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Not reading sign(s) makes me an April fool

According to a new poll, people love public employees.

The survey, commissioned and released by Nevadans for Nevada, a union group, finds fully 61 percent of people have a “favorable” opinion of public employees, while just 11 percent have an “unfavorable” opinion.

And 41 percent say public employees are compensated the “right amount,” while 24 percent say its too high.

But I’m betting these people have never met city of Las Vegas Parking Enforcement officers.

Although the salaries, overtime and sick-leave abuse scandal swirling around the Clark County Fire Department has sullied the reputation of all public employees as lazy schemers looking to take the taxpayer for a quick buck (or 200,000), I pray for the day the Parking Enforcement officers stage a sick out.

Hey, guys: Take a week. You’ve earned it.

And boy, have they. The city of Las Vegas collected $4.2 million in parking fines in 2010, all thanks to the efforts of the men and women diligently patrolling downtown streets, carrying the Autocite handheld computer, which allows them to “issue computer generated tickets in a time-efficient manner.”

I’ll say: On a recent evening, a few friends of mine and I decided to dine downtown. For reasons passing understanding, the Plaza has decided to temporarily shutter the best new restaurant downtown, Firefly, while they renovate the hotel, so we repaired to the Golden Nugget instead.

I read the sign on the lamppost, which specified meter parking from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and paid accordingly. After dinner, at 6:10 p.m., I came out to find a member of the most diligent and hard-working corps of government employees using his Autocite to print me a ticket.

What gives, I demanded, pointing at the sign.

But he, too, pointed at the sign. Or should I say the series of signs, one of which specified that after 6 p.m., that space belonged to tour buses. (There were no tour buses within sight, of course, but those are the breaks.)

And my story isn’t unique: A friend just this week got a ticket outside The Beat, a hopping new coffeehouse downtown. Another was ticketed shortly after I was. The money the city gets from meters and fines is enough to pay for its army of officers, but not quite enough to pay debt service on several downtown parking garages.

The fascist nature of downtown parking has emerged as an issue in the mayor’s race, with some candidates calling for an end to metered parking downtown, regardless of the revenue. That may be going too far: Downtown business owners report that before metered parking was installed, cars could remain in front of their shops for days on end. But it doesn’t take a super genius to figure out a sensible compromise. Parking meters are fine for business areas, but they aren’t necessary throughout the rest of downtown.

Yes, there are plenty of free parking options, even downtown, such as casino garages. But that generally requires validation, and the garages are not as convenient as one might think.

For all the effort the city has put into reviving downtown under Mayor Oscar Goodman, the lack of free parking and the aggressive, no-mercy enforcement of parking rules is a major impediment. It will keep at least one would-be downtown visitor — me — thinking twice before coming back.

That’s lost revenue for bars and restaurants and other businesses downtown.

As for my ticket, I paid it, the princely sum of $35. I failed to read the sign, and I was in violation. So invest that 35 bucks wisely, Las Vegas. You won’t be getting any more from me anytime soon.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. His column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at (702) 387-5276 or at ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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