Time's Up

Oglesby's gone, but parking's violations continue.

Merry Christmas, Mayor Webb.

In the mail you'll find a check for $40 to cover the two parking tickets I picked up last week -- my gift from city employees eager to make up Denver's revenue shortfall. One was delivered at 9:05 a.m. (my meeting ran ten minutes past a quarter) on a weekday in the 1100 block of Acoma Street, where parking management trucks are circling like sharks these days. (The boot truck surfaced there just minutes ago, apparently on leave from my neighborhood, where it appears more often than the postman. "Last week I got someone for $1,300," reported the happy bootman.) The second was a holiday present handed out in LoDo early on a Sunday morning, when the only cars in sight huddle around Dixons restaurant -- as do the city's VCAs (that's Vehicle Control Agents, for those less intimately acquainted with them than I).

This holiday season, the city is offering free parking downtown -- after 6 p.m. "I can't even keep track of when it's free and when it's not," says Lee Goodfriend, a Dixons owner who's been active in the city's parking discussions. "We put it in our reservations book." And that book is right by the rolls of quarters that Dixons keeps at the hostess stand. Few Sunday brunchers arrive downtown packing twelve quarters, which is what it now takes to buy two hours of "world-class" parking ("That's the Ticket," December 12).

"If we need the money, why are we giving free parking?" asks Goodfriend. "I would rather have kept the meters down. It would be good to keep them reasonable all of the time."

Goodfriend and other downtown business owners reluctantly agreed to the parking-rate hike after the city promised to install pay stations in LoDo like those along Larimer Square, which take credit cards and issue parking receipts that drivers can put on their windshields. This summer, a similar plan was devised for the congested, and meter-free, Cherry Creek North shopping area. But despite strong support from neighbors and businesspeople -- the Cherry Creek business district was willing to buy the stations for the city and get paid off through new parking revenues -- that proposal has been tabled somewhere in the mayor's office. And last month, the city finally confessed that those LoDo pay stations would not be installed, either, because "the city found itself facing a budget shortfall greater than anticipated in response to declining sales revenues." The bad news came in a letter from Robert Casteneda, deputy manager of the Department of Public Works, who'd been put in charge of the department's parking management division in June, shortly before $97,000-a-year parking director John Oglesby was put on paid leave pending an independent audit of the division.

Mayor Webb, feel free to use my $40 to pay for one-thousandth of that $38,000 KPMG audit, first discussed in February, authorized by Public Works manager Stephanie Foote in May, mysteriously dated September 17 (even though its contents include events subsequent to that date) and finally released three months later. In the interim, of course, City Auditor Don Mares turned in his own independent audit of the division, outlining numerous questionable activities; two days later, Oglesby resigned. (His paid leave had already stretched to almost three times the original thirty days.) A few weeks later, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter reported on his own investigation, noting that while the division had behaved badly, Oglesby could not be charged criminally because his actions were authorized by his superiors, and so "criminal prosecution is not only inappropriate, but impossible."

Unless, of course, Ritter wants to read the first page of the Denver City Charter, which states that "violation of any provision of this charter for which no punishment has been provided therein shall be considered a misdemeanor and shall be prosecuted by the City Attorney."

But at this point, the city attorney -- or any other living, breathing city official -- might want to direct his attention to the division that Oglesby left behind six months ago, which does not appear to be much better off today...and can no longer fall back on blaming its former director. Oglesby wasn't the only problem at parking, KPMG found; Public Works senior staff -- staffers who are still there -- had failed to provide "appropriate oversight," including the required annual reviews of Oglesby's performance. The independent firm cited poor communication within the division and worse communication with the public. (Pay stations, anyone?) For example, KPMG said, while a smaller city that issues one-fourth as many tickets as Denver does has five customer-service reps to deal with parking complaints, Denver has exactly one.

Back in March, when the uproar over Oglesby's "world-class" parking plans peaked, the city established a task force of city officials (Oglesby most definitely not among them), residents and businesspeople. The group came up with 42 recommendations, the division agreed to implement forty, and "most are complete," the audit reported. Apparently, KPMG failed to stop by Cherry Creek or LoDo.

The task force was just a first step toward atoning for past sins, however. "Without an action plan to implement the recommendations of this report," KPMG warned, "the Division will remain in its present state." But since it took several months -- and several nosy phone calls from me -- for the city simply to release that report, don't look for much action to its parking plan.

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