Point of View
Thief Goes Free, Random Thoughts, If It Bleeds…
By John Van Horn
A woman worked as a supervisor in two parking garages in downtown Honolulu. Both it appears were owned by the city. She admitted to stealing nearly half a million dollars from the two garages – over $15,000 a month – but the city isn’t pushing for her to go to prison.
The reason is typical.
It seems the city didn’t realize that the money was being stolen (a whistle blower filled them in), and they really can’t prove it. Neither the city nor the operators had enough documentation to go back and support an audit, which would have proven the loss.
Oh, they know the money is gone. It’s pretty easy to figure out. Count the number of cars in the garage on an average week, or month, and figure the average amount of money that should have been paid per car, and do the math. OK, so you are off 20%. So what? At least you have a ballpark number. And that number is half a mil. Hell, maybe it was only $400k? It’s still grand theft.
However, if you have all the money stashed away, you can hire a pretty good lawyer. I can hear the conversation during the negotiations. It probably went something like “gee, if you don’t let my client walk, she can talk about what a shoddy job you civil servants did supervising the people’s money. That could go all the way to the mayor. I think I have the number of the Honolulu Advertiser right here in my Blackberry.”
And the rest is history. Our heroine moves to Japan and lives handily on her lucre, and in the end, get this, has to pay $200 a month restitution. She will be caught up in about 275 years. The judge wanted to give a stronger sentence, but the DA settled.
My auditor friends tell me that it is seldom seen to be in the best interest of the operator or the owner, whether it is the city or a private firm, to prosecute. Unless they set up a “sting” and get the cops involved, prosecutors don’t want the case, plus in these situations, everyone looks bad. Best to just fire the individual and let it go at that.
I think this is so much hooey. Until we put thieving employees in jail, we will continue to have thieving employees. If they know that the worst that will happen is a pink slip, why would they alter their behavior?
This is the kind of public relations that takes one hell of a lot of “good works” and “toy exchanges for citations” to counter.
West Palm Beach TV reports that booting companies are hitting cars in honor-box lots and booting cars that have paid.
Correspondent Mark writes: “Don’t have any firsthand knowledge of this particular situation, but once again the parking business gets a black eye in the press. Why don’t they ever publicize the positive things we do, like the thousands of dollars of parking we give away on a daily basis to charitable or civic groups; or change a customer’s flat tire in the rain; or stand alongside someone for an hour or more waiting for a locksmith because they locked their keys in the car? Maybe we need to start a parking PR group whose only job is to issue press releases every time someone in the industry does something good?
Come on, Mark – If it bleeds, it leads. No one wants to read about the parking attendant who was a good guy; they want to read about the ax murderer who worked on “P2” or about how customers were cheated, or how valets took cars on a joy ride.
The IPI has a program called “Parking Matters” that is trying to spread the good word. I wish them all the luck in the world. When they presented at the BOMA show, 15 people showed up to hear the speakers (one was me.) By the way, the speakers did an excellent job telling these building managers how to keep their parking operators from stealing from them.
There is no win for the parking industry; however, there are things we can do.
• Check our policies – be sure we aren’t setting rules that shoot us in the foot (e.g., writing tickets in the minute that the “free parking” time is up, having citations that are challenged automatically denied, etc., etc., etc.).
• In my business, the customer is always right. In the parking business, the customer is almost always wrong.
• Pay managers enough so we can get people who can make decisions that make sense and that protect our image as well as our incomes.
• Train, train, train. Our parking staffs must be consumer-centric, particularly in municipal and airport settings. Parkers should be considered customers, not people to be cited and towed.
You get the point. To change our image, we have to change it from within. One “toys for tickets” program at Christmas doesn’t erase the bad taste in the mouth of the person whose car was towed one minute after his meter expired.
Some Random Thoughts About Parking:
Many garage designs are bridges turned back on themselves.
• The weight of people, furniture, walls, and infrastructure in buildings is more per square foot than the weight of cars psf in a garage.
• Garages have structural problems and need more maintenance than buildings because they have no walls, and the elements that blow in or are carried in by the cars cause problems.
• For those of you who live in southern climes, many garages in the snow belt actually are heated.
• Garages need to be open so that exhaust fumes are expelled. Or they have to have large circulation fans to ensure people can breathe in them.
• If you stand in the lane and help people with their access cards or inserting their tickets in ticket acceptors, you will greatly increase the amount of time it takes to clear the garage.
• Most people would prefer to pay at a POF than pay on exit, although it would seem that pay on exit provides more service.
• Most women (and many men) would prefer to park on a surface lot than in a garage (they feel more secure.)
• Double-helix garages (I call them DNA garages) can be very confusing. You can park on floor 4, for instance, and return and go to floor 4 and not be able to find your car. These work fine for monthly garages where drivers can be trained on how to find their cars, but for visitors, they are the worst.
• I like garages with speed ramps – i.e., corkscrews outside the garage with exits on each floor. Once you are in the speed ramp, you can go all the way to the ground and exit. In garages that are a continuous ramp, there is always someone waiting for someone else blocking the lane and you are stuck.
• If you saw-cut a floor in a “post-tension” garage – that’s one poured over high-stress cables – and you “nick” a cable, the thing can snap and “curl” up with such force that it can cut through a car. However, if the cable is covered in hose-like plastic, it won’t.
• Engineers can find “spalling” – that is, rusting rebar – in garages by dragging chains over the concrete and listening for the differences in the resulting sound. They do this at night when the garage is empty, resulting in rumors of garage haunting.
• Putting salt on the entry way to garages may help with ice, but it also causes problems with the spalling (see above). Garages need to be washed down after storms.
• That’s enough.
Article Abstract from September, 2010