Road Worrier

Former state auditor says parking tickets weren’t his, either

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2012 


Former State Auditor Les Merritt


— Les Merritt says it’s not his fault, either, that State Auditor Beth Wood got stuck with $245 in parking tickets charged to the “6” license plate that was his a few years ago – back when her job was his, too.

Wood was embarrassed Thursday on South Salisbury Street when her state-issued Dodge was booted by the City of Raleigh until she paid off the tickets with her personal credit card.

And Merritt was embarrassed Friday on the front page, when he got the blame for blowing off five commercial-zone parking violations in 2007 and 2008.

Clearly, Wood was blameless. The No. 6 plate is reserved by law for the state auditor. She did not inherit it until 2009, when she took office after ousting Merritt in the 2008 election.

Merritt is equally sure of his innocence. At his request, the city parking folks dug into their files and found that the delinquent tickets charged to No. 6 involved a state-issued black Ford Explorer.

To which Merritt replied: Aha!

“I never had a state car,” Merritt said. “I drove my personal car the whole time I was in office.” That was a Pontiac Grand Am from 2005 until early 2008, he said, and then a Honda Civic Hybrid.

Now we know why the city’s parking enforcers started taking digital photos in 2010 to document their work.

If you’re in denial about a ticket for leaving your car too close to a hydrant, you might want to log onto the city ParkLink website – where you can weigh the photographic evidence. Sometimes the photo will convince you to forget about fighting city hall.

“This has actually reduced the number of appeals quite a bit,” said Gordon Dash, the city parking administrator. “A common defense had been, ‘It’s my vehicle, but I certainly was never parked there.’”

Ron Allison, the state motor fleet service manager, confirms that Merritt was not issued a state car during his term in office. But he remembers getting a few parking tickets in the mail for No. 6, and forwarding them to Merritt.

“He would raise a bit of a fuss with us when we would send them over there,” Allison said. “He would say, ‘I was not there.’ ”

Merritt remembers the same thing.

“It was similar to this,” Merritt said. “It was not accurate. It was somebody else’s car, and the officer wrote the number 6 down, but it was not my vehicle.”

Dash, Allison and Merritt speculate that the ticket writers might have failed to read the entire license number of some other official state car, identified with a letter and a “6.” They may never know for sure.

Back in 2007 and 2008, the tickets were written by private contract workers, not today’s city employees. And they didn’t take pictures of their work.

Dash says he’s working with state officials to run down that Ford Explorer, using the vehicle identification number. Maybe they’ll figure out who owes Beth Wood a check and an apology.

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