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Montana Standard editor frames parking commission incorrectly

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by Jim Larson (ButteNews.Net) Jan. 9, 2014

In an editorial riddled with inaccuracies, the editor of the Montana Standard recently attacked Butte-Silver Bow’s parking commission.

In a piece that criticizes others for pointing fingers, the daily’s new editor Matt Christensen points one of the city’s largest digits directly at Butte’s unpaid citizen-staffed parking commission. He quotes Chief Executive Matt Vincent, who called the commission “dysfunctional”, and then Christensen rubs salt into the wound, saying that Vincent’s description is an understatement. This is mere name-calling, simple   puffery.

Matt 1 and Matt 2 also argue that the commission is $100,000 in the hole and that it loses $1,500 per month. If the parking commission is losing money, it isn’t happening in a vacuum. Butte’s regulation of parking is a creature of Butte’s government, a government led by the chief executive’s office, an office that traditionally doesn’t give the commission what it needs to get the job done, and it is a tradition that stretches back beyond the current administration.

After briefly mentioning the commissioner’s protests that their cries for help have gone unheeded, Christensen then gives the Chief Executive credit for moving things forward. The editor writes, “Vincent wants a new parking czar, has called for an audit, and is giving the commission one year to turn things around.” Nothing in that line is true.

At the last parking commission meeting, Vincent simply said that he wants to replace former parking supervisor Sally Perino as quickly as possible. He also discussed some of the changes that he would like to make to that position’s job description. The parking supervisor reports to the commission, hardly a station that could be labeled “Czar.”

Vincent did not say that he was giving the commission a year to turn things around. He merely said that he wanted to hire a new supervisor for a one-year stint to see if they could bring things around. After a discussion, the chief executive and the commissioners concluded that they could legally make a new supervisor’s probation period be one year.

And Vincent did not call for an audit. While Vincent was gone from the meeting, the commission passed Commissioner Robert Dwyer’s motion that the commission ask for a systems and financial audit. Vincent did agree to their request when he returned, but only after noting that the entire county government is audited every year, implying that a separate audit would be redundant.  Dwyer’s motion was a response to the chief executive’s criticism of the commission’s finances, not one of the administration’s initiatives.

 

Attacking the bright and dedicated professionals that man the commission without compensation may deflect criticism from the Chief Executive’s Office, but that office is where the blame squarely lies. That is, as Christensen points out, where the buck stops. 

Editor Christensen did correctly write that BSB Finance Director Jeff Amerman called for parking administration improvements in 2012, but he incorrectly said that Amerman’s suggestions “fell on deaf ears.” The May 30 parking commission minutes noted that “Jeff included a list of possible revenue boosting suggestions which included increased lot fees, increased fines, increased amount of tickets issued, decrease number of tickets being waived etc.”

 If the suggestions fell on deaf ears, then apparently the commissioners were able to read lips. Fines were increased, and parking lot fees were raised from $25 per month to $30 per month, Commissioner Norlene Holt confirmed.

The real hearing problem seemed to be in the office of the well-paid chief executive, not the meeting room of the unpaid parking commissioners.

About a year and a half ago, Mike Rudolph, a prominent citizen who had been a parking commissioner for more than 30 years, finally quit in frustration.  When Rudolph started on the commission, Don People’s was chief executive.

Everything that the commission asked for was turned down, Rudolph said during an interview in his store.

“It is really basic stuff if they would just let them do it, but all we heard was, ‘no, no, no.’ The commissioner’s were appointed to the commission to run it like a business, but they wouldn’t let them run it like a business,” Rudolph said. Rudolph runs his family business, Rudolph’s Standard Furniture, which has operated Uptown since 1919.

Rudolph recalled the commission making request after request to no avail.

When the hand-held computers that the parking enforcers used to issue tickets wore out, and the commission requested replacements, BSB administrators said no after saying yes, Rudolph said.

When the commission asked for entrance improvements to the parking lot at Galena and Wyoming, nothing happened, even though the URA said that it would pay for the work, Rudolph noted. That lot currently doesn’t generate revenue because the commission doesn’t feel comfortable charging for a lot with such poor access, Rudolph said.

When the commission asked for designated parking spots so that tickets could be issued for taking up two spots, that request was also turned down, he said.

The administration was also reluctant to provide the yellow striping that the commission requested, Rudolph said.

Rudolph believes that it wouldn’t take much to turn around the commission’s finances.

First of all, he would get the commissioners out of the money collection business. All payments should be made directly to the treasurer’s office, he said.

Rudolph would also have three enforcement officers on the street, and they would patrol six days per week.

He would also have the enforcement officers stagger their lunches so that violators would be ticketed during lunch hour, when uptown parking is heavily utilized. He noted that drivers know that the handicap zones aren’t patrolled at lunch time and that those spots are often illegally taken.

He would upgrade the lot at Galena and Wyoming so that it would bring in revenue, and he would computerize the operation to improve accountability.

Speaking of the responsibilities of the parking commission, Rudolph said, “They’re volunteers. They can only do so much. The county has to do it.”

Parking regulation is important, Rudolph noted. “If customers can’t find a parking space, we’ll all be out of business,” he said.

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