Nearly 100 parking tickets — issued by ParkAtlanta to officials at the agency and high ranking members of the Atlanta Department of Public Works — were summarily dismissed in what a city official is calling a “secret shopper” program.
Now, the city and its law department, which has opened an internal investigation, want answers.
Among the questions: What is the “secret shopper” program and why did no one know about it?
“I have no way of knowing,” said City Councilman C.T. Martin, when asked if he believed such a program involving ticket dismissal ever existed. “I don’t know, but I hope they would have had one.”
As early as 2010, according to a document provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Angela Bowers-Ervin, the city’s public parking program manager, wrote to Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza that a program to monitor ticket issuing efficiency had been implemented. But nowhere in the document does it say how the program would work.
On Wednesday, Mendoza told the city council’s transportation committee that while there was such a program, it has been suspended until a clearer set of rules and guidelines can be developed. Describing the program as a “secret shopper,” Mendoza said cars had been purposely parked illegally, testing workers for following ParkAtlanta guidelines, including citing drivers for infractions like expired meters or parking in a restricted area.
“While this practice was not formally structured, it was helpful in identifying anomalies in parking management,” Mendoza wrote in a letter to the committee. “No formal written reports were generated. … The quality control measures were a practice, not a program. They were well-intentioned, however not formally documented.”
Mendoza refused to comment after appearing before the committee, saying only that the matter is under investigation.
“I expected to hear more of an admission that this was run in an inappropriate way,” councilman Michael Julian Bond said. “I am glad they are doing a review of the program, but I wanted them to take more ownership of the problem itself.”
Almost since ParkAtlanta was contracted to handle Atlanta’s parking services, the city has been besieged with complaints about the agency’s aggressiveness, rates, constant ticketing and confusing signage and equipment. One those who complained was David Howell, a 30-year-old analyst.
After getting a ticket and a boot on his car, Howell began digging into ParkAtlanta’s ticketing methods. Crunching data, particularly around City Hall and near ParkAtlanta’s headquarters, he found a long list of dismissed parking tickets.
Allen Rais, a ParkAtlanta supervisor, received 34 tickets over nine months that were not paid. Bowers-Ervin, the public parking program manager, and Benita Hardy, a parking program officer, received a combined 26 tickets that were never paid.
None of them would comment Wednesday.
But Valerie Bell-Smith, public relations manager for the Department of Public Works, stressed that the process was legitimate, if not well-publicized.
“It is a quality assurance process, not a program, that has since been suspended to allow us to formalize it into a program,” Bell-Smith said.
In suspending the program, Mendoza told the committee:
- Employees will no longer have the ability to dismiss a parking ticket, even those incurred through the program.
- Employees must receive permission from the commissioner to target locations.
- Ticket records must be kept and recorded monthly.
- New metrics to track performance over time will be used to measure the effectiveness of a quality assurance program.
Bond said he expects a report within 30 days.
“I want to see a real program that is strict and fair,” Bond said. “There is no justification for doing this without a clear program.”