Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
Everyone has seen Columbia’s parking enforcement officers around town. What activities go on behind the scenes that allow you to do your job? We regularly have enforcement meetings to stay up to date on any new situations that might require attention or events that need special enforcement. Sometimes we also de-stress together by talking through difficult situations that have occurred while out on patrol. When the supervisor receives a call from a customer requesting assistance such as a permit lock check, our supervisor coordinates with the parking enforcement agents through mobile devices to ensure the highest quality of customer service.
University of Missouri parking enforcement is separate from the city’s enforcement. How does this separation work? The city parking enforcement covers all city streets through campus, and MU parking enforcement covers all MU parking lots and garages on campus.
How, if at all, do you work with local law enforcement? Occasionally, we need assistance from the Columbia Police Department to aid in the impoundment of a vehicle for unpaid tickets or to help in difficult situations that may occur while on patrol.
How has technology changed the way parking violations are enforced? Since I have been a parking enforcement agent, we have gone from handwritten tickets to the auto-cite handhelds, and currently we are using Samsung cellphones. As we are issuing a ticket, our devices will automatically inform us of a vehicle that needs to be tagged or towed for unpaid parking tickets and will even inform the Columbia Police Department if the vehicle is stolen. Sometimes we are even asked by a customer to pull up his or her license plate to see if he or she has any unpaid parking tickets.
What has been your craziest/most bizarre/most interesting experience with someone for whom you’ve written a ticket? For the most part, people recognize we are just doing our jobs and accept their tickets graciously. However, over the years, there have been a few rare occasions when people have responded negatively after the issuance of a parking ticket by yelling out such comments as, “Meter maids eat their young!” or “How do you sleep at night?” We also occasionally get called names, the least of which is “Parking Nazi.”
What is something most people don’t know about being a parking enforcement agent? Many people don’t realize that parking enforcement agents are people with families and worries just like them, and the agents do not get any personal enjoyment from issuing parking tickets. Parking enforcement agents understand getting a ticket can be very upsetting; agents must learn to not take customers’ reactions personally. It is all a part of the job.
Where does the violations bureau fit in the grand scheme of city structure organization? All parking ticket fines are paid to the violations bureau. When a vehicle is impounded for unpaid parking tickets, the owner must get a paid receipt for all parking tickets owed from the violations bureau before the vehicle can be released from the towing company.
How did you get into this trade? I worked as a waitress at IHOP on Ninth and Elm since I was a junior in high school. After leaving college when I got married, I went to full-time waitressing at IHOP until I could find a permanent position. One of my regular customers happened to be the parking supervisor, Jesse Hughes. One day he came in and told me he had had my name on a roster for a year and to speak with Max Berends in City Hall if I wanted a job tomorrow as a parking enforcement officer. I actually started working before I filled out an application. Of course, that was more than 30 years ago. A lot has changed since then!
Do you fulfill any other customer services other than issuing parking tickets? Our main job is to enforce parking regulations in Columbia to provide parking turnover to ensure adequate parking for customers, but we do much more than just issue tickets. The parking enforcement officers are daily unofficial representatives of Columbia and provide a wealth of information. We help people with directions, advice on where to eat, pay their utilities, get marriage licenses, etc. As you can see, parking enforcement agents are very helpful people.
What was your first experience with parking meters? Before I went to work as a parking enforcement officer, I was looking for my husband’s lost Siamese cat at Neidemeyer Apartments on South 10th Street. When leaving the apartments after not finding the cat, there was a yellow envelope under my windshield wiper, and I honestly didn’t know what it was. I had not seen the meter, and someone passing by on the street pointed the meter out to me and told me what the ticket was and where to pay it. So that’s why I always believe someone when they tell me they didn’t see the meter!
Have you ever watched the show Parking Wars? People are always asking me if I watch Parking Wars. I’ve seen only about 10 minutes of it once before I shut it off. They seem to only include the most extreme situations because they’re showing it for entertainment purposes. In Columbia, those types of situation would be few and far between. I am living the job and don’t need to watch it on TV to be entertained.