N.C. state auditor pays old parking tickets to remove boot

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comMay 3, 2012 

— State Auditor Beth Wood was chagrined Thursday when she had to pay off $245 in old parking tickets before the city of Raleigh would remove the heavy orange boot clamped to her car.

But she was eager to explain her alibi. It involved politics.

“I cannot wait to tell you about those unpaid tickets,” Wood said when a reporter inquired about her state-issued silver Dodge, which was booted on South Salisbury Street next to the Wells Fargo building. “It’s embarrassing, and it wasn’t even my fault.”

Five unpaid tickets had been charged to a car with the special license number “6,” assigned by North Carolina law to the state auditor. A city parking official told Wood the tickets dated from 2007 and 2008.

“I said, ‘Ma’am, I wasn’t even the state auditor until 2009, and that’s when I got this license plate,’” Wood said.

Wood, a Democrat, took office after defeating the former state auditor, Republican Les Merritt, in November 2008. She protested Thursday that Merritt had been driving the No. 6 car when it racked up those tickets, all for commercial loading zone violations.

Tough. The city attorney’s office ruled that unpaid tickets go with the license plate, not the driver. So it was Wood’s duty to pay the bill now.

It’s a state-owned car, but state officials are responsible for their parking tickets and traffic violations. Wood said she paid Merritt’s tickets with her personal credit card.

Her trouble began Thursday morning when she left the car too long in a 15-minute zone. That was worth a $20 ticket. The city uses boots to immobilize cars when it finds a fresh violation involving a car with three or more unpaid tickets at least 90 days overdue.

Wood said she would not bother calling Merritt about the tickets, because he had not returned her calls previously.

Besides, she said, why bother?

“He didn’t pay the city of Raleigh what he owed them. Do you honestly believe he’s going to pay the person who beat him?” Wood said. “If I thought he would pay me, I would.”

Merritt now is a certified public accountant in private practice, and a member of the State Ethics Commission. He said he did not remember having any unpaid parking tickets.

“If there were any tickets and I didn’t pay, it’s news to me,” said Merritt, who lives in Zebulon. “I’d like to see proof of that or see where it’s coming from. If I owe anything, I’ll certainly pay it.”

When she heard that, Wood said maybe she would call her old adversary after all.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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