|Easton City Solicitor Bill Murphy|
The notice is inadequate. - All City officials agree that the notice on parking tickets, which inaccurately advise drivers or owners that they are subject to citation for failure to respond, needs a bit of work. Solicitor Bill Murphy conceded that the word "appeal" appears nowhere. They all stated that the notice is being revised, and will ask District Attorney John Morganelli for his assistance. "That means a lot to me," said Chief Carl Scalzo.
"We are law enforcement officers," stated Chief Carls Scalzo."We are not legislators."
They're also not judges but are playing that role.
The cops play judge. - The review process is flawed. City officials bragged that there's a 5-step appeal process, but every person in that appeal process in a cop or parking enforcement officer. That's no independent or neutral review. A cop decides if another cop got it right. In fact, the first step in the appeal process is to the officer who wrote the ticket.
City officials pointed out that roughly ten percent of the tickets written last year were forgiven, and that is the pattern being seen this year as well. They cited this as proof that people know they can call and complain about their tickets and get a fair review. I believe these officers. But the potential for mischief is there.
Potential for political favoritism exists. - Though he did so inadvertently, Panto explained precisely how this appeals process can be corrupted so that it caters to political favorites. He stated he is approached frequently about tickets and went into detail about one woman going through a divorce who had her car booted in an effort to show how compassionate city officials are with people who have financial hardships. He stated he sent her to Lt. Lohenitz, but then quickly added he has no idea what happened in her case.
I believe that when the Lt. Lohenitz gets a referral from the Mayor, there's an unspoken message to go easy. This 5-step appeal process in which cops judge other cops and Mayors make referrals, could easily be perverted into a system in which the ten per cent of tickets that are dismissed are for the politically connected.
I will say that, based on prior interactions with Lt. Lohenitz and Chief Carl Scalzo, I believe they would rather be fired than play that game. And though Panto has pretty much bungled this entire parking fiasco, even I don't believe he would try to fix a ticket. But he won't be Mayor forever. And good police officers like Scalzo or Lohenitz are like comets streaking across the sky. They're gone before you know they were there.
Panto stated that the Easton Parking Authority might also be tasked to handle ticket appeals. That would remove the police, but not the politics.
Is Panto's Motive to Help Citizens or Is it Greed? - Panto and Lt Lohenitz explained that decriminalizing parking tickets is a benefit to the citizen. Lohentiz explained that no one should be embarrassed at work by a constable with a warrant for a parking ticket. Panto correctly noted that the fines are much lower than they would be in the criminal arena.
But it is Panto who told The Express Times, "We are now collecting our own tickets because the city that generates the tickets should be getting those revenues, not the courts."
According to City Administrator Glenn Steckman, Easton "collected" (he insisted on using that word) about $650,000 from parking tickets last year. Thirty-nine cars were booted. Eight were eventually towed away.Lt. Lohenitz initially stated that no car was sold, but later admitted that he does not know what happened and that's between the owner and Easton Auto Body. He did indicate that he believes most of the cars towed had been abandoned.
What's next? - District Attorney John Morganelli is reviewing this matter. I believe the argument can be made that this is an unlawful criminal proceeding dressed as a civil matter.
One problem Easton has is that it is still assessing penalties without any basis other than the ticket itself. Officials call this a civil matter, but there is no underlying civil proceeding. Another problem is that, once a ticket is ignored, officials notify the owners in writing that they owe money. To do that, they must get the registration information for the ticketed vehicle. I believe (I may be mistaken) that police officers have no right to access that information unless they are conducting a criminal investigation.
Given that people can have their cars booted and towed away, it's hard to escsape the conclusion that this is a criminal matter disguised as a civil matter so that Easton does not have to play by the rules.