As for the category of bad ideas that didn’t come from a consultant, we have to give the grand prize to Graham’s police chief Kristy Cole Baker.
We discovered her most absurd idea when this newspaper’s publisher pulled out into traffic along a busy stretch of South Main Street near city hall several weeks ago.
Lo and behold, in the traffic lane ahead was the little three-wheeled vehicle used by the downtown traffic enforcement officer (known in past years as a “meter maid”).
That role now belongs to Dan Varone, who was hired earlier this year to serve as a part-time parking enforcement officer for the Graham police department.
He can often be seen marking tires in the downtown area to enforce the city’s two-hour parking limit.
We’re sure he’s a nice enough fellow, but let us confess at the outset that we very much question the need for such a tax-funded position at all.
It seems to us that tax dollars could be much better spent on a host of other services, either for Graham’s police department or elsewhere in city government. Neither Mebane nor Burlington, as we understand it, currently employs such a person.
[And, further full disclosure, several of the newspaper’s employees here have been cited for exceeding the two-hour limit, and issued a $10 ticket, over the course of Varone’s tenure. That doesn’t influence our opinion, but there you have it.]
But our skepticism of such an expenditure would continue to grow.
We followed the little vehicle far beyond the downtown area as it went south of the interstate, ultimately turning into the shopping center area anchored by Carlie C’s grocery store and Wendy’s fast-food restaurant.
What, we wondered, was a city vehicle ostensibly used for downtown parking enforcement doing so far down South Main Street? And why was it going through the parking lot of private businesses in this shopping center?
The city has no parking jurisdiction in private parking lots. He merely rode through the parking lot, ultimately exiting back onto South Main Street.
[Editorial continues below photos.]
Our curiosity raised, we kept following the little vehicle as it proceeded farther down South Main Street, next pulling into the shopping center anchored by Food Lion.
Finally, we pulled up beside the traffic officer, to ask why in the world he was “patrolling” in private parking lots over which he has no parking enforcement authority whatsoever.
Varone said he had been instructed to do so by his superiors. So we proceeded to ask questions up the line, ultimately talking with the police chief herself.
She proceeded to justify these excursions down Main Street as offering “another set of eyes” to keep watch over Graham. Now, keep in mind that Varone is not a sworn officer, has no arrest authority, no service weapon, etc.
Then, more practically, she confessed that since the parking tickets can be issued only in two-hour increments, she needed to find something else for him to do in his 4½ to 5 hour shifts each day. (He works no more than $19 hours each week, she said, at an hourly rate of $12.74, thus an annual tally of something over $12,000.)
While that’s “not much,” in terms of overall city expenditures (in the eyes of bureaucrats who spend millions), it seems to us that it might be $12,000 too much.
Now, chief Baker went on to extol to us the virtues of Varone’s interactions with downtown business people (he’s expected to go in to downtown business), his reporting on homeless vagrants in the downtown area, looking for anything “suspicious,” and his “visibility” in the South Main Street parking lot excursions. All in all, she said it was to be have the police being “preventative rather than just reactive.”
The one substantive possibility she listed for him on these extended forays down South Main Street was to observe and cite any violations of handicapped parking in the two privately-owned grocery store parking lots.
So, chief, just how many violations has he discovered? When we talked to her – granted more than a month ago – there had been none during his first two weeks making the rounds.
Somehow, we think surely Graham has better purposes for which to spend any amount of money.
We guess the main consolation we take it that at least it didn’t cost thousands of tax dollars for a consultant to come up with this silly idea.