During a tense meeting last week that included menacing language from an appointed official, the head of New Canaan’s Parking Bureau defended the town’s enforcement officers against accusations that they’re aggressive and sneaky about issuing tickets.
Not only do enforcement officers ask motorists to move prior to ticketing them, but many tickets are voided by the Parking Bureau before they ever come before the appointed body that oversees the town department, Parking Manager Stacy Miltenberg said Thursday night.
“We give leniency,” Miltenberg said during the Parking Commission’s regular meeting, held in Town Hall.
“If somebody is sitting in the car and in a no parking zone, we ask them to move. Let me tell you what the staff and I am encountering by these people out on they street: They don’t want to move. Excuse me for being like this, but we are taking such crap from these people that you don’t see the other side and I have to defend the department. We are not out there—we’re short-staffed to begin with and we are not out there watching people and sneaking up on people. We are out there doing our job, and we are lenient.”
The comments came in response to Parking Commission Chairman Keith Richey, who said enforcement in downtown New Canaan has become “draconian” and transformed the business district into “a police state,” with officers “running around” to ticket motorists who violate parking rules.
“The surveillance has gotten, I think, too intense,” Richey said by way of introducing the topic of enforcement. “I think we need to have more leniency. I think you are doing great job, Stacy, but you are almost doing too good a job. Kevin’s feeling and mine too, is there is no reason to enforce these parking rules before 10 in the morning, there is no parking shortage in downtown New Canaan before 10 in the morning.”
He referred to First Selectman Kevin Moyinhan, who was not in attendance at the meeting.
When Miltenberg began to say, “The signs says 9 [a.m.], it’s always been 9,” Richey interjected, saying, “Let me finish.”
“I think after 4 o’clock we should stop enforcing the rules, because there is no parking problem after 4 o’clock,” he continued. “Parking rules just aren’t there to be some billboard out there. It’s to be where there is a problem that we are trying to not have congestion, and safe roads. There is no congestion, and there is plenty of parking before 10 and there is parking after 4. It used to be solved when we had a smaller staff and they weren’t running these people down. Also, I think there ought to be more leniency.”
Commissioner Peter Ogilvie said he “respectfully disagreed” with Richey’s assessment, saying “We have a serious parking problem on Main and Elm.”
Commissioner Chris Hering told Richey he was being unfair to Miltenberg and the Parking Bureau.
“If we are the Parking Commission, she is doing her job,” Hering said. “If it is 30 minutes, she is enforcing 30 minutes. If you want to set up a policy where there is a 5-minute leniency and you want Kevin and all of us to sign off on it, then make a motion for that. But I you don’t think you—you can’t be vague about it to her.”
Hering asked whether the Parking Bureau is issuing more tickets now than it has in the past.
Miltenberg said no, and noted that during budget hearings the Town Council questioned her about a decline in revenue from tickets. She added that due to people out sick and with injuries, the Bureau itself is not at a full complement.
“And the revenue is still down, Keith, because we are so lenient,” she said.
Hering said “it would be helpful” to get the hard data for the next Parking Commission meeting.
“It could be just an internal perception in town that people are getting and these things build on each other,” Hering said.
Richey introduced the subject by saying he had spoken earlier in the day to Moynihan “and we also are hearing a lot from the Chamber of Commerce” about parking enforcement.
The public agenda for the meeting noted a “recent [April 4] meeting organized by [Chamber Executive Director] Tucker Murphy with about 20 local property owners with the goal of having a frank discussion about local issues” that included parking. The agenda also said that the discussion noted a “hostile environment with parking enforcement.” Murphy was not in attendance at the Parking Commission meeting.
Richey said, “I am hearing from every merchant in town that they are getting customers” who are upset about parking enforcement.
Miltenberg responded, “What would you like me to do? We go out every two hours. That is what we are supposed to do.”
She noted that enforcement officers do not start chalking tires until 9 a.m.—the parking time limit in downtown New Canaan last January was extended from 90 minutes to two hours—so that ticketing doesn’t start before 11 a.m.
When Richey said that the Commission during that very meeting had heard appeals of tickets issued at 8:33 a.m. and 10:02 a.m., Miltenberg noted that those specific tickets were for parking in areas that serve as loading zones from 7 to 11 a.m.
“I’m sorry,” Miltenberg said twice, disagreeing with Richey’s assessment.
Richey responded, “Chill.” He added, “So what that he is in a loading zone at 8:33 in the morning?”
Richey said, “People are coming here to appeal these tickets for being five or 10 minutes late. And geez, I mean it’s like a police state and we have become so draconian that it used to be when someone would show to make an appeal we would believe them and grant some leniency. Now I see people with their heads shaking, it is incredible we are so draconian. I mean, why can’t when someone comes from out their way here to appeal a ticket for being four minutes overtime, that we give them a little slack. Is that really so hard? The town doesn’t need the money.”
Richey added, “They are appealing tickets because they are offended by them. That should be a sign.”
Miltenberg said, “We are not out there to gain revenue. We have never been out there and that is not why we give tickets.”
Ogilvie asked for more specificity from Richey on an across-the-board grace period. “Two minutes overtime slack? Or four minutes or 10 minutes?”
Richey, a retired attorney, said that he often parks in Morse Court and added, “Whenever I am around, I see the Parking Department people and they are running around and they are giving—I see them all the time. I do. It’s just gotten to be too much, Stacy. You have to pull it back.”
To Richey’s suggestion that the Parking Bureau should not enforce the parking rules at specific times, Miltenberg said, “So because there is no shortage of parking, we should disregard the rules?”
At one point, when Richey interrupted Miltenberg during her response to a point he was raising, Commissioner Pam Crum told him he should “hear what she has to say.”
Miltenberg began to say of Richey, “It’s like he’s accusing us of making up—“
Richey interjected, “You are doing your job but you’re doing it too well.”
Miltenberg responded, “If people are parking illegally, aren’t we supposed to be out there trying to stop them from parking illegally. We ask them to move. You know what they are doing now? They are telling us no.”
Richey told her, “You are focusing on that one thing.”
The disagreement about enforcement appeared to carry over for Richey, into the next agenda item taken up by the Commission. It involved “how the Parking Bureau could help” with a problem regarding the no-parking area in front of The Playhouse, according to the agenda.
Miltenberg, in an apparent attempt to lighten up the meeting, noted that now the Parking Bureau was being asked for its help in enforcement.
“Not sure you want to go there Keith,” she said with a laugh.
Glowering down from the dais, Richey responded, “Careful, Stacy. I’m serious.”
When Miltenberg said, “I’m teasing,” Richey continued to glare at her and said, “I’m not teasing. I’m serious. Be careful.”
What Richey was implying by those words was unclear. Miltenberg after a moment moved on, addressing the agenda item at hand. A recording of that portion of the meeting is embedded at the top of this article.