Dominick Calsolaro

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Pay Nothing

Secret system protecting friends and family of Albany Police from parking fines prompts the Common Council to ask for answers

Published on 11/24/2008 by Metroland written by David King

A recent story in the Times Union seemed to have lit a fire under a number of Albany Common Council council members on Monday. The story highlighted a system that has existed in Albany for at least 15 years in which “bull’s-eye” decals have been issued by an Albany Police union to friends and family of Albany police officers allowing them to park their cars illegally without penalty.

The decals, which are affixed to cars’ windshields, prompt parking-enforcement officers to issue a ticket without writing in a fine, which means that no fine is ever recorded with the city, and so the violators know they can simply throw away the ticket.

Common Council President Shawn Morris sent out a memo to members calling for an investigation into the system to find out how public-service officers knew to issue no-fine tickets to vehicles bearing the decals, whether it is possible to track all the tickets that have been issued, and to determine the origins of the practice, Morris told Metroland.

Common Council President Pro Tem Richard Conti (Ward 6) wrote a letter requesting detailed information about the practice from the city treasurer, Betty Barnett, and Police Chief James Tuffey.

Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) told Metroland that he hoped it might be possible to track the tickets, but was discouraged by comments made by Tuffey last week to the Times Union that tickets could only be tracked on a “day-by-day basis.” This week, APD spokesman James Miller told the Times Union that records of the ghost tickets were not catalogued in City Hall, “because they were not subject to monetary collections.”

Barnett has declined to speak about the story publicly, while Tuffey has claimed ignorance of the parking decals.

Mayor Jerry Jennings issued a citywide directive this week bringing an end to issuing no-fine tickets.

During the Monday caucus, some members of the council were motivated to push through some legislation. Councilman James Sano (Ward 9) even called to see a vote of hands on the city budget. He continued to push for the vote despite protests from other members who were concerned they had not received information about usage of city vehicles and other budget-related information.

The council also faced the issue of approving a supplement to the environmental impact statement for the Marriott Hotel proposed to be built in the Pine Bush. Although a number of council people were hesitant to vote on the issue because of a letter from Chris Hawver, executive director of the Pine Bush Commission, asking that the council delay the vote because he had not had a chance to review the supplement, other council members furiously pushed for the supplement to come to a vote. It did, and it passed 10 to 5.

There was not nearly as much zeal on the part of most council members when it came to addressing the issue of the parking decals. No ad hoc committee was formed, as had been suggested by Morris. Instead, a number of members advocated waiting to get a response to Conti’s letter that requested information from Barnett and Tuffey.

Some on the council noted that the chief and the treasurer had both claimed not to know anything about the practice and wondered what good it would do to ask for information from them.

Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) seemed to laugh off the idea that the head of the police did not have knowledge of the ticketing practice and said, “We have a rogue in the department?”

Ellis noted the council is waiting to hear from the chief about his investigation into the sale of automatic weapons in the APD.

“We couldn’t get info from the police chief about guns that were sold under his watch,” said Ellis. “Do you think we are going to get accurate information about what the stickers were about unless the council subpoenas people to come in front of them?”

Ellis said he doubted the council would take the steps necessary to get to the bottom of the issue. “I don’t think the council is going to subpoena someone, and unless the council stands up and exerts its power, nothing is going to happen. My point is: I don’t want to put energy into something that isn’t going to bear any fruit.”

As of press time, the council was scheduled to meet on Wednesday this week to bring the parking issue up again. The issue of the parking decals comes during a time when the city has been stepping up efforts to collect overdue parking fines.

“Ironies abound, don’t they?” asked Morris. “How widespread is it? Are we talking about three tickets a day, or is it 25, 30 or 40 that park for free? We need to understand the scope for parking-fine revenue as well as the turning over of parking spaces downtown.”