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City of Wilmington spars with advocates over parking enforcement

Delaware Public Media

Ticketing, towing, booting and stymied appeals...

A recently-formed coalition says it has documented a troubling pattern in Wilmington, and wants the city to open its books to show how it tows and tickets.

But Delaware Public Media's Mark Fowser reports the city says for there to be meaningful dialogue, there has to be some agreement on the facts.

Delaware Public Media contributor Mark Fowser reports on the dust-up over parking in Wilmington.

A parking ticket on her windshield on her moving day was Erin Markham's welcome to Wilmington.

Markham moved to the city three years ago, and said she tried to make sure she would be following the law. She also admitted the misunderstanding was on her part.

An appeal to have the ticket forgiven was denied.

The portion of Baynard Boulevard where Markham lives is a no-stopping zone during commuting hours - in her case between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. When parking enforcement was largely suspended in 2020 early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her neighbors continued to park in front of their homes.

In July, the city resumed ticketing in the central business district and at the Riverfront. On October 8th, Markham received a ticket for violating the no-stopping restriction. She was able to get it waived, pointing out that she parked in a residential district.

Credit Delaware Public Media
Wilmington resumed ticketing in the central business district and at the Riverfront in July after stopping temporarily during the COVID pandemic

The ticketing, however continued.

"On November 4th, 5th and 6th, I got back-to-back tickets for this same thing," Markham said.

When it became obvious that a parking enforcement officer was visiting the neighborhood each weekday at about 4:00 p.m., Markham came out one day and, with her cellphone recording, asked him why he was ticketing in a residential neighborhood. The man radioed his supervisor, who asked if the vehicle involved is a white Toyota - Markham's vehicle.

"I was absolutely targeted," Markham said.

Her case is one of several highlighted by the Wilmington Parking Coalition, a group with representatives from the Delaware Center for Justice, the Institute for Justice, the Delaware NAACP and AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The coalition has directed some pointed questions to Mayor Mike Purzycki and members of Wilmington City Council. Utilizing city data, some of which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the group said that despite months of reduced parking enforcement, there did not seem to be a significant difference in the number of vehicles towed between 2019 and 2020.

A common complaint as well is the inability of drivers to bring their cases to Justice of the Peace Court.

"People are waiting months or years to get a decision, or in some cases they're not getting a decision at all."
Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert Johnson

"People are waiting months or years to get a decision, or in some cases they're not getting a decision at all. The city is making it difficult or even impossible for people who have been issued these tickets to see a real judge," Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert Johnson said.

The coalition said it wants a complete and thorough audit of Wilmington's ticketing, appeals, towing, booting and collections system.

After the coalition publicized several emails that it sent to the City of Wilmington, the city issued a detailed response rejecting many of the group's figures and claims, summarizing:

"The city's towing and ticketing practices are consistent with the law and are performed with due process afforded to the public and ethical standards of conduct. Vehicle owners are not being taken advantage of. No one is being denied an appeal."

The city also contended that there is no profiteering in parking enforcement, and "currently the cost of providing parking enforcement services in Wilmington exceeds the revenue generated by the program, even prior to the suspension of certain ticketing during the pandemic."

"We're going to focus on what those fees and fines are, how much are they, who is being impacted -really getting those questions answered."
City Councilwoman Shane Darby

The coalition remained optimistic about starting a dialogue in the city on behalf of city residents and visitors. "The fact that the city took four weeks to respond underscores the confusing nature of Wilmington's parking, booting, towing and appeals system," Delaware Center for Justice Policy Coordinator Kailyn Richards said in a statement.

Beyond fairness and legality, 2nd District Councilwoman Shané Darby is hoping to look at the entire fee structure in the city. Wilmington's $40 parking ticket meets or exceeds those in some much larger cities.

"We're going to focus on what those fees and fines are, how much are they, who is being impacted - really getting those questions answered," Darby said.

As for Erin Markham, she has reached a point of frustration where she would consider leaving Wilmington.

She just doesn't want to do so with a parking ticket pending.

"I'm not going to back down."