“The Godfather” isn’t just the name of a popular novel and movie series.
The term apparently had meaning in the Hoboken Parking Utility in the past, according to Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs, who was hired to run the department by new Mayor Dawn Zimmer in 2009.
“If you were protected by a Godfather [a powerful person in Hoboken],” Sacs said last week, “and you weren’t doing your job, and somebody took you to task about it through a disciplinary civil service procedure, that individual could provide information to his or her Godfather. A representative of a Godfather would contact a superior and basically say, ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing? Leave this person alone.’ ”
Sacs said he doesn’t believe the system is in place today. But the Godfather system was just one of the past situations he heard about when he took over two years ago.
The Parking Utility is probably the most infamous, and most derided, agency in the city, since no one likes to get a parking ticket or worse – to be towed. In the past, the dearth of parking in the mile-square city has led people to counterfeit residential permits, and have fistfights with each other in the street. Sacs even said last year that the producers of a show called “Parking Wars,” based in Philadelphia and Detroit, might film future episodes in the city, although the plan did not come to fruition.
When Sacs accepted his position, Mayor Dawn Zimmer had to do some maneuvering to make room for her new director. The director at the time, John Corea, earned $114,265 annually. The city offered Corea a position in Environmental Services for $50,000.
Corea was indicted shortly after, in December 2009, for an alleged scam in which a Toms River contractor, whose company had experience in the arcade business and was hired by the city to collect coins from city parking meters, allegedly took $600,000. Much of the money was in the form of missing quarters from parking meters.
The contractor pleaded guilty, as did Corea.
Corea admitted that while he was the HPU director, “he steered three separate no-bid contracts” to the company “to collect, count, and manage the coins from the city’s parking meters,” according to a release from the state Attorney General’s office from December.
Corea was ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution to the city. Zimmer said last week that the city still has to fight to get the money. Corea is scheduled to be sentenced on April 2, according to a spokesperson from the state Attorney General’s office.
New meters may be placed throughout town
The missing quarters case was a major reason that the city acquired multi-space meters on Washington Street to replace the old-style individual meters.
“Single space meters are rife with shortfalls,” Sacs said last week. “The canister inside the meter holds a number of quarters and when it gets full they overflow and there’s quarters falling free.”
With the new multi-space meters, information on the money collected is transferred to a computer in the Parking Utility.
Zimmer even said she may place multispace meters in visitor permit areas all over town, but people with visitor or business permits won’t have to pay. The idea is to give people coming into town without permits a clear time limit on parking.
The mayor said she may ask the City Council to issue bonds to pay for putting the multi-space meters citywide in the visitor/business “permit parking only” areas. People with visitor or business permits would be exempt.
“That would make it clearer [about the four-hour rule] for visitors coming to our city,” Zimmer said, referring to a recent controversy.
That controversy came about when a Fox 5 investigative report last year showed that the HPU was ticketing people who were apparently confused about signs about a four-hour limit for parking without a permit. In Hoboken, a car can remain in a visitor-permit spot without a permit for up to four hours – but signs for those spots don’t say whether the four hours limit still applies if you move from one spot to another. And some people leaving town and then coming back were apparently ticketed as if they’d been here the whole time.
The city stepped up parking enforcement last year, and the city website shows increased revenues.
To prove improper ticketing in the Fox news report, a Fox reporter left Hoboken after being here for under an hour, returned later that day, and was booted because the HPU’s technology assumed the vehicle had been in town the whole time.
In response to the report, Zimmer and other officials said they’d review the signage and look into other possible changes.
With the muni-meter receipts, Zimmer said, drivers will be told on their receipt a specific time that they are allowed to park in the city.
Zimmer said some council minority members (her political opponents) have also expressed interest in this idea. In order to issue bonds to expand the machines, Zimmer needs six votes from the City Council, but has only five allies.
Zimmer said she also would like to issue bonds to expand the Hop bus program, a citywide shuttle bus system.
“A representative of a Godfather would contact a superior and basically say, ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing?’ ” – Ian Sacs
Sacs and Zimmer said that during Sacs’ first year in office, when it was time for renewals, many people who were ineligible to receive permits came in to renew their parking permits.
“We encountered hundreds of people who were being denied a permit for renewal, insisting they had gotten one before,” Sacs said. “But they were never qualified. Some of the people [asking for a residential permit] didn’t live in town…it wasn’t just one person here and there. It was literally hundreds of them.”
Sacs said the people would bring the same paperwork that got them a permit the year before, but the paperwork did not actually prove they were eligible. In early 2010, Sacs worked on a reorganization and clarification of the city’s parking permit rules, clarifying which documents could be accepted as proof of residency.
Zimmer also said there were a lot of people who had free transponders, which provide access to the municipal parking garages at no cost. “Some of them were legitimate and just not properly documented,” Sacs said.
Sacs said that when a fundraiser for the mayor was announced, the employees in his department were curious as to how much money it would cost them. In some Hudson County towns, it’s rumored that certain officials make employees purchase or sell tickets to fundraisers in return for job security. Sacs said he told them they didn’t have to purchase any tickets.
Some new problems
Sacs had to deal with other unusual personnel issues.
In late 2010, a case made regional news in which a young parking employee who was hired under Sacs’ tenure had allegedly forced a food delivery person to give him free sandwiches or face continually being ticketed. The food delivery person eventually notified law enforcement.
Since then, the case was transferred from Hudson County court to Jersey City Municipal Court, a Hudson County court official said last week. Last week, Hoboken officials declined to comment and referred questions about the case to the Jersey City court, which did not return multiple calls by press time.
City records show that as of late last year, the employee was officially on leave.
Sacs, whose background is in civil engineering and transportation, said his position as Parking Utility Director is not the hardest job he ever had, but it is the most complex.
“We had to re-work the municipal code,” he said. “The policies had so many inconsistencies and contradictions.”
Online permits proving popular
A new online permit renewal system, which helps residents acquire parking permits online instead of coming into the Hoboken Parking Utility offices at City Hall, has approximately 4,000 accounts already established, Sacs said.
Sacs has been invited to speak at conferences and the city has been recognized for programs, such as the Hertz Corner Cars rental program, but the policies haven’t always been a home run in Hoboken.
The fight over putting rental cars on the corners of city streets was one of the more controversial items addressed by the council over the past two years.
The program put approximately 40 rental cars on the street – taking spots away from the visitors’ side.
But as of last week, 108 residents have surrendered their parking permits because of the program, Sacs said, and there are 2,200 members, meaning the program has taken cars off the street.
Sacs said if the program expands, any new rental cars would most likely be put in garages since the program is already well known without the extra visibility, and most residents are within a five-minute walk of a Corner Car.
‘Parking Wars’ reality show?
After all this controversy, one might think that this department would make for a great reality TV show. So what happened to “Parking Wars”?
“They made a decision to move in a different direction,” Zimmer said of the film company.
Sacs had said in 2010 that he was open to the idea. But last week he said it probably would have been a bad idea.
“It would be way too much of a day-to-day distraction with all of the things we’re working on,” he said. “We couldn’t find any good argument as to why we should do it.”
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