Ken Cassady is either the fastest parking officer in Columbus, or he's the strictest. The more than $2 million in parking-ticket fines he has issued since the city hired him in August 2011 suggest he is both. Since then, Cassady has written a ticket an average of every five minutes on every working day. With an annual salary of $34,000 a year, he might be the city's best investment.
Ken Cassady is either the fastest parking officer in Columbus, or he’s the strictest.
The more than $2 million in parking-ticket fines he has issued since the city hired him in August 2011 suggest he is both.
Since then, Cassady has written a ticket an average of every five minutes on every working day. With an annual salary of $34,000 a year, he might be the city’s best investment.
Cassady is part of a city parking-enforcement bureau that issued nearly 500,000 tickets — more than 450 a day — from January 2011 through November 2013. The fines total nearly $19 million.
A Dispatch analysis of city ticket data shows that even as officials say they want to fix parking problems in congested areas such as the Short North, Arena District and parts of Downtown, the parking-enforcement bureau is blanketing those areas with tickets and pulling in millions of dollars.
Meter for meter, parking officers write twice as many tickets in the Short North as they do at meters in the city as a whole. Away from meters, the adjoining Victorian Village and Italian Village neighborhoods account for about 1 in 3 of the nearly 60,000 tickets the city issued for parking in a residential zone without a permit.
City officials said the tickets are their best attempt to regulate parking until they can come up with solutions that will satisfy business owners, residents and tourism advocates.
Some business owners say that numerous and confusing regulations frustrate their customers. Residents and city leaders said people need to read signs carefully and follow them.
Shortly after The Dispatch began asking questions, city leaders reunited the parking-meter advisory group. The group plans to meet on Thursday for the first time since 2010.
“There is no culture of ‘gotcha’ here, but it is a regulatory and enforcement unit, and people aren’t always going to be happy with what we’ve done,” said Randy Bowman, Columbus mobility-options manager.
Parking enforcement isn’t viewed as a cash cow, Bowman said, but officials acknowledge that parking officers target congested areas where demand for parking is high. They say they want to keep cars moving in and out of spots for local businesses, not fill city coffers.
“There are no quotas. There are no targets. There are no goals,” Bowman said. “The day we don’t have to write a parking ticket will be a beautiful, wonderful day.”
Parking officers routinely patrol Downtown, the Short North, the Arena District and areas near Ohio State University’s campus, along with parts of Franklinton, German Village, the Hilltop and the Brewery District.
A little more than half of the tickets are issued to drivers parked at many of the city’s 4,755 meters. An overwhelming majority of the fines are $25 for parking at expired meters.
The city also has issued nearly $4 million in tickets since 2011 for failure to properly display license plates or having an expired vehicle-registration sticker. In many cases, cars were issued multiple tickets at a time. Those were the second-biggest ticket generators.
About 60,000 tickets were issued to cars parked in neighborhoods without the proper permit. It’s the city’s third-most-common ticket. The city has
32 residential permit districts, each with its own set of hours and restrictions. Nearly all of those tickets were written in neighborhoods near the Short North, in German Village and near Ohio State.
Drivers know they’re taking a risk that a parking officer could visit when they park in the Short North.
“They’re like ninjas,” said Gio Santiago, whose Blank Walls R Gross gallery at 15 W. 1st Ave. sits across from the Short North’s most-ticketed meter.
Santiago has been ticketed so many times that he’s turning the envelopes into an art project. He has cut the orange-and-white tickets into shapes, and he envisions forming them into a collage that depicts a man on his knees shaking his fists at the parking gods.
Nicole DiTommaso, the owner of Reverse Vanity Spa, said she pays her clients’ parking tickets because she worries about losing repeat business. She said parking enforcement wasn’t a problem when she opened in 2012 and her block of W. 1st Avenue was mostly empty.
“Since this block has really built up, it’s been way more of an issue,” she said. “Now, it’s just a little out of control.”
Since 2011, Columbus has issued tickets worth more money — nearly $19 million — than it collected from people for not feeding parking meters — $13.2 million. It’s the opposite in Cincinnati, which has about as many meters as Columbus.
Columbus’ ticket revenue pays for the parking-enforcement bureau and is sprinkled into the city’s operating fund.
“Other than that, we don’t use it for one specific purpose in the general fund,” said Paul Rakosky, the city’s finance director.
A car parked near the Jury Room, Dempsey’s or the Franklin County Courthouse on Downtown’s southern edge is more likely to receive a ticket than a car anywhere else in the city.
Cars have been ticketed 4,231 times since 2011 at a strip of just seven 30-minute meters on Mound Street.
City officials said those meters are meant for customers who are making quick stops at nearby restaurants, not for people driving Downtown for a prolonged court hearing. The area also has longer-duration meters, said Mike Garvey, a parking-enforcement supervisor.
Elizabeth Lessner, owner of the Jury Room restaurant on Mound Street, and Mark Dempsey, owner of Dempsey’s restaurant just around the corner on High Street, said they’ve asked the city for the past two years to extend the limit to an hour or more.
“From a restaurant standpoint, they are absolutely useless,” Dempsey said of the 30-minute meters.
He said many of his customers set a timer on their cellphones to remind them to feed the meter or ask his employees to help keep track.
“Often, they are just frustrated and don’t enjoy themselves because they are thinking about the meter,” he said.
Lessner said she and Dempsey turned in petitions requesting longer time limits. Bowman said he never received them.
Lessner also owns the Tip-Top restaurant Downtown on Gay Street, home to the second-most-ticketed meters in the city. Those meters also have a 30-minute time limit.
Some business owners on Gay Street banded together and provided quarters to “street ambassadors” to feed meters that were about to expire. City officials told them to stop, Lessner said.
“They weren’t writing enough tickets, so we were told to knock it off,” she said.
Cleve Ricksecker, the director of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, said someone from the city’s Department of Public Service told him to stop providing quarters. Bowman said he never gave that order and that it is not illegal to feed meters for other people in Columbus.
“There probably are too many (30-minute meters) there,” Ricksecker said. “I would certainly say the distribution of meters is not quite right.”
Mark Ballard, co-founder and former owner of Sugardaddy’s, which sells brownies and other sweets on Gay Street, said the 30-minute meters “were good for our business.” Ballard said the meters were one of the reasons he opened there.
Bowman said parking enforcement isn’t perfect but has improved since 2010, when the city convened a group to recommend changes.
The city followed many of those suggestions, including simplifying meter rates, upgrading meters to accept credit cards and extending enforcement hours in some areas.
The advisory group suggested in 2010 that the city change meter stickers that explain how to use meters. Bowman said the city is considering adding images that can be scanned with a smartphone to take a customer to an explanatory website.
The city also hired three additional parking-enforcement officers at the group’s suggestion. It has 18 people on staff, including three supervisors.
Cassady was hired as an enforcement officer in August 2011. Since then, he has written nearly 60,000 tickets. The second-most-productive parking agent has filed 40,000.
“I simply do the job I was trained to do, and that’s to promote safety and an orderly turnover (of parking spaces),” said Cassady, who works the night shift.
“He’s one of the fastest walkers we have,” Bowman said. “We should probably enter him into the walking Olympics or something.”
Parking officers rotate routes every week, monitoring parking meters from 7:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. They’re looking for parking-meter violators, but they also ticket for other violations, including not having a front license plate, parking too close to the sidewalk and leaving an unregistered car in a permit-parking zone.
“There are 60 different ways to get a parking ticket in Columbus,” Bowman said. “It isn’t something we’re proud of. Those are just the laws.”