Police write invalid tickets in downtown church lot
by Hilary Butschek
August 01, 2014 04:00 AM | 5166 views | 4 4 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Police Chief Dan Flynn
Police Chief Dan Flynn
MARIETTA — The Marietta Police Department has been writing parking tickets in a church lot it doesn’t have the right to regulate, the City Council discovered Wednesday.

Police don’t have authority to ticket cars parked in the First Baptist Church of Marietta lot because it is not controlled by the city, but some people have still received tickets there. Police Chief Dan Flynn said he could not estimate how many tickets were issued there in the past.

The parking lot is owned by First Baptist Church of Marietta, which leases it to the Downtown Marietta Development Authority. But DMDA attorney Tom Cauthorn said the development authority lacks police power.

“It’s a legal question as to whether we have the authority to write tickets there,” Flynn said.

The DMDA allows the lot to be used by the public except Wednesday night and Sunday, when it is used for church functions, but the DMDA enforces a two-hour time limit.

The 50-year lease between the DMDA and the church was signed in 1979, Cauthorn said. When the lease began, Cauthorn said the church didn’t have a paved parking lot, but it allowed the DMDA to tear down dilapidated buildings on its land to make room for parking spaces.

“There was a dilapidated structure on the property that had to be demolished and it had to be improved and graded to make it a parking lot, and the DMDA picked up the cost of that,” Cauthorn said. “And then to make it a binding agreement, the DMDA paid the church $10.”

Neither the police nor the DMDA know when police started enforcing parking in the lot.

“The reason the police department had enforced it was because it’s public parking,” Cauthorn said.

Police enforced the lot just like any other, not because someone directed them to, Cauthorn said.

Police realized they were writing tickets in a lot the city didn’t own when one driver protested her ticket, said Councilman Johnny Walker.

“I had a lawyer and his wife get a ticket in that lot, and he questioned it, and I said I can’t answer,” Walker said.

Walker would not specify who the couple was.

City attorney Doug Haynie questioned what people who had previously received tickets in the lot could do about the money they had already paid or owed the city.

“Can they prosecute those tickets or not?” Haynie asked.

The city has not yet decided if it will allow ticketed drivers to refund ticket fees they have paid in the past or challenge their tickets.

“It’s not that big of an issue,” Flynn said “I don’t think we’re dealing with many tickets here.”

Flynn said officers have not been writing tickets in the lot since the issue came up.

To solve the problem, Councilman Philip Goldstein suggested the city could take over the lot.

“The city could enter into an agreement to enforce the two-hour time limit,” Goldstein said. “It’s an agreement between the DMDA and the city to allow the city to enforce a two-hour time limit.”

Councilman Andy Morris said he was opposed to the idea of any group monitoring the lot because it’s owned by the church, a private entity.

“It’s a private lot, and I don’t think we ought to regulate it,” Morris said.

The council will vote on an agreement between the city and the DMDA that would put the city in control of the parking lot at its Aug. 13 meeting.

Update on Whitlock plans

Following a rebuff from the Board of Lights and Water to the City Council’s plans to put new sidewalks along Whitlock Avenue at the council’s last meeting, the board governing the city’s utility agreed to donate money to the project Wednesday.

The BLW will pay an estimated $165,000 for 26 pedestrian crossing lights to be installed along a 1-mile portion of Whitlock Avenue, said Charlie Lanz, the city’s acting engineer.

The board’s contribution is an addition to the $4 million the city will spend on the project to install sidewalks, pedestrian lights and intersection signs along the 1.5-mile portion of Whitlock. The project covers the stretch of road toward Marietta from Polk Street Extension to Oakmont Drive on both sides of Whitlock.

The city asked the BLW to pay for the lights because the cost was too much to fit in the allotted $4 million from the redevelopment bond the city could spend on the project. The lights will go in at “select locations, mainly where side streets come in to Whitlock,” Lanz said.

Bill Bruton, the city manager, said staff is still working to figure out how many pedestrian crossing lights need to be installed, so the cost could fluctuate.

“We want it to look good, but we don’t want it to irritate the residents,” Bruton said.

Councilman Johnny Walker pushed for the plans to include more opportunities to cross Whitlock. He said the portion of the road between Kirkpatrick Drive and North Marietta Parkway is mostly residential.

“I just think a lot of people will want to walk through there,” Walker said.

The portion of Whitlock between Oakmont Drive and North Marietta Parkway is not included in the Whitlock sidewalk project, Lanz said because there is existing sidewalk there. There will be crossing lights put in by the BLW on that section.

There will be crossing lights installed every 80 feet on the section between Polk Street Extension to Kirkpatrick Drive at a cost of $530,000, which is included in the $4 million budget. At the end of the project, the stretch of Whitlock from Polk Street Extension to North Marietta Parkway will have pedestrian crossing lights.

The company designing the project, Arcadis, will bring more detailed plans about the crossings to the council’s next scheduled meeting Aug. 11.

Construction on the Whitlock improvements will begin in January and the project is estimated to be complete 12 months later.

The city will have a public information meeting about the project to hear input from residents from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the lobby of City Hall.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
August 21, 2014
One again we have a city official, a church, traffic tickets, and some clearly inappropriate, possibly illegal behavior, so where exactly are the racketeering charges like Coleman got?

Is there something different about Coleman that uniquely qualifies him for racketeering charges as compared to all other City of Marietta officials?
August 01, 2014
I agree with Gringo Bandito!

Chief Flynn looks angry in the photo. I thought the Policemen were our Friends.

Who gave the Chief the authority to wear four stars. Being a Police Chief certainly is not near the equivalent of a four star U. S. Military Flag Officer.
Just Wait
August 01, 2014
When do the refunds start?
Gringo Bandito
August 01, 2014
The Marietta Police should track down every single person that they illegally ticketed and pay them back with interest.
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