BRIDGEPORT — The city has found someone to fill one of the toughest jobs in government, thanks to the new automated parking meters installed downtown.
Matthew McCarthy, a lifelong resident, has been chosen by Mayor Joe Ganim to be the city’s hearing officer for parking violations.
Why is that role a tough one? McCarthy is volunteering to take on a backlog of 300 appeals — many related to the controversial new meters — that have lingered for months after his predecessor, Michael Moretti, got swamped.
“I’m doing the best I could for them on a voluntary basis,” Moretti lamented in July, after the number of appeals he handled per month spiked and he requested help.
Moretti had been thinking about resigning at the time. Ed Adams, a mayoral aide who has worked on the new meters, confirmed Tuesday that “Moretti wants to discontinue his service because the commitment has become too much for him. … The enforcement process is four months behind on appeals and there was a need to act quickly,” Adams said.
Catching-up to do
Enter McCarthy, a 38-year-old certified public accountant with BlumShapiro in Shelton. McCarthy’s brother is former Councilman Martin McCarthy, co-owner of the Fire Engine Pizza Company in the their Black Rock neighborhood.
“I made it known to different people I wanted to serve the city in any way I can,” Matthew McCarthy said in an interview.
Adams called McCarthy “very competent,” with a flexible schedule. He noted the intention is to have more hearings scheduled at 5 p.m. to better accommodate working people.
McCarthy started his new, unpaid city job this month. But appeals related to the new, automated meters will be scheduled for the new year.
Installed on some downtown streets last winter, new meters replaced old, coin-operated equipment. They accept credit cards and use cameras to catch parking violators. Not long after the meters launched, however, they were condemned by some local business owners and some City Council members as being overly aggressive and for scaring sway visitors. Critics said the Ganim administration did a poor job of advertising the change.
Ultimately, the council over the summer halved the $40 parking fines to $20, extended the grace period to feed the meters from 5 to 10 minutes, and eliminated paid parking on Saturdays.
McCarthy said he had some ideas for expediting the appeals for the automated meters, but was not ready to make them public.
Asked how the city was notifying drivers who were left in limbo by the delayed appeals process, Adams said, “Appellants were verbally advised that there would be a considerable delay.”
Questions about experience
“I think he will be very committed,” said outgoing Councilwoman Kathryn Bukovsky of Black Rock, who knows McCarthy and who had been a critic of the new meters. “I know he (McCarthy) wants to be more involved with the city, government and the process.”
But retired state Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez had some concerns. Lopez, a community activist, garnered attention in April when she successfully fought her own meter violation and, in the process of doing so, questioned Moretti’s credentials and the entire appeals process. Lopez said she still gets contacted by drivers seeking advice on how to fight their tickets.
“I don’t know this person or the experience he has,” Lopez said of McCarthy. “I think it would be helpful (for the hearing officer) to have a legal background. It’s not a trial in court, but the way things are in Bridgeport, it’s not just a parking ticket.”
Asked about legal or mediation experience, McCarthy said, “What I have is common sense. I really believe a lot of it is common sense. … I don’t know if you need a legal background to do this.”
Lopez argued McCarthy’s appointment should go to the council for final approval, as do those for city boards and commissions. She made a similar case about Moretti. But City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer at the time said under state law, the mayor — not council — has authority over the parking-violation hearing officer.
Whether the new City Council, sworn in this weekend, will demand to review McCarthy’s appointment remains to be seen. Retiring City Council President Thomas McCarthy — who is not related to Matthew McCarthy — said even if the council does not have a legal role, it would be good for Ganim to informally forward such an important position to the legislative body for review.