'Slimy' move over PPA tickets

If you get one of these, the PPA and its sister agency will use any trick in the ticket book make it tough to appeal the fine.
If you get one of these, the PPA and its sister agency will use any trick in the ticket book make it tough to appeal the fine.
Posted: July 27, 2012

There are low blows. And then there are really low blows.

Given the shenanigans I've uncovered in writing about the Philadelphia Parking Authority and its sister agency, the parking Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, I shouldn't be shocked that these are the agencies delivering the low blows.

But this is so low, color me shocked.

Last week, I wrote about a local attorney named Jim Pavlock, who appealed two parking tickets to the BAA. The tickets were upheld by two separate hearing examiners. So Pavlock paid a $185 filing fee to take his case to the Common Pleas Court.

Pavlock made excellent arguments to Judge Leon Tucker that the tickets were not written in compliance with the Philadelphia code and the Pennsylvania administrative law that governs PPA violations and BAA hearing procedures.

As a result, Tucker issued a court order that introduces a groundbreaking measure of fairness and accountability into BAA hearing procedures.

Attorneys for the BAA have filed a motion asking Tucker to reconsider the order. Basically, they say Pavlock's case never should have advanced through Tucker's court the way it did because — get this — the BAA, without even notifying Pavlock, canceled his tickets a few days before the hearing.

That means Pavlock's case was "moot," they argue, since there were no longer any tickets to dispute.

What a slimy way to try to avoid the scrutiny of the court. Just take away the very thing that got you before a judge, so that the judge won't issue an order that could prevent you from doing whatever got you hauled into court in the first place.

A court, by the way, to which Pavlock had been referred four times by the BAA examiner who refused to dismiss the tickets Pavlock disputed.

This isn't the first time BAA attorneys have canceled disputed tickets to avoid answering to a Common Pleas judge.

In 2008, a lawyer named Donald Sabatini received a ticket for stopping his Ford Ranger pickup truck in a passenger-loading zone. After researching the parking code, he realized that the ticket was written in error and he appealed it. The BAA upheld the ticket, so he appealed to Common Pleas. That's where the BAA declared his case "moot" after canceling the violation without warning.

In 2010, the exact scenario happened again — same alleged infraction, same lack of curiosity from a BAA hearing examiner, same filing with Common Pleas. And — again — Sabatini's case was declared "moot" when the BAA canceled his ticket before a judge had a chance to ask what the hell was going on.

Which left both agencies to happily continue misinterpreting the code they'd wrongly accused Sabatini of violating.

And all it cost Sabatini, twice, was that $185 filing fee.

On Wednesday, the PPA announced that it will work in partnership with the Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau to create online classes that will train PPA staff to be pleasant when they interact with the public.

The idea is that the PPA's numerous frontline workers — ticket writers, taxi drivers, tow-truck operators and the like — can be goodwill ambassadors as they work the streets. Even if they're doing a job that no one appreciates, if they do it with a smile, the thinking goes, everyone will be a little happier.

You know what would pleased the public even more?

If its parking-enforcement officers were better trained, so fewer tickets would be written in error — or better mannered, so they would stop writing bad tickets purposely.

If all of its BAA hearing officers, who are supposed to neutrally examine appeals, were actually competent enough to inspect the supporting documents that aggrieved ticket recipients take the time to assemble.

And if the PPA and the BAA, after telling an aggrieved ticket recipient to "take your case to the Court of Common Pleas," stopped using the "moot" trick to slime out of accountability when it looked as if the court's decision might force them to up their game.

If the agencies did these things, the need for those online hospitality classes would be moot.

Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at polaner@phillynews.com or 215-854-2217. Read her blog: philly.com/ronnieblog and follow on Twitter @RonniePhilly.

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