City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels faults Mayor David Narkewicz on garage fees

Last modified: Monday, November 04, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — The city councilor who chairs the Transportation and Parking Commission is taking Mayor David J. Narkewicz to task for changing parking fees this week at the E. John Gare parking garage downtown without seeking council permission.

Ward 3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels said the mayor does not have legal authority to change parking fees — even on a temporary basis — as he did this week. That responsibility rests solely with the City Council.

“This is a law,” Freeman-Daniels said. “It cannot be altered unilaterally by the mayor.”

Narkewicz announced this week that the city would start a manual pay system at the garage as it waits for parts needed to fix a malfunction in the pay-on-foot payment system. The malfunction prevented the city from collecting parking revenue for nearly two weeks. The temporary payment system involves a flat fee of $4 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and $5 after 5 p.m. The garage fee is usually 50 cents an hour, with the first hour being free, according to city ordinance.

Freeman-Daniels said he is upset that Narkewicz has ignored his repeated requests to explain what legal authority the mayor has to change the fees, and is frustrated that the commission he chairs has not been involved in planning for a new payment system under consideration for the garage. The city’s Central Services Department is moving ahead with development of a request for proposals to replace the garage’s payment system entirely. Officials recently asked the council’s Capital Improvements Committee to consider a $300,000 request for a new system, which could go out to bid in the coming weeks. Freeman-Daniels said his committee has not been a part of that discussion.

“I’ve been mostly kept in the dark,” Freeman-Daniels said. “The process of changing the parking system should be done in conjunction with the commission and in conjunction with the council.”

Narkewicz could not be reached for comment Friday.

While he agrees the problem in the garage needs addressing, Freeman-Daniels said the mayor erred in not calling for a special council meeting at which he could then seek permission to change the fees. The Ward 3 councilor said he’s written an emergency ordinance which would allow the mayor to change the fees, but it’s been a “logistical nightmare” to try and call a special meeting with a municipal election on the horizon.

“It’s not improper that the mayor has this power, but right now he doesn’t have it,” Freeman-Daniels said.

The councilor believes the city should continue its temporary manual collection system that went into effect Thursday, but charge people the amount stated by city rules rather than the higher fees. City officials arrived at the $4 during daytime hours based on the garage’s current rate of 50 cents an hour. They considered charging by the hour, but concluded that could lead to logistical concerns including an increase in traffic and potential backlogs, Narkewicz said earlier this week.

The city had been losing an estimated $700 per day because of the malfunction to the garage’s card reader and gate system prior to implementation of the manual system. Parts to fix the system are expected to arrive Tuesday. Narkewicz said he heard complaints from 30-day lease holders who were struggling to find a place to park in the garage, and from business owners concerned that customers are not able to find a place to park.

Freeman-Daniels also said he would like the parking committee, city council, and mayor to discuss replacing the parking fee system with one that is easier to maintain, but equally convenient.