Some of the city employees who give out parking tickets spent hours lounging in coffee shops when they should have been working, and one retaliated against a business owner who complained that she spent extended periods relaxing in a hotel lobby while on the job, according to an investigation by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General released Wednesday.
IG Ed Quatrevaux’s office began an investigation of the Department of Public Works’ Parking Division in response to complaints from local businesses that parking control officers were sitting in their establishments for long periods during work hours. The businesses said they and their customers sometimes were issued citations when they confronted the parking officers, popularly known as meter maids.
Separately, the IG’s Office said it received complaints from local and federal law enforcement officers that they were being cited for parking violations near the federal courthouse even when their vehicles displayed a dashboard placard emblazoned with the agency’s emblem and the words “On Official Duty.”
The Parking Division is responsible for enforcing on-street parking rules in New Orleans.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city is “investigating the appropriate disciplinary action” in response to the report.
Spokeswoman Sarah McLaughlin said the Department of Public Works already has taken steps to improve the Parking Division, including directing supervisors to review the citations issued each day and to explain any gaps of more than 60 minutes between citations issued by any officer.
The parking control officers carry electronic equipment that makes it possible to monitor the routes they take as they work.
The IG’s Office said its investigation, which began in 2014, confirmed that some parking control officers were sitting for long periods in coffee shops and hotel lobbies while they were on duty, that one officer retaliated against a local business when confronted and that law enforcement agencies’ vehicles were cited for parking violations while they were being used for official duty.
Parking control officers issued the latter tickets, the report said, so that they could “appear productive” even though those citations always were eventually tossed out.
The investigation included a review of various documents and policies as well as interviews with Public Works Department personnel and people from the affected businesses.
An employee at the CC’s Coffee House at 650 Poydras St. told investigators that on multiple occasions she saw several parking officers sitting in the coffee shop for hours at a time.
“The (parking officers) would sit in the rear of the store consuming outside food and drink, using the free WiFi and talking on their personal cellphones,” the report said.
OIG investigators also independently observed two parking officers on separate occasions lounging in a coffee shop for more than two hours while on duty.
Parking officers are allowed three breaks a day while working, two lasting 15 minutes and a 30-minute lunch break. They are not allowed to walk their routes or take breaks together.
The report does not identify the parking officer or business involved in the retaliation complaint. But the investigation found that the officer received a formal reprimand for “unprofessional behavior” in June 2013 and resigned the following year while under investigation for a different matter. The parking officer then was hired by the city’s Taxicab Bureau in July 2014.
The IG’s Office said it was unable to determine whether more than one business had been retaliated against because the Parking Division said it was unable to comply with the IG’s request for all citations issued to vehicles parked near the businesses in question between 2012 and 2014. The division didn’t provide information directly related to the retaliation complaint until May, the report said.
Parking Administrator Zepporiah Edmonds, who oversees the division, said lack of manpower, funding issues and the fact that Duncan Solutions Inc. replaced Xerox as the city’s ticket processing contractor contributed to the division’s inability to produce the requested documents.
On the matter of tickets for law enforcement vehicles, the report found that parking officers who patrolled the streets around the U.S. District Court building at Camp and Poydras streets routinely cited law enforcement vehicles displaying “On Duty” placards.
Edmonds said officers refrain from giving tickets only to officially marked law enforcement cars and leave it to each agency to protest their citations to a hearing administrator.
That process costs the city the time spent issuing and processing the citations and the cost of having an adjudication administrator dismiss the cases, the IG’s Office said.
There were at least 207 dismissed citations for law enforcement vehicles in 2014.
Parking officers who patrol the streets around City Hall, the federal courthouse and the Criminal District Court building “can appear productive by writing citations to (law enforcement) vehicles even though all the citations are later dismissed,” the report said.