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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Town Meeting Should Push
Stubborn Transportation Board

Dennis Fox

October 21 , 2004

After I wrote last spring about inequities caused by Brookline's two-hour daytime parking limit, Transportation Board Co-chairman Mike Sandman emailed to say "You are exactly right. Officials always want discretionary power. Good legislation limits that power." Too bad Sandman couldn't make it to his board's September 28th meeting, which voted not to limit discretion but to formally endorse it. Town Meeting should insist next month that they start over.

The Transportation Board finally acted after more than two years of listening to residents complain about the poorly worded, overly invasive, and inconsistently enforced rule. Marty Rosenthal, whose persistent representation of his neighbors' concerns first persuaded the board to begin discussion, wants a new approach: town residents can park freely during the day except where overcrowding makes restrictions necessary. Joel Shield wants, among other things, a formal appeals process when the Transportation Department or town police reject requests for temporary parking rule waivers. Annette Gregson wants police to enforce the rule near the Maimonides School, where teachers parked all day leave little room for residents.

Even most board members eventually agreed the rule creates unnecessary hardships, serves no purpose in quiet residential neighborhoods with mostly empty streets, and should generally be aimed only at commuters and other nonresidents. Yet last month they caved in to Assistant Director of Transportation David Friend and Police Traffic Division Captain Michael Gropman, who consistently shot down every indication the board might take resident concerns seriously.

What the board did approve was a legally meaningless "Statement of Purpose" that explains the board's preferences for when and where police should enforce the unchanged rule. On the positive side, these written priorities reflect past informal understandings, making public the board's previously vague inclinations. Yet the suggestion that police enforce the law in residential neighborhoods only if they decide enforcement is necessary does not change the existing rule. As Friend wrote in his memo advocating his proposed statement, "By adopting the above policy statement the Transportation Board is not seeking to limit the flexibility and discretion the police department has in conducting its work."

Friend doesn't want to limit his own flexibility and discretion either. One issue was how to request temporary rule waivers for babysitters, home health aides, and others who need to park longer than two hours. Friend claims such waivers are easily obtained, despite his past failure to notify residents they are even possible. Yet he adamantly insists no waiver be issued for longer than a month, requiring every long-term caregiver to resubmit requests a dozen times a year.

Yet after the last board meeting, one resident requesting healthcare and babysitter waivers was told the request was "suspicious." After submitting a detailed explanation of personal medical information -- an action neither listed on the permit application nor mentioned in Friend's memo describing the process -- the resident received a three-month waiver, despite Friend's one-month limit. When another resident asked board co-chairman Fred Levitan why they don't simply modify the formal rule to allow three-month waivers when appropriate, Levitan responded "We will always allow David as Assistant Director of Transportation some leeway in his decision making process."

We're left with the false promise of an unenforceable Statement of Purpose and the reality that the board, Transportation Department, and police can enforce, ignore, or change their ad hoc policies whenever they see fit. Although Captain Gropman now seems inclined to follow Police Chief Daniel O'Leary's lead in abiding by Transportation Board priorities, every police officer retains the legal right to ticket at will.

Marty Rosenthal has proposed to Town Meeting an advisory resolution urging the board to do more. Although board members claim their two-year review and Statement of Purpose satisfy the resolution's demands, Town Meeting can demonstrate that the people's representatives disagree, especially if Rosenthal beefs up the language.

On October 28th the board will address one issue left unresolved last month apparently because Levitan and Friend disagree: whether to improve or to scrap Brookline's now-outdated resident parking permit program, which exempted certain neighborhoods from the two-hour rule. Unless the board reconsiders its toothless Statement of Purpose and enacts a meaningful permit program, Town Meeting should take the next step.

More on police discretion

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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