Letters to Slumerville

Following is the saga of my light-hearted battle with Somerville (a city in Massachusetts whose primary claim to fame is that it has an even higher population density than Boston) over a parking ticket that I received for apparently parking in an unmarked permit-only area. The manner in which the affair was handled by Somerville (even more so than the questionable grounds for the ticket itself) shows a startling lack of respect for people's rights and cackles in the face of that old, disregarded "innocent until proven guilty" nonsense.

Clearly when something that is supposed to be somewhat penal in nature can instead be used as a quick source of revenue by any community interested in obtaining some extra cash, it is corrupt and needs to be addressed.

I personally have no objection with reasonable parking tickets. Such things I pay without complaint. I have gotten a grand total of three unreasonable ones, however. One in the city of Newton (who judged in my favor on appeal), one in the city of Boston (this one was nasty; I got a late notice in the mail for a ticket I had never received for a time when I probably was not even in the city -- but this is another story), and finally, one in the city of Somerville. It is this Somerville tale that is related in the following letters. So, now I present for your amusement, Letters to Slumerville...


Foreword

What do you do if you receive an unfair parking ticket in the U.S.? You request a hearing of course. Since hearing requests must be written, I wrote the following one with a brief summary of why I thought the ticket was unjust and why it was worthy of appeal.


DATE:
January 5, 1994
TO:
Parking Clerk, Parking Violations Bureau
City of Somerville
P.O. Box 800
Somerville, MA 02143-9102
Dear Sir:

I am writing this letter to request a hearing for a parking ticket I received in your city on January 3, 1994 at around one thirty. I am not too familiar with your city, and followed the signs for public parking to get to my eventual parking space. I did see two signs for restricted business parking, but I interpreted these to mean selected spaces of the parking lot and not the entire thing. After all, if the entire parking lot were restricted, there should not be a public parking sign at its entrance.

Perhaps there was additional signage that I missed. It had snowed that morning (and was still snowing at around quarter past one when I left my car), and the lot had not really been plowed too well. Some spaces were completely filled with banks of piled snow and it would not surprise me to learn that there were one or more signs covered by the snow.

At any rate, there is no supporting documentation I can produce. The public parking signs that I followed should still be there and the fact that the lot was snowed over should not be disputable. My defense is simple: not being familiar with the area I followed the public parking signs and parked in a space I thought was legal. I saw no signs to really make me think my spot was otherwise, and none of the cars around me carried any special permits reinforcing my belief. I do not know whether the existing signs are unclear or if the snow or other vehicles had blocked my view of additional signs that would have clarified the situation, but it is not fair to penalize someone under either circumstance.


The Next Round

After my letter, I had simply expected an invitation to a hearing where the matter could possibly be discussed in person and fairly judged. I was more than a little surprised to receive instead (quite some time later) a little machine-generated slip of paper indicating both that my hearing had been held -- and that I had lost. So much for the right to a fair hearing and all of that silly stuff. The reply also indicated that I could push it a bit further for the sum of $185.00 if I so chose. If I did not pay, my license renewal would be held up. Since it was not worth the $185.00 to take a shot at the possibly biased appeals process in order to have the $15.00 fee nullified, I grudgingly paid the original $15.00 and sent along the following letter, CC'ing it to the Somerville Chamber of Commerce.


DATE:
February 20, 1994
TO:
Parking Clerk, Parking Violations Bureau
City of Somerville
P.O. Box 800
Somerville, MA 02143-9102
CC:
Somerville Chamber of Commerce
2 Alpine Street
P.O. Box 343
Somerville, MA 02144
Dear Sir:

I am writing this letter in response to your decision on a hearing I requested for a parking ticket I had received in your city on January 3, 1994 at around one thirty. As I had stated before, I am not too familiar with your city, and followed the signs for public parking to get to my eventual parking space. It appeared that the lot I was in had some spaces in the corner restricted to business permit only parking, but that the space I chose was open to the public.

It had snowed that morning and was still snowing at around quarter past one when I left my car. The lot had not really been plowed too well, but the plowing that had been done had left the snow piled up in heaps along the side. Some spaces were completely filled with banks of piled snow and it would not surprise me to learn that there were one or more signs covered by the snow.

Your letter of January 24th, 1994 stated that my hearing was denied on the grounds that the area was adequately marked with signs. As I previously stated, there certainly were numerous signs, but some of them said public parking and the ones that did not were located in an area other than the one in which I parked. Also the decision failed to account for the fact that the area was snowbound. For all I know there may have been additional signs knocked over and/or buried by plows.

Obviously, I disagree with your decision. Equally obviously, it is not worth my while to pay $185.00 to have this brought to the next level and judged fairly. Thus I am forced to pay the $15.00 fine. I had often heard tales of how Somerville considers the issuing of questionable parking tickets as another form of revenue, and this incident makes it appear that these tales were probably true. My question thus is this: although collecting money in this manner may be good for city politics, is it not really bad for city business? Not everyone forgets such wrongs, and there is nothing in Somerville that cannot be just as easily obtained elsewhere.


The following quick note accompanied the CC of the preceding letter to the Somerville Chamber of Commerce...


DATE:
February 20, 1994
TO:
Somerville Chamber of Commerce
2 Alpine Street
P.O. Box 343
Somerville, MA 02144
Dear Sirs:

Enclosed please find a copy of the letter I sent to the Parking Clerk of Somerville relating to an unjust parking ticket I received in your city. I pass it along to you because I think it is in your best interest to know the way business from out of town is treated in Somerville.


The Final Round

To be honest I expected no replies to either of the two letters, just a silent acceptance of the money. Thus the fact that the Somerville Chamber of Commerce did not reply neither surprised me nor hurt my feelings.

I was, however, somewhat surprised to receive a late notice from the parking clerk since I had mailed the payment to them early enough to be confident of on-time delivery. Not only did the date on the notice appear to have been faked, it appeared to have been stupidly faked.

I responded with the following letter, again CC'ed to the Chamber of Commerce but this time additionally copied to the Mayor.


DATE:
February 29, 1994
TO:
Parking Clerk, Parking Violations Bureau
City of Somerville
P.O. Box 800
Somerville, MA 02143-9102
CC:
Mayor Capuano
Mayor's Office, City of Somerville
93 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA 02143

Somerville Chamber of Commerce
2 Alpine Street
P.O. Box 343
Somerville, MA 02144

Dear Sir:

I received a notice on February 26th regarding the payment of a parking ticket that was supposedly not received. I had mailed this payment along with a complaint letter on the morning of February 22nd (the 21st was a holiday), and I would have thought that it would have made it in time. My belief is reinforced by the fact that the notice I received was itself dated February 26th. Thus it was in theory prepared on the 26th (a Saturday) -- the very same day that it was mailed and received. Surely if the U.S. Post Office is capable of delivering a notice from Somerville to Saugus in less than a few hours, it is also capable of delivering a letter from Saugus to Somerville in a couple of days.

Obviously, even if it were to be assumed that the U.S. mail service could deliver a letter in less than a few hours, there is a time discrepancy here. Either:

  1. the distance from Saugus to Somerville is substantially greater than the distance from Somerville to Saugus,
  2. mail service from Saugus to Somerville is roughly ten times slower than mail service from Somerville to Saugus, or
  3. my payment was received on time and the notice that it was not received was front-dated.

Some weight is lent to option number 3 by the fact that according to your central office, the parking office is not even open on Saturdays, and thus probably did not prepare any notices at all on the 26th.

Since option number 1 is ridiculous and option number 2 is extremely unlikely, it seems most reasonable to assume that this additional five dollar fine against a ticket that has already been paid was created for some other reason -- I can only guess that it is out of spite because I CC'ed my last complaint letter to the Somerville Chamber of Commerce.

I therefore request that you drop this absurd "overdue violation" fine. For the record, I am writing this letter on the 29th and will drop it off at the Saugus Post Office tonight on my way home from work.


As before, the following quick note accompanied the CC of the preceding letter to the Somerville Chamber of Commerce...


DATE:
February 29, 1994
TO:
Somerville Chamber of Commerce
2 Alpine Street
P.O. Box 343
Somerville, MA 02144
Dear Sirs:

Enclosed please find a copy of yet another letter I sent to the Parking Clerk of Somerville. As before, I pass it along to you because I think it is in your best interest to know the way business from out of town is treated in Somerville.


...and this one accompanied the CC to Mayor Capuano's office. Maybe he personally read it, maybe not...


DATE:
February 29, 1994
TO:
Mayor Capuano
Mayor's Office, City of Somerville
93 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA 02143

Dear Sir:

Enclosed please find a copy of the letter I sent to the Parking Clerk of Somerville relating to an unjust parking ticket I received in your city on January 3rd, 1994. I paid the fine, but protested it on the grounds that my arguments had been basically ignored, and the fee for obtaining another hearing was more than twelve times the amount of the ticket. I sent a copy of this complaint letter to the Somerville Chamber of Commerce because I felt that if this behavior were general practice it would be really bad for Somerville business, and my argument was with the Parking Office, not the businesses of Somerville. Nearly a week after I mailed both the payment and the complaint letter, I received a notice that my payment had not been received and that I thus owed Somerville an additional five dollars. This notice has an apparently bogus date; it was dated February 26, 1994. This date was the Saturday I received the notice, implying both that the Parking Office is open on Saturdays and that the U.S. Post Office can deliver mail from Somerville to Saugus in just a few hours. I bring all this to your attention because I believe it is ridiculous for a city like Somerville to be behaving like a fly-by-night mail order business. In my letter to the Parking Clerk, I requested that the additional five dollar fine be dropped. I do not think that this is an unreasonable request.


Afterword

This time I did expect some sort of reply to my letters, but this time there were no replies. The additional $5.00 late fee was dropped but Somerville kept the original $15.00 they extorted.

Thus in the end Somerville won with a final score of 15 - 0.


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