Unethical City of West Hollywood Collection Practices

Rohit Khare (rohit@fdr.ICS.uci.edu)
Tue, 05 Jan 1999 18:10:45 -0800

To: "Rose" (Supervisor #85)
Unknown, Inc.
Box 2030
Tustin, CA 92781

Cc: Charlie Makinney - City Manager, West Hollywood
Joan English - Director, Department of Transportation, West Hollywood
Penrose Vittatoe - Parking Manager, West Hollywood
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Weekly
Orange County Weekly

Re: Citation 19123974

The City of West Hollywood's secretive Tustin-based parking fine
contractor is engaged in an (at best) unethical collection practice:
it will cash any check sent in by any citizen for any reason -- and
even if a citation is already paid, apply service charges and
penalties for the duplicate payment to the original citation.

Driving a Maryland-registered vehicle, I was cited on 10/2/98 for $39.
I paid this promptly on 10/8, and the full amount was deposited into
the City of West Hollywood's Parking Fine Account on 10/14, closing
the matter.

The city's private contractor *then* mailed a notice that the citation
had not been paid to the vehicle owner in Maryland, who then promptly
wrote a check for the full amount again. A stop payment order from the
Maryland bank was applied -- at a cost of $20 -- because of this
erroneous notice.

By their own admission, they do not check the citation number written
on the check before blindly depositing it -- whether closed or open,
valid or canceled, paid by a legitimate vehicle owner or not. Since it
was returned because of a stop-payment order, they then blindly
applied a $25 fee to my original payment, then called it overdue and
doubled the amount, and then sent a notice demanding an additonal $66
for their unethical double-deposit.

Rather than admit any wrongdoing, the contractor cited their right
under the language printed on the original citation by "the City of
West Hollywood's lawyers" that they could apply a service charge to a
check returned for "any reason."

To the degree they can hide behind the language hidden on the citation
-- which they would not furnish a copy of -- it is City of West
Hollywood's lawyers who are ultimately responsible.

The contractor insisted this clause is standard practice with the many
cities it processes parking violations for.

Note that this process has no safeguards. If I see a neighbor's car
ticketed, I can keep sending in fraudulent checks, and the penalties
will pile up on the named citation. I can make up citation numbers and
mail in a hundred checks ruining others' reputations. The process
presumes guilt over innocence!

Furthermore, the unnamed contractor insisted that though it worked on
behalf of a public agency, they would not say who they were, nor who
their contact in the City of West Hollywood was, nor any public
official with oversight on the process. To quote:"Sorry, I can't tell
you that information because of a confidentiality agreement with the
City of West Hollywood." I find it hard to believe a public agency can
hide such information from its citizens.

For brevity's sake, I've elided the garden-variety customer abuse:
touch-tone gell from a company serving several California cities'
fines; insistence that I had bounced a check rather than stopping
payment; and clerk's inability to accept that the *first* check had
cashed and the *second* was returned. Nor an apology, much less a
prompt rectification of the matter. Instead, I am stuck sending in a
letter to beg for "Rose"'s mercy while responsiblity ping-pongs back
and forth between them and the City.

I am appalled to see civic government, hiding behind secretive
corporations and the state's power to ruin a driving/title record,
using the kind of Orwellian business practices that would leave a
citizen behind bars.

A private corporation, on the other hand, could be trusted to refund a
second payment, obviating the need for a stop payment in the first
place. Damages, including lost time and aggravation, only *begin* with
the out-of-pocket losses dealing with this bureaucracy.


Rohit Khare
3207 Palo Verde
Irvine, CA 92612
626 806 7574