Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Deeds Punished: The Sequel

by Jim Reed

In my previous column, City employees L.G. and G.L. were busily coming up with suggestions to present to their bosses—ideas on how to improve revenue. This is a transcript of their second meeting. – JR

L.G. and G.L. are meeting in the musty conference room for a follow-up on their “Make More Money for Birmingham” project. G.L. is still on the payroll, because L.G. has not yet found a way to isolate this employee, who just a week ago was asking too many questions.

L.G. slurps some coffee and ponders the scrawls on the legal pad next to the cup. “Well, what’s the progress on pleasing the Big Bosses?” L.G. inquires, without looking G.L. in the eye.

“Good news!” says G.L. “Revenue is up because of the penalties we’re enforcing on shoppers, tourists, visitors, loft dwellers, merchants, professionals and the like.”

L.G. wrinkles a brow. “What penalties does that cover?”

G.L. consults note cards. “There’s the fine we imposed on people who park on the street and stay more than two hours.”

“You mean the SHOPPING PENALTY?” L.G. is a very specific person.

“Yeah. We chased away a lot of rule-breakers this month,” chuckles G.L. “Like parkers who didn’t know you can’t feed a meter all day and stay in the same spot. We don’t post the rules, so we get to give out more tickets that way. They don’t know they’re breaking any rules, so we rake in even more dough. They’ll never come back downtown again!”

L.G. likes the sound of this. “What else are we doing to the rule-breakers?”

“You know those Loading Zones, where everybody thinks that you can stop for ten minutes and load or unload a car?” G.L. becomes more animated. “We made sure we don’t post any rules, so lots of people are getting big fines for parking there. They don’t know it’s wrong so they are sure to get tickets!”

L.G. doesn’t like G.L., but it looks as if some progress has been made. “What else can we do to increase revenue without spending any money on public relations or promotion?” L.G. asks.

G. L. is stumped. This is as far as the thinking has gone so far.

L.G. is patronizing. “Have you thought about beefing up the patrols? You know, for 40 years, meter maids have stopped giving tickets for on-street parking after 4:30pm. Why don’t we change their hours and have them give tickets up till 6pm, at least?”

G.L. likes this. “Yeah—and why not give tickets all night and on weekends?”

L.G. doesn’t want to work more than the four-day week on the books, so this doesn’t seem like a good idea right now. “Let’s think about that one for a while.”

G.L. is disappointed but wants to get in good with L.G., so he makes one more effort. “Why don’t we increase the $15 parking fine—uh, shopping penalty—to $50 and really teach those overtime shoppers a lesson?”

L.G. likes the punitive feel of this suggestion but needs to think about whether the Big Bosses would consider this to be a bit much right now, politically speaking.

G.L. is trying to be helpful, so he makes one more stab. “By the way, I did some research on what other cities are doing about on-street parking.” L.G. awakens, hoping there’s some more good news. “There are no parking meters in just about every downtown area I can find. There is slanted parking in lots of places, which means people can park quickly and efficiently. There are some places where police officers actually feed the meters of overtime out-of-towners and leave a note welcoming them to the town and hoping they’ll come back to shop.” G.L. has a long list. “And in these towns, Loading Zones are really Loading Zones, and no-one gets a ticket.”

L.G. says, “Yes, but if we went to those systems, we’d lose penalty revenue.”

G.L. says, “But my research shows that a lot of these places are booming with new retail, new loft dwellers, new professionals, more tourists and the like, thus bringing in more tax revenue.”

L.G. has never thought about tax revenue being a greater boon than penalty revenue. Some pondering must be done, and in the meantime, G.L. must be calmed down and encouraged to share these radical ideas with no-one. “Well, I don’t know whether the Big Bosses want more tax revenue. They seem to be happy with doing little and penalizing more,” L.G. says.

“Have you run this by them?” asks G.L.

L.G. Frowns and looks down. What an idiot! he thinks. I’m not going to be the one to run this by the big bosses. They’ll probably think I’m crazy, trying to shake things up by doing more public relations and less penalizing. L.G. finally gains some composure. “Well, let’s keep this under our hats for now. As long as we don’t change what we’re doing, we stay out of trouble. We’ll just keep on handing out tickets, and wait for an opportunity to bring up these new ideas—at the right time.”

G.L. is discouraged, because of the long list of things not brought up. maybe at the next meeting, he thinks.

To be continued.

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