Mayor is cleared of interfering with ticket
By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
PINELLAS PARK -- The police chief has decided that Mayor Bill Mischler is innocent of allegations that he fixed a parking ticket.
Chief Dorene Thomas made her conclusions last week in a written response to a police volunteer who said Mischler had ordered a police sergeant to retrieve a ticket issued to a commercial vehicle illegally parked in a residential area.
Mischler admitted calling police Sgt. Dan Levy to find out why the ticket was issued, but he denied ordering the officer to make the ticket go away.
The chief agreed that Mischler had nothing to do with the decision to void the ticket given to a Time Warner van.
"Mayor Mischler did not, in any way, direct or even imply to any member of the Police Department that the parking ticket at issue should have been rescinded," Thomas wrote.
"I have verified with Sgt. Levy that it was solely his decision, based upon the circumstances at the time, to rescind this parking ticket and that Mayor Mischler's inquiry did not in any way influence him to do so."
Thomas attached a memorandum from Levy giving the officer's version of the facts.
Levy said he received a phone call from Mischler about a ticket that had been issued by police volunteer Cliff Smith. Mischler told Levy that a resident, not Time Warner, had called to find out why his work van had been ticketed. Mischler asked if vans were now being ticketed. Levy promised to check into things and asked an officer to retrieve the ticket for him.
"I later checked the city ordinances. . .and found the portion on commercial vehicles as to whether vans fell into the definition. The section clearly stated that step vans were included as well as other types of trucks. The section also mentions "service vehicles,' " Levy wrote.
"I was unsure as to whether vans fell into this category; therefore, I voided the parking ticket," Levy wrote. "I also noted that the parking ticket was written as a city ordinance violation and again did not believe that an ordinance violation could be issued using a parking ticket as opposed to using an affidavit."
Levy concluded, "At no time did Mayor Mischler ask, request or order me to void the parking ticket."
Levy declined to comment further.
Smith said Friday he was preparing a written response to Thomas.
Mischler said he felt vindicated by Levy's memo and Thomas' letter.
"I've been on council for 21 years," Mischler said. "Do you think I'm going to jeopardize my reputation by having a parking ticket fixed? It did not happen. It simply did not happen."
He added, "I try to lead a good life. . . .I wouldn't let this happen. I just wouldn't let this happen."
The upshot of the dispute may be a change in the duties of police volunteers. While Mischler is in favor of the program as a whole, he said he does not think they should be out writing tickets because some become over-exuberant.
"I'm in favor of parts of it. Maybe records or dispatch where they have supervision," Mischler said. "They're like wild ticket writers."
Council member Rick Butler agreed that the volunteer program needs rethinking.
It's a good program, he said, because the volunteers do help the police by bringing them items or waiting for tow trucks at wrecks so the officer can return to patrol more quickly.
But when it comes to having them do code enforcement, like ticketing commercial vehicles parked in residential areas, the program has gone too far, Butler said.
"That really shouldn't be happening," he said.
Part of the problem, he said, is that some of the volunteers have poor people skills or arrogant attitudes. That's caused a lot of complaints. In Butler's case, he gets an average of two complaints a week.
"I've had residents come to my office over them," he said.
Not all of those complaining about poor treatment received tickets. Some received warnings.
One woman told Butler the volunteer had pinned her in her parking spot while he wrote the ticket. Other complaints, he said, are "varied in nature," but they all seem to center on the volunteer's attitude.
The complaints and confusion have been enough that council members plan to talk about the program at an upcoming workshop.
The idea, for Butler, is not to lose the program, but to tone things down a bit.
"I don't want to lose this over the inability in certain cases to deal with people and tickets," he said. "I think the program has a lot of merit, but it just seems to need to be a little more defined."
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