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Parking tickets off court dockets

Council favors shifting cases to administrative officer

– Parking scofflaws in the city of Fort Wayne will no longer be going to court.

City Council members Tuesday unanimously approved changing city law to allow an administrative hearing officer to try parking cases rather than processing them through Allen County misdemeanor and traffic court.

City officials said the change was proposed after the success seen with a similar move for Neighborhood Code Enforcement. The change not only streamlined enforcement efforts, making it easier for both city officials and residents, but also increased compliance, they said.

“Instead of bogging down the courts, it’s just going to be what I believe is a much easier process,” said Patty Stahlhut, who oversees parking enforcement.

It will even save people money: The court cost assessed on those going to traffic court is $114, officials said. The administrative hearing fee will be $10.

“People won’t feel compelled to hire legal counsel, which they often do for traffic court,” City Attorney Carol Helton said. “They often hire legal counsel because they don’t feel comfortable with the legal system.”

One reason they don’t feel comfortable, she said, is because the court uses rules of evidence, which means the issues many people want to present – a photo they took, their complaint of a broken parking meter – are often inadmissible. That won’t be the case in the more informal administrative hearings, Helton said.

“It’s very frustrating for people,” she said. “Often they want a hearing because there’s something they want to tell the court. … This lets them do that.”

Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, voted “no” on the issue in committee session, saying he would like it tied into a comprehensive look at city parking, including modern meters that take credit cards, but in regular session changed his vote for final passage to “yes,” saying he understood staff’s assertions that those are separate issues. The Board of Public Safety on Tuesday approved raising rates for metered parking; that issue will be considered by the council in January.

The council also gave unanimous approval to spending $1.05 million to line 4.4 miles of aging sewer pipes with cured-in-place resin lining, and $212,534 to have 44,000 feet of sewer lines inspected by television and sonar. The sonar lets workers see under the surface of the water in the sewer pipe to see debris. Staff showed an example of one 48-inch interceptor that had been reduced by about half because of debris stuck in the pipe.

Council members also voted to increase the salaries of the mayor, the council and the city clerk by 2 percent, the same raise given to all city workers. Mitch Harper, R-4th, and Geoff Paddock, D-5th, voted against the raise.

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