August 31, 2012

A few weeks ago, when I opened my mail, I found a check for $35 from the D.C. government. It was an unsatisfactory end to events that began on Dec. 30, 2008 — and a reminder of how much remains broken in this city.

On a winter day nearly four years ago, I parked on Belt Road near Fort Reno Park, only to find the meter was malfunctioning. I called to report the problem, writing the confirmation number I was given on a scrap of paper. That done, I went off on my errand. There was a parking ticket waiting for me when I returned.

A few days later, on Jan. 6, 2009, I wrote the city’s traffic adjudication services office, explaining that the meter had not “expired,” as the ticket described the violation; it hadn’t been working in the first place. I included the confirmation number and asked that the ticket be dismissed.

But it wasn’t. Instead, I received a hearing examiner’s conclusion that “the respondent is liable for the ticket(s) listed below.” According to the “findings of fact,” the city Department of Transportation’s outage history had been checked for complaints and had found none. I could appeal by paying the $25 ticket and a $10 appeal fee.

I did, and the appeal was promptly acknowledged.


A D.C. parking citation awaits the owner of this car. (Amanda Voisard/THE WASHINGTON POST)

And then 2009 passed.

And 2010 passed.

Finally in January 2011, I received a ruling from the Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board, reversing the hearing officer who had found me guilty: “The evidence presented by Appellant persuades this Board that the meter in question was inoperable or malfunctioned through no fault of hers. Substantial evidence does not exist in the record to support the decision of the Hearing Officer.”

No check was included, so I assumed it would be sent separately. But by the end of the year, still no check. A call to the office of my council member, Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and unreturned calls to another office to which I was referred didn’t help.

This summer, an encounter with another of the city’s many malfunctioning meters reminded me that the District still owed me money. I called Cheh’s office again, encountering initial skepticism, but after I faxed the documentation of my case, Cheh staff member Dee Smith took action.

The result? Nearly four years after I was ticketed, I have my $35, which the District has held interest-free and which, left to its own devices, it would have never returned.

Why don’t I feel like celebrating?

The writer is a former Post business columnist.