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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Call for Investigation into 'Free" Parking Tickets

4 council members ask for ticket probe
They want investigation into parking citations that carried no fine
The Albany Times Union by TIM O'BRIEN - February 10, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK — Common Council members called Monday for a full investigation into the no-fine parking tickets issued to VIPs, police union members and their families and friends. Corey Ellis was joined by council colleagues Barbara Smith, Dominick Calsolaro and Willard Timmons at a news conference outside City Hall. Ellis said he also has support from Council Majority Leader Carolyn McLaughlin and member Michael O'Brien. A Times Union investigation revealed in November that "bull's-eye" stickers issued by the Albany Police Officers Union resulted in tickets written that carried no fine. The recipients included officers, their wives, friends and even a bar owner. The newspaper also found that the license plates of both public officials and private citizens were entered into the city's parking enforcement computer system, resulting in some VIPs not avoiding fines for parking offenses. "We have committed to working together to make sure we have a full investigation of the no-fine parking tickets," said Ellis, a first-term council member who is considering running for mayor this fall. 

Last week, he sought to subpoena Christian Mesley, a police officer and union president, to testify. The motion was tabled until the council's Feb. 19 meeting. This week, the council will caucus at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss how to proceed. Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti didn't attend the news conference, but said afterward he and other council members also want a full investigation.

Conti said the council can only require current employees to testify, and Mesley might argue that any questions about what he does as a union official are off-limits. Conti proposed that the state comptroller investigate because that office would have greater subpoena power than the council. Ellis said he has support of six of the 15 members to conduct a council investigation. A majority of those present must approve any resolution, which would require eight votes if all 15 members attend the meeting. Ellis and his allies said they want testimony under oath and hope the council will decide Thursday which employees to question. Mayor Jerry Jennings said he supports Conti's request for an audit by the state comptroller. "I'd rather put it in the hands of professionals," he said. The mayor said he had been unaware of the VIP system but has stopped the policy. "The breakdown of the number of private officials on the list is very small," he said. "Nothing here is a widespread abuse."

The city is creating a placard system to identify cars on city business that can be parked without being ticketed, he said. "It was brought to our attention, and we'll correct it. It goes back years and years and years. We didn't lose all the revenue people are calculating. It wouldn't help my upcoming $10 million deficit," said Jennings. The mayor is expected to seek re-election to a fifth four-year term this year. "You may have some political agendas entering the picture here," he said. Ellis was skeptical of the mayor's ability to end a practice when he contends he doesn't know who authorized the entry of private license numbers into the city's ticketing system. "We cannot end a policy unless we know how it began," he said. Staff writer Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at

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