Parking Authority Head Comes Under Increasing Fire

Criticism Might Lead To Agency Losing Residential Permit Role

November 08, 2009|By James Drew | James Drew,james.drew@baltsun.com

Baltimore's parking authority could be stripped of a program that allocates scarce on-street spaces in the city's most desirable neighborhoods, amid concerns of mismanagement by the head of the agency.

Two city councilmen are backing a plan that would transfer the residential parking program to another department.

The proposal is the starkest evidence to date of a revolt in an agency which normally operates quietly but whose operations are keenly followed by residents of car-choked blocks in Federal Hill, Mount Vernon and other areas where parking is a cherished commodity.

The move comes only weeks after five parking authority managers urged the agency's board of directors to oust Executive Director Peter E. Little. The employees' charges included that Little oversaw the selection of new permitting software that one critic said is so flawed that it's a "mistake from which the program might never recover," and that Little has mishandled the agency's budget.

Little said the new software program that debuted last April is an improvement but acknowledged his organization has had some "challenges" in the transition.

As criticism mounted, the Board of Estimates last week delayed a decision on renewing Little's contract, which pays him $123,600 a year. The council has scheduled an oversight hearing on the parking authority for Nov. 18, two days after the proposal to move the residential program is expected to be unveiled.

Councilman William H. Cole IV, who is working on the ordinance with Councilman Edward Reisinger, said complaints from neighborhood residents who help the authority run the program is driving the opposition to Little.

"Despite the efforts of the staff in the parking authority, we have seen a very clear pattern in the last couple of years to indicate the parking authority has no real concern" for the residential program, Cole said.

The residential permit program has been plagued by computer glitches that have prevented some residents from getting permits and visitor passes renewed, and the use of fictitious addresses by those who aren't eligible for permits. Other allegations include the uneven enforcement of program rules by parking control agents, and a general sense that the authority pays much more attention to the municipal garages it runs than to the residential parking system.

Residents aren't the only ones with problems. Employees who work under Little are raising questions about how their boss has managed money and how he has created new jobs and filled them. They've put their concerns in writing, sending them to the agency's board of directors.

Little, a former Standard Parking vice president who has been executive director for five years, said he is working with the agency's board of directors to respond to employee complaints. The panel has five members, four appointed by the mayor and one by the council president.

"There's always room for improvement and we are working hard to work out any kinks that we may have with the system we are using," said Little of the residential program.The agency manages 43 residential permit parking areas throughout the city to discourage long-term on-street parking by visitors to neighborhoods including Oakenshawe, Fells Point and Charles Village. The authority issues from 30,000 to 40,000 residential and visitors permits per year, Little said.

"Parking affects your life every day," said Jon Ayscue, who lives in Remington. "To residents, it is vital. It is quality of life."

Cynthia M. Griffin and other members of a parking authority advisory committee say the new computer software program that the authority began to use in April has left their communities largely defenseless against those who try to cheat the system.

Griffin said the new software program does not allow neighborhood parking representatives to analyze data on permit holders as they could previously, and has made it difficult for them to help the city crack down on expired or fraudulent permits.

She said a parking authority official informed her earlier this month that bugs in the software program might give residents an error message that "no permits are available" when they tried to renew them online, forcing them to call the authority to fix the error.

Little said thousands of residents have used the new system to get their new permits, and he maintained there are safeguards against fraud.

Cole, who lives in the Otterbein neighborhood near M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, accused Little of not giving the 28-member staff the support needed to fix problems with the permit program.

In September, five parking authority administrators submitted a seven-page memo to the board of directors, posing 39 questions about how Little and his aides had managed money the agency receives from the city. They said they acted because the board did not respond to problems initially outlined in 2006.

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