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If I pay my ticket, do I get a cookie?

March 21, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Call me exceedingly curious if you must, but I'm just wondering how many other cities across America have public officials who brag about paying their parking tickets.

Actually, I'm not all that curious, because I already know the answer: El Zero.

But of course, Hagerstown - maybe you've noticed - is a bit different.

This week, Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh made a special point of bragging that, "The mayor and I each received a ticket and we were doing city business" and made note of the fact that they paid said tickets.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II even produced a receipt, affirming as much.

Nice. What's next, they hold a press conference to announce they haven't murdered anybody? I mean, I do appreciate the fact that they do not use their Boss-Tweed-like influence and megapowerful City Hall connections to wiggle out from under a $10 fine, but I'm kind of thinking a lot of people pay parking tickets every day and don't expect any special congratulations.

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Knock knock, "Hello, boss? Just wanted you to know that I got a parking ticket this morning AND I paid it."

"Splendid work Figgins, keep it up. In fact, I'm giving you a raise."

Let's hope traffic violations become part of the next municipal election campaign. I want to see yard signs that say, "Vote Haversham: Honesty, Integrity, No Outstanding Parking Tickets That He Knows Of."

You've paid a ticket lately? Great, you are prequalified to be a member of the Hagerstown City Council.

But the rather surreal aspects of Nigh's announcement aside, she did have a point: The majority of City Council does not condone pulling rank to get out of a traffic violation. That probably needed to be said, even if the method was a little unorthodox.

For Nigh, who does not do subtlety well, it appeared to be a slap at Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean, who got out of an expired-registration traffic stop and got a ride from police to the Motor Vehicle Administration under the auspices of being engaged in pressing city business that was so sensitive she couldn't say what the business was.

Last week, the Washington County Ethics Commission (insert your favorite oxymoron joke here) ruled the councilwoman violated the ethics code by using "the prestige of her position" to gain a favor.

So there's prestige that goes along with being a Hagerstown City Council member? Who knew?

We do owe the Ethics Commission thanks, though, for telling us something that even the cows out in their field already were cognizant of.

What happens next at this point is anyone's guess. Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, for one, promised a fast response:

"I think it would be irresponsible for the mayor and council to simply accept the decision and not take a decisive action."

Oh really? Why break old habits? I didn't know decisive action on anything was in this council's playbook. If they take decisive action now, who knows where it could lead? I'd hate to see them set a precedent that they are bound to regret.

Look, everybody is given a ticket now and then, and everybody has a good reason why they should not have been given a ticket. I put a quarter in a meter once some years ago right in front of the meter patrol. When I came out of the building, I had a ticket because the meter had failed to register.

In righteous indignation, I refused to pay the ticket for 18 months. Of course, when I re-upped my registration I had to pay it, and in that time my $10 ticket had become a $70 ticket. But I like to think that I made a stand for justice. And in that year and a half, my civil disobedience cost the city six cents in interest, so clearly they got their comeuppance.

But the point is, doing a small thing now can prevent it from becoming a big thing later.

How many headlines, how much negative public comment and how much angst would a simple "I'm sorry" have saved Parson-McBean?

Alesia, please, I'm on your side here. We're all in this together, fighting against the police state that the America we love has become. You don't even have to mean it.

(Memo to the Police State in High Heels: Do not read the following sentence.) I myself have said I'm sorry about a million times when I really wasn't.

If not for yourself, do it for the rest of us, so we won't be subjected to other city council members issuing a press release every time they don't do something wrong.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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