Dominick Calsolaro

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Once again, Mr. Tuffey

Next up in the Albany Common Council's investigation of the city's parking tickets scandal: James Tuffey.

Published on 3/25/2009 by the Times Union written by Opinion

Yes, that James Tuffey, the city's chief of police and formerly the president of the Albany Police Officers Union.

Let the people of Albany hear Mr. Tuffey say once more what he's been saying for the four months since the Times Union disclosed how, for years, certain people didn't have to pay their tickets. Let the public hear how the union ran its "bull's-eye" sticker scam without Mr. Tuffey's knowledge. Let the police chief say he was kept out of the loop.

Mr. Tuffey needs to go back before the Common Council to pick up where one of his commanders, Aaron Flanger, left off Monday night.

Mr. Flanger, who supervises the city's parking enforcement system, testified that he was given his first bull's-eye sticker not long after joining the police force in 1992.

The union president at the time, Mr. Flanger said for the record, was none other than Mr. Tuffey.

It might have made some sense, once, to spare on-duty cops from such fines when they parked their cars near City Hall and the various downtown courthouses. Of course, such a system of special parking stickers should have been overseen by the city itself — the police department, say, or the Parking Violations Bureau — rather than the police union. And it should have been on the up and up.

This sort of favoritism has a price, remember. In just the past two years or so, Albany has lost out on almost $1 million in fines that never will be collected. That's a notable piece of change for a city that budgets $2.7 million a year in parking fines and is running a $10 million deficit.

What emerged to the public's shock in late 2008 was a system where cops' spouses, girlfriends and pals — bar owners, even — were getting tickets they didn't have to pay.

What became painfully clear Monday night, meanwhile, was how out of control the ticket scam had become.

Listen to Mr. Flanger:

"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."

Some Common Council members, oddly enough, weren't in the mood to have Councilman Dominick Calsolaro press Mr. Flanger about how Mr. Tuffey couldn't have known all this.

No matter. The council has asked Mr. Tuffey to appear next week — along with city Treasurer Betty Barnette, who oversees the Parking Violations Bureau.

She, too, has said she knew nothing about no-fine parking tickets until they were revealed by the Times Union. She, too, can say that again, in the wake of testimony by Mr. Flanger that months before the story broke, a committee that included representation from the Parking Violations Bureau discussed doing away with the bull's-eye system.

It's with good reason, after all, that the council is proceeding with an inquiry that had been resisted by Mayor Jerry Jennings. It's called the pursuit of the truth.

The issue:

A police commander says the ticket scam dates to when the chief was union president.

The Stakes:

More questions remain for Mr. Tuffey.

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