ALBANY UNVEILS NEW PARKING SYSTEM

In wake of ticket scandal, new high-tech data base provides transparency

CAROL DEMARE STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Correction: An article in Wednesday’s Capital Region section about Albany’s new system for issuing parking tickets and collecting fines contained incorrect information about the request for proposals for parking management services. When the request was issued in August, the city treasurer was Betty Barnett. Kathy Sheehan was elected treasurer in November and took office Jan. 1.

ALBANY -- A new citywide system for issuing parking tickets and collecting fines has taken effect, effectively bringing to a close a parking-ticket scandal that plagued City Hall for months after it was reported that special parking privileges were given to people with connections, officials said Tuesday.


The new high-tech system intends "to enhance transparency and improve enforcement of the city's parking regulations," Treasurer Kathy Sheehan, who oversees the Parking Violations Bureau, and acting Police Chief Steven Krokoff announced in a statement. The new procedures are "fully operational," they said.


At the core is a software system that "links computerized handheld ticket writers directly to our collections database," Sheehan said. "This allows us to track every ticket from the time it is written until it is ultimately paid or dismissed. New safeguards also allow us to protect against unauthorized changes."


The Police Department and its officers' union came under fire for so-called ghost tickets. In 2008, the newspaper reported on the longtime practice of secret tickets containing "bull's-eye" stickers -- carrying no monetary penalties -- issued to private vehicles of city police, spouses, friends and city-employed civilians. These stickers were placed on windshields so vehicles could park on city streets without fines or penalties.


Records showed a total of 57,450 ghost or voided tickets over the last eight years amounting to $4 million in lost revenue, the Times Union reported. Then-Treasurer Betty Barnett came under fire during an investigation into the ticket irregularities, and she lost her bid for re-election last year.


The Police Department and Sheehan's office worked with the Albany Parking Authority "to evaluate our options for parking enforcement," Krokoff said in the statement. Complus Data Innovations was selected for "depth of experience, as well as integrating (its) parking ticket management systems in municipalities, particularly in New York state."


Besides providing enhanced audit capabilities, the system has automated collection notices for delinquent unpaid tickets.


"We expect to see a significant increase in collections over the next several months," Sheehan said. The Westchester County software company "has demonstrated collections of up to 96 percent for newly issued tickets and up to 80 percent for backlogged, unpaid tickets," she said.


Complus is not a collection agency, she stressed. "We will continue to adjudicate and enforce our own tickets, but with our new enhanced database, we will be better able to pursue enforcement efforts, particularly against scofflaws."


Complus provides handheld ticket writers, which include bar code scanners to be used by parking enforcement officers, allowing them to scan state registration stickers. The city is working with the Parking Authority to provide scanning capability on parking meters, which will also reduce data entry.


"In addition to improving productivity, our new handhelds should enhance our enforcement capabilities," Krokoff said. "Each ticket writer has built in imaging capability, which allows us to capture up to three digital images of a violation. While not all violations require digital imaging, a picture of a blocked driveway or fire hydrant will assist in any additional court proceedings."


The city installed and started testing the new software system at the end of March, and the handheld ticket writers went into service last Friday, the officials said. The Parking Violations Bureau will provide quarterly reports to the Common Council of the number of tickets issued, fines collected and tickets dismissed, they said.


At the direction of Mayor Jerry Jennings, the city's Law Department, working with police officials, Sheehan's office and the Parking Authority, issued a request for proposals last August for municipal parking management services and related equipment. In February, Complus was awarded the contract as the most qualified bidder and began working with city officials.


The software company has worked with Saratoga Springs on ticket collections since 2007.


Jennings recognized Assistant Corporation Counsel Michelina Wojton for her work, with others, on the contract "which we believe will bring transparency and effective management to the parking violation and collection process."


Carol DeMare can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at cdemare@timesunion.com.