Jon Yates' "What's Your Problem?"
January 20, 2013
As is often the case in life, timing is everything.
For Anthony Latronica, it was also expensive.
On Nov. 3, the West Town resident parked his car on North Avenue near Wells Street and walked to the nearest parking meter to pay.
His wife put her credit card into the pay box but could not get the device to work.
According to phone records, she called Chicago Parking Meters LLC at 7:47 p.m. but had trouble getting through. She hung up and called again at 7:48 p.m., and a representative walked her through the procedure. Phone records show the call lasted three minutes.
The parking receipt printed out at 7:51 p.m., and Latronica went to put it on his dashboard. But in the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago parking, minutes can make a big difference.
In fact, Latronica was too late.
By the time he walked the half-block to his car, Latronica had already been ticketed for an expired meter, the citation time stamped at 7:49 p.m. — two minutes after his wife called Chicago Parking Meters to complain about the pay box.
Stunned, Latronica grabbed the ticket and tracked down the ticker writer.
"He told me that he did see us standing at the meter and he would cancel the ticket," Latronica said.
That didn't happen. Several weeks later, Latronica received a citation in the mail, telling him he could either contest the ticket or pay $60.
Latronica chose to contest.
He sent in an explanation of what happened, a copy of his credit card statement and a copy of the meter receipt.
In early January, he received the ruling: guilty.
Upset, Latronica called the Department of Administrative Hearings and asked how, given his circumstances, the ticket could be upheld? After all, he was in the process of getting a parking receipt when he received the ticket. It wasn't as if he could get the meter receipt before he parked the car.
He was told that since the receipt printed two minutes after the ticket was issued, he could have run back and paid for parking after receiving the citation.
Unable to make any headway with the city, Latronica emailed What's Your Problem?
He said what irked him the most was the fact that he did nothing wrong and still got dinged. To appeal the administrative law officer's ruling would cost more money, he said.
"It is probably not worth the time, money and effort to bring a suit, but it really bothers me that this can be happening every day across the city and citizens are just denied when they contest it," Latronica said.
In fact, his experience is not an isolated incident. The same week that Latronica emailed about his situation, another reader, Holly Mair, wrote in describing a similar experience.
On Nov. 7, Mair parked her car on the 3400 block of Southport Avenue and went to get a receipt from the pay box. Another motorist was already at the box, forcing Mair to wait several minutes for her turn, she said.
By the time her receipt printed, a meter attendant was already at her car writing a ticket.
"I called out, 'Wait, wait, I just bought my tag!' " Mair said. "She responded with a very arrogant, 'I didn't give you no ticket so don't yell at me.'"
Some words were exchanged (including some profanity from the ticket writer, Mair said), but no ticket was placed on Mair's car.
Two weeks later, a citation arrived in the mail.
Like Latronica, Mair challenged the ticket by mail and, like Latronica, an administrative hearing officer found her guilty.
"I paid it, bitterly, but I think the public should know that when you leave your car to buy your (receipt), you risk getting a ticket," she said.
The Problem Solver called the city and Chicago Parking Meters to inquire about both cases.
Lena Parsons, a spokeswoman for Chicago Parking Meters, said she researched both tickets.
"I guess number one, Chicago Parking Meters enforcement didn't write either of these tickets," Parsons said. "We don't know who did, but based on the information we have, it was not us."
Parsons said that, in general, the company's policy is to have courtesy for the motorist.
"We look to see if someone is at the pay box," she said. "Our enforcement officers try to be deferential to the parker."
When the Problem Solver asked who wrote the tickets to Latronica and Mair, Parsons responded "ask the city."
On Friday, Deputy Comptroller Holly Stutz emailed to say the city's policy also calls for ticket writers to give motorists some leeway.
"Enforcement personnel must identify whether a citizen is at a pay and display box purchasing time before issuing a citation," Stutz wrote. "If so, they must allow time for the citizen to make the purchase and place the receipt on the window. No violation should be issued until the transaction is complete."
In Latronica's case, Stutz said Latronica did not submit his phone records when contesting his ticket with the Department of Administrative Hearings. After viewing his phone records — which show his wife was on the line with Chicago Parking Meters at the time the ticket was issued — the city will ask the Department of Administrative Hearings to vacate its judgment.
Latronica was thrilled.
"It's something where I did nothing wrong," he said. "I thought it was going to be a cut-and-dried case."
Stutz said the city did not identify or interview the employees who wrote the tickets, because "it is not our practice to interview employees based on a contested citation."
As for Mair's ticket, Stutz said an administrative hearing officer denied her challenge based on a lack of evidence.
"There are not any grounds to vacate this judgment," Stutz said.
Mair remains disappointed in the city's actions.
"I'm a fair person and I just believe if I've done something wrong I'm willing to pony up for it. I once in a while will get a ticket, and I pay it," she said. "I also think it's the city's responsibility to be fair to people. I wasn't making a mistake. I was paying for (the receipt)."
Her advice? Take nothing for granted.
"Watch your car as you're going to the pay station," she said. "Watch you car."