Five years ago, a Ford Windstar assigned to the state Department of Juvenile Services got a $42 parking ticket in downtown Baltimore. The ticket was not paid on time. And in the weeks, months and years that followed, the penalties grew and grew and grew.
A week after The Baltimore Sun inquired to state budget officials on April 20, the agency finally ponied up. The tab: $970.
It was one of four unpaid Baltimore City parking citations the agency belatedly paid. Due to the delays, tickets amounting to $178 wound up costing state taxpayers a cool $2,263.
“That’s not right, and we don’t want that to happen,” said agency spokesman Jay Cleary, who blamed an “accountability gap” that has since been fixed. He says Deputy Secretary Lynette Holmes called a meeting April 24 to order the tickets be paid, adding that she had been reviewing the issue for some time.
Here’s how it’s supposed to work: When an agency car or truck gets a parking ticket, the guilty employee is supposed to pay it within a week. If not, the agency’s accounting department pays and gives the employee 10 days to repay the agency. If the employee doesn’t pay back the money, the agency calls in the state’s central collections office.
With these four tickets, not only did the employees fail to pay, but so did the agency. Why? Because logs showing who was driving the vehicles weren’t properly filled out. As a result, the agency did not know which employee to go after for reimbursement.
“Accounting wanted a name associated with the citation,” Cleary said. Without a name, “the citations lingered.” And lingered and lingered.
The agency has since changed procedures. Now, supervisors are responsible for making sure the driver logs are filled out. They have a strong incentive: If Juvenile Services gets any more parking tickets and it’s not clear who the offending driver was, the supervisor will have to pay.
“If someone has to hold the bag,” Cleary said, “it will be that supervisor” — and not taxpayers.