Mayor Marion Barry has asked the D.C. Department of Transportation to investigate why a city-owned parking lot where a nurse from Columbia Hospital for Women was killed two weeks ago was still being used by hospital personnel 18 months after a private lawyer had suggested that such use of the lot was illegal.
The parking lot is outside Francis Junior High School, 2401 N. St. NW. On Nov. 1, Frances Adkins left her job at the hospital shortly after 4 p.m., waved to her friends and began the two-block walk to her car. Five minutes later, she was slumped next to her vehicle in the lot, bleeding and crying for help. The 55-year-old nurse had been shot by an armed robber. Three days later she died.
This week, Nicholas A. Addams, who represents the owners of a commercial parking lot located between the hospital and school, reopened a tangled, two-year-old controversy about the lot when he claimed that Adkins would not have been accosted at the school if officials would have responded to complaints he filed in May 1979. Addams this week reiterated his contention that the free parking was illegal, deprived the city of tax revenues and took income from his client.
In response, Barry ordered the Transportation Department to determine why nothing was done about Addams' original complaint, filed May 9, 1979. He also ordered city inspectors to investigate the parking controversy.
The accusation also drew a response from hospital and school officials who said it was unfair to drag Adkins' murder into the school parking dispute.
On the surface, the parking feud would seem like a simple matter involving 25 to 30 spaces. But the dispute has expanded.
Addams wants to know why city and school officials have ignored his complaints for 17 months. For him, the controversy has become a struggle to see if one man can force two powerful bureaucracies -- city government and the the school system -- into action.
For Columbia Hospital Administrator G. Patrick Kane, the dispute is a test to see if two neighbors -- the hospital and school -- can work together to keep hospital visitors from paying high parking costs.
For Francis School Principal Gary Geiger, the dispute is a test to see who is in charge of school grounds -- the principal or the building and grounds supervisor.
The controversy began in September 1978, when about 30 employees lost there parking spots because of a $7.5 million renovation project at the hospital.
"It is difficult to attract and retain competent health care professionals," Kane explained, "so we provide free parking to all employees." When the hospital lost 30 spaces, Kane contacted commercial lots, including Addams' client, to see if there were any spaces available.
None of the lots had enough room, he said. He asked the General Services Administration if there was any room at a government lot next door to the hospital. GSA said no. Kane then approached Geiger about temporary parking at the school for hospital employees.
"We have had good relations with the hospital for 20 years," Geiger explained. "We have plenty of room. I was happy to help. It is simply good public relations. Every year the hospital invites our kids up for a tour. Then they have an art contest with each child drawing a hospital scene. tOur students really enjoy it."
Geiger filled out a standard school use form, sent it to Regional Superintendent Dorothy Johnson for approval and mailed it to the D.C. School Board. Geiger also telephoned Superintendent Vincent E. Reed to get his approval.
This summer, 70 hospital employes parked free on the school grounds. When school started, about 15 employes began using the school lot, including Adkins. The hospital plans to use the school lot until 1981.
In May 1979, Addams' client, B & W Management Company, told Kane that it had enough parking spaces available for displaced hospital employes. Kane, however, said the hospital could not pay the regular $40.32 per month, per car fee. Besides, Kane said, hospital employes had solved the parking problem.
Addams wrote an angry letter to Barry, demanding an investigation. Why, he asked, when the mayor is cutting back on free parking in the city should hospital employes get to park free on public school land?
Barry sent Addams' letter to then city Transportation Director Douglas N. Schneider Jr. Nothing happened. A month later, Addams wrote a letter to Schneider. Nothing happened. A month later, Addams wrote another heated letter to Schneider. "It's no wonder that the citizens lose faith in the bureaucracy of government," he wrote. Nothing happened.
Schneider, who changed jobs in August, does not remember any of the letters.
Addams then decided to write Reed, who responded by ordering an investigation. Francis School, Reed assured, was "merely a victim" of illegal parkers. Addams waited. Nothing happened. He drove past the school. Cars with hospital stickers were still parked next to the school's gymnasium.
Addams rallied community support. The DuPont Circle Citizens Association complained to the mayor and city council. Nothing happened.
Not until Adkins was killed two weeks ago and Addams accused officials of negligence did he get a response. "His [first] letter just slipped through the cracks. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. We have had to deal with 35,000 to 105,000 letters to the mayor [since Addams' first letter]" Alan Grip, Barry's press aide, said. "When you get that many letters, you're bound to miss a few."
David Hubie, building and grounds supervisor for D.C. schools, said the board was monitoring Addams' complaints, not ignoring them. Huie sent a memo to Geiger in August -- 17 months after Addams first complained to the board and two months before Adkins died ordering him to stop hospital employes from using the school lot, he said.
"I didn't think the school should be competing with a commercial enterprise," Huie said. "We just assumed he [Geiger] would obey my order but this is a real gray area. A principal usually has the power to decide who can park on school property. We've never had a case like this."
Geiger said Huie did not realize when he wrote his memo that the hospital is a nonprofit organization. "I've sent him a response, explaining that the hospital is nonprofit. I see nothing wrong with letting a nonprofit institution that serves the public use a public lot," Geiger explained.
As of yesterday, hospital employes still were parking free at the school.
The whole dispute has been overblown, Geiger said. "It will be a damn shame if we force those people off the lot just so a commercial lot can make a buck," he said.
"If we are lose our spots, we will move our people back on the hospital lot and vistors will simply have to pay to park. It's not right. Many of our patients are poor," Kane said.
"No one at the hospital works for free," Addams replies. "Many on the staff drive expensive cars, Mercedes, Cadillacs, and the like. They can pay for their parking. I strongly object to the school system subsidizing free parking through my tax dollars."