Ronnie Polaneczky: Hounds from hell: Wring out your dead

Posted: January 12, 2012

YOU KNOW the saying, "The only thing certain is death and taxes"?

After hearing about Jack Fitzpatrick, I think "and PPA bureaucracy" ought to be added into that famous maxim.

For months, Jack, 72 and ailing, couldn't get the Philadelphia Parking Authority to rescind an obviously erroneous parking violation.

He called. He sent supporting documents. He talked with people who promised that the matter would be addressed. But still the letters came, piling on fines.

The crowning insult arrived in November, when the PPA notified Jack that his unpaid fine was being referred to a collection agency. The letter arrived the day after Jack's funeral.

Proving that, even in death, there's no escaping the PPA.

"I want them to go out of business," said his widow, Barbara, 72, noting that her deceased husband had just received a second collection warning labeled "final." She refused to contact the PPA about either letter.

"None of our calls ever made a difference," she said. "Why would it help now?"

Luckily for Barbara, she called the Daily News. I called PPA customer-service director Sue Cornell. Within an hour, gone was the ticket that had consumed a dying man's final months.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Daily News should be on PPA's payroll.

In Jack's case, the stupidity started in May, when he received a PPA notice that he owed $71 on a ticket incurred April 6 for parking in a "Stopping Prohibited" zone on S. 13th Street.

Neither Jack nor his car was anywhere near 13th Street. The day it was written, he was in Holy Redeemer Hospital, battling a serious infection.

He called PPA and learned that the vehicle that had incurred the violation was a black Audi. Jack drives a silver Nissan.

"Obviously, someone messed up the license-plate number," Barbara said. "We thought it would be easy to fix."

Oh, Barbara, may you always have a child's hope.

Jack was instructed to mail to PPA copies of his driver's license and car registration, and a letter from Holy Redeemer confirming his hospitalization. With those, PPA would review his case.

"They said to ignore any other letters we got," said Barbara. "Why not just stop the letters from coming, until it's resolved? This is what I don't understand."

Oh, Barbara, may you never lose your childlike simplicity.

But when the first dunning letter came, upping the fine for non-payment of the ticket, Jack couldn't let it go. He called PPA and was again instructed to send in supporting documents.

More threatening letters arrived. Months passed. All the while, Jack got weaker from complications of his infection.

Just as he was wondering whether to pay the ticket and be done with it, he died of heart failure.

The day after his funeral, the first PPA collection warning came. The second arrived last week. Both threaten to seize Jack's Nissan, suspend its registration and/or forward PPA's claim to a law firm for "legal enforcement action."

Jack's car is locked in the family garage. Unless PPA breaks into the house - who knows, with this agency? - there's no way they can take it. But Barbara is still worried.

"If I want to sell it, what if PPA has a lien on it?" she wondered.

After the PPA's Cornell cleared up the mess, she explained that a customer-service rep had entered a wrong code on Jack's original request for a case review. The error generated the letter trail that caused the havoc.

"I just feel awful about the way this was handled," Cornell told me. "With everything else [Barbara] has been dealing with, this is something she shouldn't have had to worry about."

Cornell said that the screw-up would've been detected by her months sooner if the PPA weren't dealing, in the past six months, with a backlog of cases dating to 2008. The old cases are almost cleared, she said. And she hopes this means that 2012 will see more prompt spotting of simple errors, like wrong coding.

Barbara was happy to hear that PPA is sending a letter to confirm the ticket cancellation. But she wondered what people do if it doesn't occur to them to call the Daily News.

Meanwhile, Cornell couldn't have been more apologetic.

"I feel like we should send her flowers," she said.

Go to it, I say.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com , Call: 215-854-2217. Twitter: @RonniePhilly. Blog: www.philly.com/RonnieBlog.

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