ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. - Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald suggested on Thursday that county police officers or their supervisors could lose their jobs over costly parking tickets issued to vehicles parked on the grass at North Park.
Fitzgerald said he is upset and frustrated that tickets were given to mothers on Mother's Day and veterans during the Memorial Day weekend. He vowed to take care of the situation.
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“We are in the business of customer service, and if our employees are going to harass our customers, then it's time to get new employees,” Fitzgerald said.
Parking on grass in the county's nine parks is illegal under county ordinance. Fines can range from $100 to $300, with fees and costs pushing tickets near $400. County records show that police issued 39 parking tickets in May.
Fitzgerald said officers need to use common sense when issuing tickets. The county executive stopped short of saying police Superintendent Charles Moffatt's job is on the line, but suggested he could handle the situation “just like I did at the Port Authority.”
The Port Authority of Allegheny County board fired CEO Steve Bland in February 2013 after more than a year of friction between Bland and Fitzgerald.
Moffatt could not be reached on Thursday for comment. A supervisor at the North Park police station declined to comment.
Former North Braddock police Chief Henry Wiehagen, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 91, which represents county police, said no one should blame the officers for doing their jobs and issuing the tickets. He said the lodge likely would become involved if any officer is fired.
Fitzgerald said he believes a few officers are responsible for writing the tickets. County Manager William McKain is reviewing the tickets.
“The fines are way out of control,” Fitzgerald said. “I'm just not happy. To give mothers tickets on Mother's Day and then to give our wounded veterans tickets on Memorial Day, it's not what we should be doing.”
Complaints about parking tickets first surfaced after Mother's Day. Last Sunday, some participants in a race to raise money for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan received parking tickets.
Steve Monteleone, 49, of Butler and his nonprofit, It's About the Warrior Foundation, organized the race. The police helped him set up the event and blocked traffic during the race, but some runners complained about receiving parking tickets.
“It's a great weekend and to have it spoiled by people getting tickets, it's a shame,” said Monteleone, an Air Force veteran.
Mike Kushon, 70, of Shaler was at North Park's boathouse on Thursday. He thinks ticketing people supporting wounded veterans was out of line, and he wants people who paid their tickets to get their money back.
Fitzgerald said he is trying to determine whether the county can rescind the tickets. Refunds might be difficult, he said.
North Park offers the OTB Bicycle Cafe inside the boathouse, the GoApe zipline course, and kayak rentals.
County Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless, whose district includes North Park, said the park has been busy this month. Parking is limited, causing people to park along roads and in the grass. At the same time, Rea said it creates a dangerous situation and officers need to enforce parking laws.
Fitzgerald said the popularity of North Park is a good problem for the county to have. Park officials are looking at ways to expand parking, an idea that Rea supports.