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Investigator: Free parking for public officials

11:49 PM, Dec 6, 2012   |    comments
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CUYAHOGA COUNTY -- At a time when many Clevelanders pay up to $9 a day to park downtown, and up to $25 for special events, public employees are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free and discounted parking a year.

Cleveland City Council President Marty Sweeney says free parking for him and city hall co-workers six days a week is a perk and one they deserve.

"We work 24/7. City Hall is open on Saturday and, if it was open on Sunday, I'd be down here working too," Sweeney told the Investigator Tom Meyer.

Channel 3 News found a number of high-end cars, including Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs, and Hummers, parked in 118 spots that are marked reserved in the Willard Parking Garage at City Hall.

Mayor Frank Jackson's Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown is among the City of Cleveland employees who get to park his Lexus 350 for free in reserved spaces. Brown makes $126,932 a year.

He says the parking arrangement is necessary for people like himself who come and go throughout the day. When asked why he doesn't pay for a monthly pass with in and out privleges, Brown said he doesn't set the rules.

Cleveland City Council took care of its own when years ago it passed an ordinance designating free parking spaces for members of council, council's staff, the Mayor, cabinet members, directors of departments and members of their staffs. 

Both the Mayor's office and city council were asked for the cost of the parking perks three weeks ago.  Neither has released any information. Channel 3 News calculated the cost to be more than $330,000 a year.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel ordered a review of city employee parking when it was learned the city was paying a million dollars a year for employees to park.

Channel 3 news asked Mayor Jackson if he would consider a similar review. It's been 10 days and no one from the Mayor's office has responded.

Mayor Jackson enjoys the convenience of a free, reserved space right next to an entrance to city hall. The Mayor also has a driver and a city car.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, however, pays for his parking --- $85 a month. Cuyhaoga County employees don't park for free, but many workers get discounts of about 40 percent at 10 county lots in the downtown area.

Most Clevelanders we spoke with felt city and county employees should pay for their own parking.

"I pay to park. You should pay to park, out of your pocket, not out of mine," argued Bonita Bell, who has to walk a number of blocks to her office after she parks.

"I pay part of their salaries. They should pay for their parking as I do as well," said downtown worker Dave Kenney.

Many of the Cleveland city employees with parking perks make six-figure salaries but they said they deserve the money and the perk because of their work ethic. 

"We work very hard, at least I do, for the taxpayers and we work a lot of hours and different times of the day," said Barry Withers, the Director of Public Utilities.

Clevelanders argued city employees don't work any harder than they do and they pay for their own parking.

"They know we're struggling out here.  I know people who won't work downtown because they can't afford to park," said Rashawn Vaughn.

"I think it's unfair. I think we're all equal. We should have equal opportunity to have the same type of parking they have," said Brenda Thompson, who works for a non-profit agency downtown.


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