Parking meter company threatens lawsuit

BRIDGEPORT — Facing potential legal action from the Minnesota company that built and installed the new automatic parking meters, City Council members this week backed off of a threat to place a moratorium on the so-called robo cops.

“They cannot be turned off under the existing contractual or financial arrangements,” Associate City Attorney Mark Anastasi advised the council’s contracts committee.

The meters, which can be paid with coins, a credit card and by mobile phone, and use cameras to catch those who fail to do so, have been accused of hurting business. And Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration has acknowledged it did not do the best job educating the public about the new technology when it was installed over the winter, replacing aged, people-enforced coins only meters.

Some on the council and Ganim have backed tweaking the system with reduced fines and more free parking.

Others wanted a tougher approach — a moratorium and severing the contract with Hartford-based LAZ, the city’s parking manager.

Minnesota-based Municipal Parking Services, which has a contract with the city through LAZ, provided Bridgeport the meters in exchange for a cut of the revenues. In a July 11 letter, MPS CEO Brian Cassady threatened to “seek any and all remedies” if the city breached or terminated the contract.

So Anastasi huddled behind closed doors with the council’s contracts committee earlier this week to talk about what that meant. When the group emerged, members voted 4 to 1 to table the moratorium and the effort to severe relations with LAZ.

Prior to the vote there were a lot of vague public assurances from all of the parties — the Ganim administration, the council, LAZ, MPS — trying to amend the contracts to appease critics of the metered parking.

“I want the community to know we’ve been listening,” said Councilman Jeanette Herron, a contracts chairman. “We are trying to rectify a major problem that’s occurred.”

“We’re here to say that we’re on the same team,” Stathis Manousos, a LAZ vice president, told council members. “We’ll continue to try to fine tune this whole system and do our part with any contract negotiations that need to take place.”

Councilman Jack Banta, a contracts committee co-chairman who proposed the moratorium and cast the lone “no” vote to table it, asked if just the cameras could be shut off.

“Yes,” replied Natalie Danko, MPS’s vice president of client services. But, she said, “It will not be as efficient as it is now.”

“This is not the place to negotiate,” Anastasi warned.

While meter proponents argue the meter technology is needed to better enforce parking rules and free downtown spaces for patrons, there is a financial benefit to the cash-strapped city as well. And the loss of some of that new revenue also gave some council members pause.
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