MANCHESTER — The last thing 57-year-old John Karagianis needed was a parking ticket, especially one carrying a $500 fine.
But that’s exactly what the disabled man, who makes do on Social Security and public assistance, got last June 23 when, he says, he mistakenly placed an expired handicap placard — instead of his current one that expires next year — on his rearview mirror when parking in a handicap space outside Market Basket.
He says he went inside to shop and when he came out, he had a parking ticket for the fraudulent use of walking disability placards/plates.
“It was an honest mistake,” he says.
Ordinance Violations Bureau officials don’t see it that way. Supervisor Dale K. Robinson said the parking control officer saw another man park Karagianis’ vehicle in the handicap space. Karagianis, according to Robinson, was not in the vehicle.
Karagianis maintains that is incorrect. He said he needs knee replacement surgery; he can’t drive his 1999 Ford Explorer because of the pain, so his next-door neighbor Tony Watkins drives him around. Watkins drove him to the grocery store the day his truck was ticketed, Karagianis says. Watkins confirmed that in a faxed statement he sent to a reporter.
Parking officials told Karagianis to write a letter explaining his situation, which he did, but then he received a letter back telling him he would have to pay the ticket. Robinson informed him in the letter that he could appeal the ticket, but would have to post the $500 as a bond first. The money would be refunded if the court ruled in his favor. He could plan on being in court for two mornings, one for arraignment and the second for the hearing itself.
Robinson says he told Karagianis he would reduce the amount he had to post to $100 because of his circumstances.
Karagianis says he had no choice but to pay the ticket, borrowing $500 from a friend to cover the cost, because if he didn’t, the city would not allow him to register his truck. He plans to file a small claims action against the city in an attempt to get the $500 back.
Handicapped parking rules
Robinson said the ordinance that went effect in 2012 was needed to address the problem of people using expired, stolen, altered and other people’s legally issued handicap parking permits to park in the premium spaces.
The city also changed the appeal process for parking tickets, so that the fine is posted up front as a bond. Robinson said in the past, people appealed the tickets but, while the court action was pending, they could still register their cars. This led to people registering their cars but never paying the parking ticket, Robinson said.
Robinson said tickets are changed to warnings when a mistake is made. He said since 2012, when the city ordinance went into effect, parking control officers issued 1,071 citations for all handicap parking violations — both those that carry a $250 fine, for individuals who don’t have handicap plates or placards who park in the reserved spots — and the $500 tickets.
Of those, 609 were changed to warnings, meaning the errant motorists did not have to pay up. Robinson said 462 either paid or have outstanding fines, but he did not have the exact breakdown on those figures.
Jump in revenue
The adoption of the ordinance two years ago has generated revenue for the city, which just recently hired two more parking control officers, for a complement of six full-time and one part-time.
Of the 462 tickets they wrote for handicap parking violations from January 2012 through July 25, 2014, 167 were for fraudulent use of the placards. Nine of those were changed to warnings. The city collected $38,000 for 76 of the citations, while the remaining 82 tickets are yet to be paid.
If all the other 295 handicap citations were paid — Robinson said he doesn’t have those figures — the city would have received another $73,750.
The fine was set high, Robinson said, because anyone who has to pay $500 is unlikely to illegally park again.
According to Robinson, when the city ordinance went into effect in 2012, parking control officers issued five tickets for the entire year. One was voided. Fines, which go directly to the city coffers, totaled $2,000. In 2013, 27 tickets were written and five were voided, generating $13,500 for the city.
Through July 25 of this year, nearly five times as many tickets were written as in all of 2013. A total of 127 vehicles were ticketed and three citations voided — a potential $63,500 for the city.
The city of Concord issued 108 handicap violations and 14 handicap access violations from July 31, 2013 through July 31, 2014. Concord’s fine for the “Disabled Permit Required” ordinance is $250, while a $100 fine is assessed for the “Disabled Access” violation of parking on yellow lines adjacent to a handicap parking spot. If all the fines were paid, Concord would receive $23,540 for that time period.
The city does not have an ordinance regarding fraudulent permits, according to Lt. Timothy J. O’Malley.
Karagianis got into a disagreement with Robinson over the ticket and filed a complaint with the police department against him. Karagianis says Robinson told him he was a police officer and said he would have him arrested if he didn’t stop calling Denise Boutilier, head of the parking violations bureau. Karagianis maintains he left polite voice messages for Boutilier, but she never returned his calls.
Robinson, who retired from the Manchester Police Department as a deputy police chief, said he did not threaten to arrest Karagianis. He said he told Karagianis to stop calling Boutilier and explained that once he was put on notice to stop telephoning her, he could be charged with harassment.
Robinson was a Manchester deputy police chief about a decade ago before retiring and taking a job in the Ordinance Violations Bureau.
In April 2009, he was ordered to pay about $4,500 in damages after a judge ruled he committed assault and battery on a 71-year-old man challenging a parking ticket.
Karagianis, who has had a handicap placard for about 10 years, said he was a paralegal in Massachusetts, where he owned his own business.