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Jim Kenyon: Tickets Torn Up in Hanover

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Around 3 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon, a well-attended memorial service for longtime social activist and community volunteer Shawn Donovan was wrapping up at Dartmouth’s Rollins Chapel.

After filing out of the ecumenical church on College Street, more than a few attendees returned to their cars only to find parking tickets on their windshields.

The tickets weren’t just your garden-variety expired-meter violation, either — for which town of Hanover charges $10 a pop. These tickets were for parking in a “prohibited zone,” which apparently is a much greater sin in the eyes of the town’s powers that be. The infraction carries a $30 fine.

I counted 18 cars with tickets. By my math, the town had just pocketed $540 — not a bad haul for the 10 minutes or so it took the parking enforcement officer to wallpaper the vehicles neatly lined up along the one-way street that runs adjacent to the Green.

At least, the officer didn’t play favorites. Two of the improperly parked cars had license plates that belonged to New Hampshire legislators.

I was among the first to leave the memorial service, so I couldn’t help but notice the sea of tickets on the walk back to my car in the town’s parking garage.

A woman who left about the same time took note as well. “I think it’s bad form to be ticketing someone who is at a memorial service,” said the woman, who wasn’t among the ticketed. “It’s a little crass.”

Donovan, who died unexpectedly on Feb. 19 at age 70, had given tirelessly over the years to the town, serving on the planning and conservation boards.

So this was how the town repaid folks who had come to pay their last respects to a former resident dedicated to public service?

Hanover is to parking violations what Woodstock and Bridgewater are to speeding tickets. Last year, Hanover issued 22,591 parking tickets (an average of 62 tickets a day, even when you include Sundays and holidays) that resulted in $377,807 in revenue for the town.

By the time I got back to my car, a column about Hanover’s overzealous enforcement of parking regulations had practically written itself.

But Hanover parking czar Jeff Ballard threw me a curve ball. Before I could even ask about the tickets, he had ripped them up.

Memorial services and funerals are a “time of grieving for people,” Ballard said. “The last thing we should be doing is making it more stressful.”

Signs along College Street clearly state that it’s a no-parking zone between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Sundays. But it’s the town’s practice to lift the ban for memorial services and other events at Rollins Chapel.

On the afternoon of the April 21 memorial service for Donovan, an on-duty parking officer called Ballard on his cellphone. During her walk around town (Hanover has 1,200 parking spaces, including 600 with meters), she had come across the line of cars on College Street. Before she started to write tickets, she asked Ballard if the ban had been lifted for a special event that she was unaware of. He checked with police headquarters. No one there had received any requests.

Ballard gave her the go-ahead.

But after hearing from people who had been issued tickets, he could see that he wasn’t dealing with a bunch of scofflaws. The memorial service’s organizers hadn’t realized they needed to ask for town permission. Since the service was at Rollins, they apparently were under the impression that Dartmouth handled those details.

Although signs state daytime parking is allowed only on Sundays, Ballard could see how it all had unfolded. “One person parks there and five minutes later the whole street is lined,” he said.

Count state Rep. Richard Abel, of Lebanon, in that category. “When I got there, two-thirds of the street was filled with cars,” he said. “I just assumed it was OK.”

But unlike a few others, he didn’t complain. He paid his $30 ticket online. “I figured I had been in the wrong, so I needed to pay it,” he said. (Anyone who already has paid can get a refund, Ballard told me.)

Not everyone took the tickets in stride. One person told Ballard that the parking enforcement officer should have gone into the church and interrupted the service to warn people that they were about to be ticketed.

“No one is ever happy to get a parking ticket,” Ballard said. “But she was just doing her job. We didn’t know ahead of time (about the memorial service.)”

How often does Hanover tear up parking tickets?

More often than I imagined. Anyone issued a ticket has the right to appeal and of the 1,034 appeals filed last year, 866 (84 percent) were granted.

In the parking ticket version of the dog-ate-my-homework excuse, violators claim that the parking meter had expired only a minute before they reached their car on a sprint. Of course, the officer who gave the ticket would have no way of knowing that.

But just in case you’re thinking of using that excuse, here’s something to keep in mind: The town now has the technology to verify your story.

Parking meters are online. Ballard’s department can go back after-the-fact to check how long a particular meter had been expired before a ticket was issued.

As for the tickets handed out during Donovan’s memorial service that were quickly rescinded, I figured it must nice be for Ballard and his officers to hear a few thank yous.

“That’s not every day,” he said.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.