'Bull's-eyes' on Tuffey watch
Albany's no-fine parking tickets date back at least to early 1990s
Published on 3/24/2009 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST AND BRENDAN J. LYONS, Staff writers
ALBANY A secret system to give no-fine parking tickets to cars bearing special decals dates back at least as far as Police Chief James Tuffey's tenure as leader of the police union, a city police commander testified Monday.
Commander Aaron Flanger, a 17-year veteran who, among other things, oversees the city's parking enforcement efforts, told lawmakers he was issued his first blue-and-yellow bull's-eye sticker a coded message to parking enforcement to issue a ticket carrying no fine shortly after he joined the force in 1992.
Flanger went on to say that he later learned the system was administered by the Albany Police Officers Union, which Tuffey, a retired detective who has since denied any knowledge of the decal system, led at the time he was hired.
Pressed by Councilman Michael O'Brien about who the union president was at the time he was hired, Flanger, who is no longer a member of the union, replied: "James Tuffey."
The revelation came on the first night of testimony in the Common Council's investigation into the no-fine ticketing practices, first disclosed publicly by the Times Union in a series of articles starting in November.
Flanger was one of three witnesses to testify voluntarily under oath Monday. He said he was part of a committee along with officials from the Albany Parking Authority and city Parking Violations Bureau, which is part of the treasurer's office that was discussing ways to improve parking enforcement in the city.
As recently as early 2008 months before the newspaper's disclosure of the no-fine tickets that committee was considering doing away with the bull's-eye system, citing concerns about a lack of accountability, Flanger said.
City Treasurer Betty Barnette also has told lawmakers she had no knowledge of any no-fine parking tickets being issued in the city until the newspaper's disclosures.
Flanger said that he has heard stories in which vehicles had bull's-eye decals that "had no right to have them."
The Times Union's investigation of the system last fall revealed numerous instances in which retired officers and the girlfriends and spouses of police officers were receiving no-fine tickets on vehicles that carried bull's-eye stickers.
"It had always been here," he said "I had no idea it had not been sanctioned by the city. ... If it wasn't sanctioned by the city, we would have stopped it if I had known that."
Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro pressed Flanger about Tuffey's public assertions that he had no knowledge of the decal system, but was shot down by fellow council members.
He responded: "I'll let it go and let the public decide."
The commander's testimony about the length for which the system existed matched the account of one of his subordinates, a veteran public service officer, who said the system was already well-established when she was hired 14 years ago.
"That's the way it was when I started," PSO Shelly Kirtley, the first to testify, told lawmakers. Kirtley, unlike Flanger and the other witness, PSO Supervisor Mindy Perez, were not on the council's original witness list.
Kirtley actually requested that the council allow her to come in and testify, said Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti, who is chairman of the special investigative committee.
In a closing statement, Kirtley said that while much of the scrutiny has fallen on the police department and police union, members of the Common Council and the media, including the Times Union, have received "consideration" when it came to parking tickets. "Everybody's gotten consideration," Kirtley said.
All three witnesses said that the bull's-eyes were only intended to shield officers and other law enforcement figures from parking fines while on official business on the streets around the city's downtown courthouses, such Broadway, Eagle, Lodge, Pine, Columbia and North Pearl. "The understanding was that you were fair game if you we in violation anywhere else," Flanger said.
He also acknowledged a second system a computer database filled with select license plate numbers designed to shield VIPs from parking fines, and said he had added one plate to that list at Tuffey's request.
Flanger could not recall whose license plate it was, but said he had never received a similar request Mayor Jerry Jennings' office.
Through both systems, state bureaucrats and employees of various public agencies, including the offices of the Albany County sheriff and district attorney, also received no-fine tickets, the newspaper has found.
Earlier this month, Christian Mesley, current president of the APOU, declined to testify voluntarily under oath before the council, as did the James Lyman, a retired city detective who is executive director of the APOU's parent union, Council 82.
Mesley could still face a subpoena, and the council has asked Tuffey and Barnette to appear before it next week.
Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.