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Burlington Councilors Want Free Parking — All the Time

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Burlington's city councilors may argue about any number of critical issues facing the city, but there is one thing they agree on: Free parking for themselves.

A resolution sponsored by Councilors Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1), Dave Hartnett (D-Ward 4), Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) seeks the creation of a new city ordinance giving city councilors carte blanche to park at any city-owned meter, garage or city park free of charge — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What's the reasoning? An outcry among constituents that councilors were being treated unfairly, left circling the block for hours while critical business was being conducted? The high cost to taxpayers for police to issue, and then void, tickets to councilors while they were on official city business?

Nope and nope.

Simple, noted Councilor Adrian in an email to Seven Days: "Since we are on duty all the time the parking benefit should extend all the time. Just like when the police are on duty."

The mayor, as the resolution notes, has a dedicated parking space on Main Street near City Hall Park. Hey, no fair!

Currently, city ordinance allows for councilors, as well as city department heads and city employees, to request parking tickets be voided if they can prove they were on "official business." That ordinance has been in effect since 2003, and does not grant free parking to employees while they are simply on duty at their own work station, nor does it apply to any business being conducted on private time.

How many parking tickets does the city void?

Since December 2010, the city has voided a total of 157 parking tickets for people who claimed to be on "official business," according to John King, who manages the city's parking enforcement division out of the Burlington Police Department.

The council resolution would not give the same uber-parking privileges to city employees or department heads.

"Department heads are not on duty all the time; many live outside of town and most are not known by face to most of the general public," noted Adrian. "Councilors are always on duty; all live in town and are known to many of their constituents and others."

The city has taken different approaches with granting city councilors parking permits or passes in recent years. At one time, King noted, city councilors were issued a small placard that hung from their rear-view mirror. The placard had the words "official business" along with the city seal and was issued to city councilors and department heads.

In recent years, those placards became parking passes that had essentially the same information on them but instead of hanging from the rear-view mirror they were just placed on the dashboard, King said.

The resolution was prompted by a recent email from King to city councilors, the mayor and department heads reminding them of the 2003 ordinance that allows for parking tickets to be voided if city officials are on "official business." King noted that as of July 1, the police department was stopping the practice of issuing special parking permits for councilors and department heads.

After concerns were raised by city councilors, Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling reversed the decision and went back to the practice of issuing placards. Schirling told Seven Days it doesn't matter to him if there are placards or voided tickets. "At the end of the day, it matters not to us as long as it works."

In the resolution, the councilors note that King's note and Schirling's reversal "underscores the difficulty with not having an ordinance applicable to this issue."

In other words, "There oughta be a law!"

But, why?

The resolution notes that councilors are "often engaged by constituents while shopping; at sporting events, in the parks, etc. as well as at official meetings." The resolution adds there is a "benefit of allowing councilors to park at all times without fearing a parking ticket."

A benefit? To whom? The taxpayer with whom they are engaging? I wonder if constituents who "engage" with councilors at sporting events, public parks or at meetings can also get their tickets voided since they were just doing their civic duty. Probably not, eh?

The resolution asks the council's Ordinance Committee to return to the full council with a proposed ordinance that "establishes a parking permit for city councilors that will be attached to the outside of the vehicle and will be good at any and all times a parking fee or fare is required. This includes but is not limited to any and all spaces (other than spaces reserved for persons with disabilities) posted or otherwise, including but not limited to meters, garages and parks of the city of Burlington."

The resolution asks the ordinance be presented to the council no later than September 15. In the interim, the council will continue to utilize the parking permit system in effect.

King said his parking enforcement crew will carry out any law the city council creates, but he's skeptical of allowing city councilors to get free parking any day of the week at any meter.

"I can understand if a councilor is at a meeting downtown or on official business," said King. "But if the same councilor is downtown and they're shopping, that doesn't seem right."

Schirling had not seen the resolution until a reporter forwarded him a copy. The chief wouldn't say whether he thought it appropriate to allow city councilors to have such wide-ranging free parking rights. "That'll be up to the city council to determine what passes muster," said Schirling.

The question is whether this will pass muster with taxpayers.

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