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City Staff Compare Apples to Oranges and Tell White Lies To Justify Jacking Up A2 Parking Fines

City Administrator Roger Fraser and his finance staff member Matthew Horning, have found a brilliant way to bring in $875,287 in additional revenue for Ann Arbor. It only involves misleading City Council members just a little….

Just like the WISD millage proponents referred to their requested tax hike an a “millage enhancement,” and blackmailers prefer that their profession be referred to an “extortion racket,” city staff have been sitting around pondering how to “restructure” parking fines. The colloquial term would be that they’re trying to figure out a way to get City Council to vote to jack up the cost of parking fines. According to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Matthew Horning for Ann Arbor City Council members, 83 percent of all tickets issued fall into three categories:

1.  Expired meter

2.  Over legal limit

3.  No parking anytime

Of these, tickets issued for expired meters make up for 65 percent of the total. 

How, you might wonder, do city staff go about “studying” the restructure of Ann Arbor’s parking fines? Do staff members just make up information and data that suit their needs? Of course not, they go out and cherry-pick data and information that suit their needs, and rely on the fact that no one on City Council will ask the obvious question: are these data comparable? What’s being presented to Council this evening is called a “benchmarking study,” and basically it’s supposed to present a comparison between the parking fines issued in Ann Arbor, and those issued in “similar communities,” according to the PowerPoint presentation

There’s just one little, tiny, niggling problem. The city staff presented data collected from the following cities:

Austin, TX, population 656,000

Milwaukee, WI, population 628,000

Seattle, WA, population 563,000

Boulder, CO, population 293, 161

Madison, WI, population 208,054

Grand Rapids, MI, population 197,800

New Haven, CT, population 130,000

Lansing, MI, population 119,873

Ann Arbor, MI, population 112,000

East Lansing, MI, population 46,525

Alas, our fine city staff for some reason neglected to include population data in the benchmarking survey. I’ve included that data above. When included, the data show quite plainly that the cities to which Ann Arbor was “compared” are not similarly-sized communities. In some cases, Ann Arbor’s fines are being compared to those paid by residents of cities five times larger than ours. Are there members on Council who actually believe Ann Arbor is a “similar community” to, say, Seattle? Yes, unfortunately. They’re the ones who think we needed to spend $700,000 on wayfinding signs, and are prepared to drop $60 million of your tax dollars on FITS, a “gateway” to Ann Arbor. In psychological terms, they suffer from delusions of grandeur. It’s a large part of why we pay extortionately high property tax rates. Ann Arbor…Seattle on the Huron, the Austin of the Middle West, the Milwaukee of Michigan.

Thus, this evening, city staff is preparing to present to Ann Arbor City Council a “benchmarking study” that is not only deeply flawed but misleading, and a shocking example of an attempt to force the data fit the desired outcome. The staff  benchmarking “study” is by no means a comparison of similar communities. Unless of course, by “similar” city staff took that to mean that day is followed by night in all of the cities chosen for comparison.

An expired meter fine in Seattle paid after 14 days costs $60. In New Haven it costs $40. In Grand Rapids the fine is $40. Not surprisingly, in cities exponentially larger than Ann Arbor, fines are higher. Thus, city staff conclude in their “study”  that in Ann Arbor the fine for an expired meter paid after 14 days should be jacked up from $30 to $40.

Here are data staff chose to ignore: In Milwaukee and Austin, according to the “study” there is no penalty for paying a ticket for an expired meter within 14 days (tip o’ the keyboard to David Cahill). In the single city sized similarly to Ann Arbor (Lansing) included in the study, and the single smaller city included in the study (East Lansing), the penalty for an expired meter paid after 14 days is $25, $5 dollars less than it currently is in Ann Arbor.

Now, here’s a list of cities with populations almost identical to Ann Arbor’s:

Lafayette city LA 110,257
Simi Valley city CA 111,351
Springfield city IL 111,454
Inglewood city CA 112,580
Peoria city IL 112,936
Independence city MO 113,288
Waco city TX 113,726
Beaumont city TX 113,866
Ann Arbor city MI 114,024
North Las Vegas city NV 115,488
Abilene city TX 115,930

Guess what? In city’s with populations similar to that of Ann Arbor, the cost of expired meter fines are….lower than those currently extorted from hapless Ann Arbor residents and visitors. The cost of most of the kinds of fines included in the Ann Arbor city staff’s benchmarking “study” are lower than those currently assessed by our city. 

This benchmarking “study” that will be presented to Council tonight is a patently misleading and a sloppy piece of research. Instead of restructuring the city’s parking fines, City Council should recommend to City Administrator Roger Fraser that he restructure the department that produced this appalling piece of pseudo-research. 

Feel like emailing your Council member? Here are their email addresses: JHieftje@a2gov.org;ssmith@a2gov.org; Sbriere@a2gov.org; SRapundalo@a2gov.org; TDerezinski@a2gov.org; CTaylor@a2gov.org; LGreden@a2gov.org; MHiggins@a2gov.org; MTeall@a2gov.org; CHohnke@a2gov.org; MAnglin@a2gov.org. 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=1542

22 Comments for “City Staff Compare Apples to Oranges and Tell White Lies To Justify Jacking Up A2 Parking Fines”

  1. [...] we needed to “revisit” and raise the parking fines (after I questioned in an A2Politico entry the logic behind the need to “revisit” parking fines and the validity of the data in [...]

  2. What happened with this parking fine structure push from Roger Fraser? Anyone know?

  3. [...] I wrote about here (”Roger Fraser Wants Council To Scratch His Five-Year Itch”) and here (”City Staff Compare Apples to Oranges and Tell White Lies To Justify Jacking Up A2 Parking [...]

  4. This website is great…

  5. All,

    I had the following exchange with Mayor Hieftje last Friday in regard to
    Parking Fine Increases:

    —–Original Message—–
    Sent: Friday, November 13, 2009
    To: Hieftje, John; Smith, Sandi; Briere, Sabra; Rapundalo, Stephen;
    Derezinski, Tony; Taylor, Christopher (Council); Higgins, Marcia; Teall,
    Margie; Hohnke, Carsten; Anglin, Mike
    Subject: Parking Fee Increases

    Council Members,

    This email is in regard to a proposed Parking Fee Increase proposed
    by the Ann Arbor City Manager.

    First, one of the new fines the city should impose is on City
    Managers who choose to not live in the city of Ann Arbor. I would
    propose an annual fine of 1% of the city manager’s base salary.

    Second, I am aghast that the council continues to abrogate its
    obligation to provide policy direction to city government and instead,
    chooses to be lead around by the nose by paid bureaucrats who have
    figured out how to game the process by manipulating information fed to
    council. I do not want to live in a city where the only efficient
    service is the collection of fines. Organized crime has survived for
    years by operating extortion rackets which operate on the principle of,
    “Give us money, or we make your life miserable.” Is this the city’s
    plan? When I see the city using fines and fees to raise significant
    revenue, this is what we are coming to. And guess what, once the city
    is addicted to the revenue from these sources, it is next to impossible
    to undue the damage. People and businesses flee, the city is stuck in a hole with no way of digging itself out.

    The problem with the information the city manager is providing to
    council is that it is like a leech trying to figure out how much blood
    it can safely suck out of its victim without the victim dying (good
    leeches don’t kill the host). Why are we looking at what other cities
    charge? The claim is that fines are needed to ensure efficient
    management of a scarce public resource (no problem so far). It is also
    alleged that without fines, turnover in parking spaces will be
    insufficient to generate adequate commerce during normal business hours
    (here is the problem). The problem is, the city does not measure the
    turnover rate. The city demonstrates bad faith by not measuring the
    very thing that is claimed to be the justification for having the fines
    in the first place. If it is true that things that get measured get
    managed and the only thing the city is measuring is the revenue squeezed
    out of the population; then we must conclude it is the revenue that is
    being managed and not the parking space turnover. What if it turns out
    that a small fine is enough to deter parking space cheating or other,
    non-money penalties are better? The city has no way of knowing this
    since it is not even asking the question. It is the job of council to
    ask these questions and from my vantage point, the council has failed in this regard.

    Sincerely,

    ChuckL

    ———————————————————————–

    From the Mayor:

    I appreciate your writing on this issue. I have several concerns about
    the proposal myself and like others on council have asked some
    questions.

    As to your first concern; unfortunately it is against state law to force
    employees to live in the city.

    In regard to the second: Council does not try to deter staff from
    presenting all ideas and this was one of them. Considering options that
    are presented to us is a long way from being led by the nose.

    There is a solid bank of knowledge regarding the parking system and
    turnover is included in that although precise data on meter turnover
    rates is not easy to come by. So far as I know, it can only be gauged
    through direct observation. As I recall it was about six or seven years
    ago when DDA interns were on the street observing meter usage over a
    period of many weeks. It was discovered that people working downtown
    were using many of the metered spaces and reasoning that it was
    easier/cheaper to get a ticket and pay it immediately at the discount
    rate than it was to feed the meter. This research led to the last
    increase in expired meter tickets and it made a difference.

    The goal of the DDA in regard to parking has been clear for many years.
    Get people downtown without their cars. Just look at the funding and
    effort that goes into the Get Downtown Program. The pedestrian and
    cycling improvements that are underway on Fifth and Division are another
    good example. If people do drive then try to get them to park in
    structures so the metered spaces are left for folks coming down to make
    a relatively quick purchase or have a quick lunch.

    Several people I have heard from on this issue make the point that it is
    easy to avoid a parking ticket. People can take the bus, ride a bike,
    walk, pay the meter or park in a structure. The parking structures are
    well kept, safe and require only a couple of minutes more walking VS
    searching for a space in front of one’s destination.

    Having said all that, no one on council would disagree if I said the
    promise of increased revenue is a major driver for the City
    Administrator. Cities across our state are looking for dollars under
    every fallen leaf to avoid laying off more staff. Given that in many
    cities the budget shortfalls are much greater I imagine the search is
    frantic. Most of us here in A2 just do not understand how bad it is out
    there.

    I still have concerns about raising the rate for an expired meter but
    also about putting a real burden on people who do not pay on time. It
    does not seem fair to burden those who miss paying within 30 days with
    exorbitant fines.

    Thank you for writing and if you would ever like to discuss this or any
    other issue please take advantage of my weekly open office hours by
    calling my office for an appointment. 794 6161.

    John Hieftje

    —————————————————————————————————-

    Final Response from ChuckL

    Dear Mayor Hieftje,

    Fining the city manager for not living in the city is not prohibiting
    him from living outside the city. The city could argue it is merely
    attempting to recover the lost tax revenue the city manager’s salary
    could reasonably be expected to generate for the city.

    It is laudable that you are concerned with upholding state law when it
    comes to not interfering with the city manager’s right to live where
    he chooses. However, the city’s record of respecting state law in
    regard to traffic enforcement is less stellar. Ann Arbor’s own
    James Walker was an expert witness who testified in favor of a late 2006
    change in state law that has the effect of invalidating most speed limit signs in
    the city of Ann Arbor. Mr. Walker was stopped and ticketed on Nixon
    Road in Ann Arbor and successfully challenged and won his ticket in
    court before Judge Judy Creal. However, rather than bringing Ann
    Arbor’s enforcement pattern in line with State Law, the city has chosen
    to engage in a complex legal battle while it continues to collect costly
    fines from motorists who remain in the dark about their rights under
    state law. The city’s invocation of Home Rule is a bogus attempt to
    circumvent State Law since when there is a conflict between the local
    and State, the State prevails. I know all of the above due to the fact
    I successfully challenged a speeding ticket using State Law as a
    defense; I certainly got no help from the city on this and was
    obstructed at every opportunity by city employees in my attempt to have
    the city respect State Law.

    I would also point out that a study done more than seven years ago in
    regard to traffic turnover is not much of an effort; but does raise a
    question in my mind. Why does the city not require employers to provide
    parking for their employee’s at downtown locations rather than raising
    fees on everyone? Using fine and fee revenue to fund city services is a
    very slippery slope that will be hard to back out of. My main concern
    is that the city is currently realizing about $2.4 million per year from
    parking fines and is proposing to raise about $0.9 million more or
    roughly a 36% increase in revenue. The ticket fine revenue peeked in
    2006 at $3 million and has been declining. Also, this is being proposed
    at a time when voters recently rejected a 2 mill increase in property
    taxes for the WISD. The increased reliance on fines and fees is moving
    the city away from funding its operations based on one’s means or
    ability to pay. The temptation to jimmy the rules so as to increase
    fines will be an ongoing problem and places city employees who are
    involved with enforcement in an ever increasingly no-win situation. The
    public perception of its local government will increasingly change from
    positive to negative as people will increasingly feel the city is using
    any excuse to gouge.

    The city’s recent construction splurge and failure to fund this
    construction through voter approved millage increases has reduced the
    operating monies available for city services that benefit residents.
    The residents of Ann Arbor will increasingly see the mean side of their
    local government as the government attempts to compensate for lost
    operating revenue by increasing fines and fees. This is not the city I
    prefer to have. The council’s failure to ask voters for the monies to
    pay for the recent construction through a millage increase has short
    circuited the democratic process. If voters had approved a millage
    increase in order to pay for construction, the projects would have had
    public support and local government would have funds for operations that
    benefit residents. Citizen support/respect for local government would
    remain high. The council has not chosen this route and will now pay the
    price in terms of citizen loss of respect for local government.

    Sincerely,

    ChuckL

  6. I just recently found your blog. Entertaining stuff! I have paid my share of parking tickets over the years I’ve lived in this town and agree that if you feed the meter you have nothing to fear. However, I agree with A2Politico that the real issue is the “study” and the ridiculous criteria passed off as comparable data. Furthermore, why should a small midwestern town have the highest parking fines in the U.S.? Because our City Council members are being led around by the nose by the city administrator, it would appear.

  7. The money from parking & speeding tickets plus towing fines should go either to the schools, the libraries or the State of Michigan. The entity that issues the tickets should not get the revenue, period. The ignorance of people who claim that the tickets can be avoided by not violating the rules ignore the fact that the city is often guilty of deliberately setting the rules in a manner that will ensure violations and hence robust revenue. Case in point, most speed limits in Ann Arbor are set such that 70-95% of the vehicles on the road are exceeding the speed limit. People do not drive at the speed the sign says but at the speed that seems reasonable and prudent for the road and traffic conditions present. There is no amount of enforcement that will change this fact. The only way to increase compliance is to raise the speed limits to the speeds most people drive; then the compliance rate improves. The State Police proved this when speed limits were raised to comply with State law on Washtenaw. The city intentionally sets the speed limit too low and drivers are voting with their gas pedals for higher speed limits. In fact, the City of Ann Arbor is violating state law in setting the speed limits too low. The city has claimed home rule in violation of the home rule act which states that where there is a conflict between the local and state, state law prevails. There have been a number of high profile legal challenges the city has lost, but the arrogant city acts like State law only applies to the plebs.

    When it comes to parking tickets, this statement is typical for proponents of higher fines, “For example, let me say that one reason to increase the penalty for sitting on an expired meter is to speed up the turnover in parking spaces, since this allows more people to park and buy something…” The problem with this reasoning is that the city has no metric to measure the turnover rate much less measure how the rate of enforcement or the amount of a fine would affect the turnover rate. The city is demonstrating bad faith by only measuring the amount of revenue a certain fine would generate city wide; ticket fines should not be used for revenue enhancement, that is what taxes are for.

  8. Elle, the DDA rents the meters from the City. Take a look at the DDA budget online for a somewhat better idea of the breakdown of where the entity’s money goes.

  9. I read someone in another blog saying that they are concerned that the parking fines are “unfriendly.” At what point does a parking ticket become “friendly?” I don’t believe it was ever supposed to be but was to be a deterrent to parking in violation of the rules. As one who often sees people just park any old kind of way and not get tickets I am a bit frustrated. If the fines don’t encourage people to not park in violation then maybe they are not high enough although I may not agree with the proposed figures. Perhaps a slight increase is in order.

    I agree with Tom and Bob: If you don’t want to pay the fine then park correctly and feed the meter.

    Is it not true that the city doesn’t get the money from the meters? It is my understanding that this money goes instead to the DDA

  10. Seems that readers are caught up in the data issue, rather than the simple question any of us can and should answer for ourselves–are the parking penalties enough (or too much) already. As with the water and storm water systems, the parking system is a place where the city can, in effect, raise the cost of living in the city without actually increasing the service or the quality of the service. I fear that these penalty increases may be another dagger in the back of downtown businesses.

  11. Love the website, A2.

    The research does seem a bit shoddy, and there are implications surrounding that for many other issues. But parking fines? Who cares? Raise the parking violation fines. Just like speeding tickets, if you don’t do it, you don’t have to pay ‘em.

  12. I am left wondering if this idea originated with Council (told staff to make it happen) or staff. At this point $850,000 in additional revenue would be welcomed with open arms. Raising fines isn’t exactly going to raise the din that cutting funding from programs and services would. Keep feeding the meters, and you’ve nothing to worry about!

  13. Maybe what happened, in essence, is that city staff “dumbed down” the data collected/compiled for Council members? I find this explanation suspect given other much more complicated studies presented to Council by boards and commissions (the recent studies concerning Argo Dam come to mind, for instance). There really is no reason to neglect to define the main criterion “similar communities” unless there is a common assumption among those reading the study concerning the definition of “similar communities.” I don’t believe there is, as those who’ve commented here have come up with several possible definitions. I went through the presentation (it’s very short), and it strikes me a sales pitch dressed up as a benchmarking study.

  14. In looking at some population data, it seems that while they didn’t have the same population, some of the cities in the initial study had similar population DENSITY. It also makes sense to compare to cities who have similar parking technology and parking options as well.

    Also with a bit of searching (as if I don’t have better things to do – ok so I am avoiding something else) I have found that some of the other municipalities above are simply not on a 14 day schedule but use 15 or 21 days as their marker for increases.

    I’ve done presentations (in a different field than government but still) where I could not possibly include every last little piece of data in the part I was actually showing to the audience. I had to consolidate and simplify. Otherwise it would have been overwhelming and confusing (as would likely be the case here). So while I am not the most trustworthy person to believe that all politicians are honest and looking out for the common man, I would still believe that the fact that all of the background isn’t there for you to see that it hasn’t been researched and collected and that it hasn’t simply been omitted totally.

    I don’t know. I’ll just keep an open mind along with a magnifying glass.

  15. If the council actually believes that Ann Arbor is similar to Austin, Milwaukee or Seattle, Mr. Fraser is not the problem.

  16. So, I get the too cool for school idea, but Seattle? Milwaukee? Austin, TX? Those cities make no sense.

  17. I agree with Ross – what difference does the overall population make in this comparison? To me, it seems fairly obvious that the comparator cities are chosen because they have key attributes that compare or contrast with Ann Arbor.

    Lansing, East Lansing, Grand Rapids = mid-sized Michigan cities.
    Austin, Boulder, Madison = cities with similar universities
    New Haven, Milwaukee, Seattle = one city each from the east, midwest and west

  18. Ross, point taken. So we have to define “similar,” and that is exactly what is not defined in the “study.” I think that “too-cool-for-school” idea is exactly what the staff hopes to use to appeal to those who sit on Council who think they’re way cool. Too cool to be constrained by rules, facts or reality.

  19. I wouldn’t want this to be construed as defending the abuse of data, but what makes you think that comparing to cities with similar populations is more apt than comparing to cities that are similarly too-cool-for-school? If you’re going to propose what you think is a better way to do the comparison, you should say why you think your method is better.

    For example, let me say that one reason to increase the penalty for sitting on an expired meter is to speed up the turnover in parking spaces, since this allows more people to park and buy something. In other words, I’m worried about the number of people who drive by and don’t stop, because they can’t find a place to park. In this case, I might want to compare Ann Arbor with cities with comparable traffic density. If those data are hard to obtain, I might look for cities with comparable population /density/, and given the large number of those, I might give preference to cities that pull in visitors from the surrounding area.

    Anyway, I’ve tried to come up with a similar story about the /total/ population, and haven’t been able to. Maybe you have one you’d like to share?

  20. Sorry, the comment box problem isn’t resolved (on Sabra’s Wintel machine). Plus, on both my Mac and her Wintel machine, the “Leave a comment” boxes and the”Submit Comment” lozenge are too small.

    With regard to this article, excellent and timely research! I think there is a typo about halfway down. For Milwaukee and Austin, I think you meant to say there is no fine if the ticket is paid *within* 14 days.

  21. Very interesting research. It is clear that you love the currently anonymous nature of your blog, and I think it does allow you to be more effective, but with the strength of your views and the detail of your research, I cannot imagine, in a town of this size, how you can remmain anonymous for very long. Good luck. Also, is it just my computer that places ads that cannot be moved over the comment writing area so that one cannot see if they typed things correctly? Is there an answer for that problem? This is the second time it has happened to me.

    • Boomer,

      ARGH!! I thought that comment box problem had been resolved. My apologies. I’ll get that fixed! As for my anonymity, let’s just hope no one puts two and two together and realizes that A2Politico is an anagram (of something, I’m sure). :-)

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