Three Decades of Changes
Delora Siebrecht retired this year after nearly 30 years of service to the city of Urbana, IL. She has graciously offered to write about her experiences “growing up” in parking. This is the first of a two-part article. Editor
In 1981, I accepted a job as the Finance Department Office Supervisor for the city of Urbana. The department handled all revenues, expenses, payroll, parking rentals and parking tickets. I knew nothing about parking and had no idea what was really involved in managing parking.
Early in my first week of employment, I got an idea of what was to come when I helped a citizen at the counter who was upset at receiving a parking ticket. I was totally surprised at the encounter.
To understand my surprise, you have to know my personal and work background. For the previous 13 years, I had worked at a small, privately owned hometown bank. I began working there in my senior year in high school through an office practice class. I eventually worked my way from accounting, teller supervisor and secretary to bank officer.
I grew up in the town and knew all our customers. The customer was always right, and relations were warm and friendly. We all had our special customers who wanted only their special banking person to wait on them. Ah, everything was warm and fuzzy with my customers.
Holy smoke! This small-town gal was set back on her heels by that first irate citizen I helped with a parking ticket. What happened to warm and fuzzy customer relations – I couldn’t make all citizens happy, and they were yelling and red in the face and just downright mean to me.
I thought, OK, Delora, pull yourself together, you aren’t in Kansas anymore, I mean Tolono, IL. You are in Oz, I mean the city of Urbana. Well, it took a little bit, but I did adjust to the big city and the world of parking.
Here are some of my favorite personal moments in my parking life:
• 1981 – The aforementioned citizen yelling at me. Boo-hoo, poor me.
• Dog poop as payment in a ticket envelope.
• 1987 – Meeting my yet unknown husband-to-be in court. I had the sheriff arrest him because he was a parking scofflaw. We married in 1996. Today, he still gets tickets; some people you just can’t convert to law-abiding parking citizens.
• Used condom as payment in a parking ticket. We started using gloves when opening envelopes; years later, there was the anthrax scare.
• 1995 – Attending my first IPI conference in Nashville. I will never forget walking from one session to another in the Opryland Hotel and seeing the Oklahoma City bombing TV news coverage.
• The infamous “Penny Lady” unwrapped $97 in pennies in our parking lot and dragged them into our office as payment for tickets. I didn’t want to accept them, but she did a sit-in in our lobby, and the City Attorney eventually said just take the payment. Grumble, grumble …
• 2000 – OMG, we caught a thief in meter collection. My job duties will change significantly.
• Late 2000 – We convert to Duncan electronic meters, Cash Keys and meter audits. In addition to parking tickets, I am assigned the supervision of meter keys, meter collections, monthly meter audit, revenue accounting and reporting.
• 2001 IPI – Shaking Wayne Newton’s hand at the Stardust in Las Vegas and having him say thank you for coming; touring Liberace’s Museum (am I showing my age?). And, the last nightly trip to a Caesar’s Palace cocktail lounge after taking a helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon.
• Sending delinquent parking ticket notices to Michael Jordan’s son. He attended the U of I University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – we did collect.
• 2004 – Attending IPI in New Orleans; meeting Gennifer Flowers (Bill Clinton’s ex-girlfriend) at her restaurant & piano bar, shook her hand too; then in 2005, watching on TV the devastation that hurricane Katrina wrought to New Orleans and remembering our visit to the city the year before.
All of the IPI and PIE conferences that I have attended throughout the years have been educational and fun. I met a lot of great people and helpful contacts – one of the best resources you can have.
OK, back to my job. Urbana has a population of 40,000 and Champaign, our sister city, 75,000, making an overall urban population of more than 115,000 people. Home of the U of I, the Urbana-Champaign population grows a good 30,000 when school is in session.
When I began work in 1981, my Municipal Collector’s Office staff consisted of two clerk cashiers, one half-time secretary and the office supervisor (me). Today, the only change is a full-time office assistant (former half- time secretary).
My memories of those early years have to do with data entry, data entry, data entry, and handling and filing lots of pieces of paper. At that time, Police Officers and Parking Enforcement Officers hand-wrote the tickets.
This is how tickets were processed back then:
Receive the previous day’s tickets; put in numerical order; enter each ticket into our mainframe database; file tickets in pending-payment file cabinets; process each ticket payment (payments were received by fine box, mail and at the office service counter, with most paid in cash as the initial meter violation fine was $2.); ticket payment envelopes were put in numerical order; the corresponding original paper tickets were pulled from the files; each envelope was opened with a manual letter opener (later on we bought an electric letter opener that saved a lot of time); the original ticket was stamped with the amount paid; ticket payments and money were each totaled and balanced; each ticket payment was entered into our database; and filed tickets in “paid” file cabinets.
We touched each ticket no less than 10 times. At that time, we were issuing around 70,000 tickets a year. Meters were enforced Monday through Saturday, and office hours were Monday through Friday. On Mondays, the number of tickets to process was huge. At the same time, we were handling customers at the counter and phone calls. Mondays were a madhouse.
In 1979, we converted the tracking of parking tickets to an IBM System 3, Model 4, and thought ourselves pretty high-tech. This initial mainframe purchase, and a contract with an RPG programmer, set the tone for the city’s future use of home-grown computer programs for, among others, police records, payroll, tax billings – and parking tickets.
Delora Siebrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. At a June 7 Urbana City Council meeting, the Mayor proclaimed June 11, 2010, as “Delora Siebrecht Day in honor of her service to the City in the Finance Department.”
Note: Part 2 of “Three Decades of Changes” tells of how personal computers and microprocessors have changed parking operations.