Milwaukee parking checkers write tickets first, ask questions later
MILWAUKEE- Few things can ruin your night in Milwaukee like returning to where you parked and finding a ticket.
So imagine how it feels to be Samantha Ziolkowski.
"The first seven, I'd say, were really frustrating," Ziolkowski said of her saga with Milwaukee parking enforcement officers.
She is the prime example of a flaw in Milwaukee parking ticket policy.
That policy pushes parking checkers to write tickets the city is going to throw out anyway.
Ziolkowski's black Volkswagen was a big target for parking checkers in 2011, after its overnight parking permit was lost in the mail.
Parking checkers wrote her tickets 27 times over five months even though her car showed up on their computers as having a valid permit.
"After about two weeks of it, I would come outside and just expect to see the ticket there because I knew that nothing was being done," she said.
The I-Team learned about Ziolkowski after sorting through a database of all parking tickets voided last year by the city of Milwaukee.
In 2011 Milwaukee flat out canceled 38,298 parking tickets.
Those drivers didn't even have to go to court to clear their names. Instead, calling the Department of Public Works and making their case over the phone.
More than half -- almost 16,000 -- were voids of tickets for failure to display a night parking permit.
Parking enforcement in Milwaukee is managed by the DPW's Thomas Sanders.
He describes the city's policy for writing tickets as write first, ask questions later.
"Our policy, again, is to issue the citation and straighten it out later," Sanders said.
Milwaukee policy is to write tickets first and force you to spend time sorting it out.
No one in Milwaukee's parking force lived up to that policy as well as Angela Robert.
In 2011, Robert wrote 2,140 tickets that were eventually voided.
Robert's boss defended her and said she was only following orders.
"Is that a perfect situation? Not all the time," Thomas Sanders said. "But I have to be honest, those cases are extreme."
For an extreme case, you need to listen to Darrin McCambridge.
"A lot of profanities were running through my head as I saw it sticking out of the crack in my hood," McCambridge said.
He arrived at his home in Riverwest earlier this year to find a ticket and towing notice -- declaring his car an "abandoned vehicle."
"So, then I was furious," he said.
Furious -- because his home security camera captured video from earlier in the day showing his car was moved.
It also captured the oblivious parking checker writing him a ticket anyway.
"There is a flaw in your process," he said. "You're writing tickets to people, you might be towing people and you shouldn't be."
McCambridge cleared his tow notice over the phone but had to set up a meeting with a hearing officer to contest the abandoned vehicle citation.
Proving he did nothing wrong ate up six hours McCambridge took off work plus the cost of parking in downtown Milwaukee.
Alderman Nik Kovac represents the east side, where parking checkers write the bulk of Milwaukee's tickets.
He said McCambridge's tale is not how the system is supposed to work.
"Spending half a day just to prove you're innocent over a parking charge is a waste of his time and a waste of the city's time," Kovac said.
The number of times drivers had to waste time proving they were innocent includes 7,991 tickets for an expired meter -- where the meter was really paid.
Parking enforcement insists this is not their fault, however.
Thomas Sanders blames a flaw inherent to the new multi-space parking meters.
There is a one-minute delay between a parkers pays at a multi-space meter and when parking checkers' computers update with that information.
Sanders insists this is to blame for a majority of the 7,991 times parking checkers wrote an expired meter ticket in error.
Which is one more case where the city writes a ticket and puts the burden is on you to prove yourself innocent.
To Darrin McCambridge, this makes the city sound irresponsible.
He wonders if this "write 'em all" policy is just a way for the city to make more money.
"It's a win-win for them," he said. "It's a lose-lose for everybody else."
Because at the end of the day, it can be easier to pay the ticket than fight it.