Dive Bar owners Gary Marcotte and Cody Cole have racked up almost $2,500 in parking fines at the meters outside their business in the last year and a half (and that's not including the staff). At $32 a ticket, it hasn't been easy. They blame vindictive parking enforcement officials.
The parking meters outside the bar on Galt Ocean Mile are finicky. They only accept coins, and with a three-hour limit, they are designed to keep beach-goers from taking up parking spaces designated for patrons. On the other hand, they leave small business owners like Marcotte and Cole and their staff, who work shifts longer than three hours, drowning in fines.
Marcotte has tried to secure parking permits, but whenever he calls the city, none are available in his area, he contends. And he claims, other businesses owners in the area suspiciously seem to have handicapped permits that allow them to park at the meters for free.
"Go walk outside and see for yourself," Marcotte says, rolling his eyes. "Everyone parked on the street [at a meter] has a handicapped decal."
Clean Plate Charlie called the Fort Lauderdale Parking Enforcement to inquire about the situation. A woman who would give her name only as "Kim" said only one permit is available for the month of September in Galt Ocean area. The Dive Bar has a staff of 14.
None of them qualify for a handicapped decal, Marcotte adds.
Even if The Dive Bar owner bought the one permit for September (which costs $37.10 a month), it would expire by October, and he would have to go through the process again. According to Parking Enforcement, there is usually a wait list and permits cannot be guaranteed from one month to the next.
Marcotte and Cole are perturbed by the unrelenting ticket fines, but they are even more concerned about the financial burden these ticket fines place on their staff. Waiters, bartenders and cooks, after all, are usually too busy to run out in the middle of their shifts to pay the meters. (Patrons are less of a concern. They usually don't stay more than three hours.)
"We all have gotten tickets," The Dive Bar bartender Jo-Jo sighs. "The cooks, servers, everyone. It has a three-hour limit and if I got the bar full, I can't leave and go put coins in the meter at the same time."
The meters expire at 6 p.m. and Marcotte and his staff have never received a ticket after that hour. However, citations have been issued at 5:44 p.m. and 5:47 p.m. "We have a contest amongst customers and employees to see who gets the tickets closest to 6 p.m. that day," Marcotte says.
According to Marcotte, the parking war started in late 2011, when he complained about construction workers parking and sleeping in their cars next to the meters in front of his bar. He noticed that meter maids weren't ticketing them even though they weren't paying for parking.
"I saw they weren't putting money in the meter and spending like 10 hours at a time at these meters," Marcotte said. "I asked why they weren't being ticketed and someone told me that contractors didn't have to pay, and that meter maids were told not to give them tickets."
Marcotte then called parking enforcement to complain. Allegedly a man named Hector said he couldn't help, and warned Marcotte against appealing to the city manager. When Marcotte told him he would, Hector ominously replied that Marcotte would regret doing so.
Calls to the parking office to confirm the story were unsuccessful.
It isn't the first time Fort Lauderdale's parking enforcement specialists have been accused of intimidating civilians. According to the Sun Sentinel, two parking enforcement officers were fired after an internal investigation found they had issued a bogus ticket after an altercation in May 2009. Allegedly Parking Enforcement Specialist Thankachan Kanjookaran got into an argument with the motorist, Alfredo Chulluncuy, and then called on his buddy, Byju Varughese, also a parking enforcement specialist, to issue a fraudulent ticket in retaliation.
After being interviewed, Marcotte called back this writer to say he fears that speaking out will only make matters worse for his employees. "For me it's a game with them," Marcotte says. "But I can afford it. At a bartender's wage, a $32 fine every shift is a lot. I don't want them getting any more tickets than they get already."
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