningham, a former Northeast Baltimore city councilman.

Archdiocese of Baltimore spokesman Ray Kempisty agreed. Church officials received 20 free parking permits last year in a practice that began in 1996 when the archdiocese had parking problems before a visit by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

"I don't think any ministry would be affected," Kempisty said of O'Malley's action. "As far as I can tell, it was a convenience."

Glenn Middleton, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, said some city workers will need to retain their permits to do their jobs.

But Middleton, who also holds a permit, agreed that the number of passes being granted has gotten so out of hand that city officials might have trouble tracking them down to retrieve them.

"You have a lot of people who use them for their jobs, like nurses who have trouble parking when they go up to Johns Hopkins," Middleton said. "But will it hamper most of the workers? No, it won't."

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, O'Malley spokesman White propped up a special permit parking sign. Reporters asked who it belonged to.

"It was the chief of staff's," White said, chuckling.

Free parking

Each year, Baltimore issues free parking passes to city workers, businesses and organizations. Here is a sampling of those who received most of the 1,800 passes last year, according to a list released yesterday by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Department of Public Works .............................. 227

Circuit Court for Baltimore City .............................125

Dept. of Housing & Community Development ......101

University of Baltimore ............................................76

Waxter Center .........................................................60

Department of Corrections .....................................85

Downtown Dialysis Center ......................................60

Walter P. Carter Center ..........................................40

Baltimore City Police Department ...........................35

Samuel Coleridge Elementary School .....................30

Living Classrooms Foundation ................................28

Board of Liquor License Commissioners .................28

George Washington Elementary School .................25

School for the Arts ..................................................25

Mayor's Office Administration .................................23

Dunbar High School ................................................20

Source: Baltimore Department of Public Works

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