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Kevin Mulligan: Questioning Northampton’s heavy hand on parking rules

I was asked at the last minute by the First Churches, my former employer, to help out with the snow removal that weekend. I agreed to help, knowing that parking would be an issue because the church had lost its rear parking spots after the police station and parking lot construction.

I even went so far as to contact the mayor on his Facebook page that Saturday and inquire about conditions downtown. Based on his advice, I had a friend drive me to Northampton that day and drop me off to begin clearing the snow from the church grounds. I knew there would be no parking in the downtown that day.

The next morning, I got up early and after checking the Internet for storm reports, decided it was safe to head for Northampton. I had the parking permit with me for the Gothic Street lot that the church was given after the police station construction. I drove to that lot, but it wasn’t clear yet so I decided to park elsewhere.

I drove around for 15 minutes before I noticed that the lot behind Thornes had been cleared. I assumed it was OK to park there because that’s where church members normally park on Sunday for services. I would have parked in the adjoining garage but my truck has a rack on the back and it causes clearance problems in garages.

I parked my truck with the permit in the window and headed over to the church to begin clearing the snow at 7 a.m.

I headed back to my truck around noon to discover it missing. I went to the police station and they confirmed it had been towed. I called the towing company and even though I had to wait until 5:30 that afternoon, I had to pay the $176 fee and redeem my truck, as I need it for work. Having to get a ride back to Easthampton and then a ride to the tow yard at 5:30 didn’t improve my experience.

Here’s my real problem. After talking with the tow company personnel, I was made aware that I was one of very few vehicles towed that morning. It was done as the parking ban was being lifted, with knowledge that the ban was almost over.

I cannot understand why the city employees feel so bent to enforce the regulations when this was a situation that clearly required some discretion. I went out of my way to stay clear of the city workers as they did their job cleaning up from the storm. Even though I was a bit leery of parking in that lot Sunday morning, I also had a job to do, helping my friends at the First Churches clean up from the storm before their service that morning.

The church has insisted on paying my $176 fee for towing and I appreciate that generosity. I don’t think the city should feel good about taking their money instead of mine. I know that once the towing companies are involved, there is little chance of recovering one’s money. But given the inconvenience that the church and I have been put through, I would hope the city of Northampton might consider dismissing the $25 parking ticket I received in addition to the onerous towing fees.

I find it unfortunate that a city like Northampton, with so many positive things to offer visitors, has to negate that experience with draconian parking enforcement rules. I can only hope that this message might influence the city’s leaders to better educate their employees on helping to enhance their city’s image with visitors, rather than degrade it.

Kevin Mulligan lives in Easthampton.

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