Security or Convenience?
Next time you visit the Rhode Island State House be sure and pack a pair of walking shoes. That's because two dozen metered parking spots for the public on Smith Street are now `reserved' - for people who work inside the building and are being displaced from parking in the circle adjacent to the front of the State House. This week Jim Hummel finds out why the state changed the parking - and he tries to determine who scored a select spot.
During the legislative session, getting a parking space at the State House can be challenging.
That challenge just got a little tougher.
That's because two dozen parking spaces - which used to be metered and available to the public - are now reserved, assigned to employees who work for the general officers, the House and Senate, and even the media.
``Our main concerns are safety and security and we brought it to the forefront.''
State Police Lt. David Palmer was assigned to oversee the Capitol Police here 15 months ago. He says too many cars were clogging up what's known as the horseshoe around the entrance to the State House. Palmer was concerned about rescue vehicles not being able to get through - and who was parking on Smith Street between the State House, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Administration building.
Palmer: ``We have to be diligent in these times. There are people that don't like the government so this gives us the ability to monitor people out here for any length of time.''
Hummel: ``Do you really have a concern about somebody sitting out on Smith Street - plotting against something at the State House?''
Palmer: ``I think the State Police and the Capitol Police would be derelict in their duty if we don't take every precaution we can to prevent some disaster from happening.''
So six months ago a committee formed to determine where the people being displaced would park. Twenty-three spots on the street were converted from meters into reserved spaces. The speaker's office ultimately determined who got how many spots - but we had a hard time getting specifics. Capitol Police are now responsible for enforcement - a violation carries an $85 fine. But Lt. Palmer declined to provide The Hummel Report the list, referring us to the speaker's office.
The speaker's chief of staff said he does not have a master list and that each office allocated spaces determines who gets one.
Hummel: ``You understand this is political also?''
Palmer: ``I don't look at it as political because if anything...''
Hummel: ``Well the House Speaker's Chief of Staff is controlling who gets it. That automatically makes it political doesn't it?''
Palmer: ``If you recognize how many people we displaced from this horseshoe, believe me we've displaced a lot of people who would probably prefer to park on the horseshoe.''
Davis: ``There is no parking. Period. ''
Hummel: ``So where did you park?''
Davis: ``I had to park in a loading zone.''
Guy Davis had the dual challenge this week of trying to pay his taxes at the Department of Administration building and (of) finding a parking spot somewhere near the building. He was clearly irked by what he encountered.
Hummel: ``Across the street they've taken all of those spots, you see it says reserve, reserve, reserve? Those used to be public meters.''
Davis: ``There's no cars there.''
Hummel: ``What do you think about that?''
Davis: ``That's ridiculous - the state's always crying. The city needs to them money for this and that, put the meters back! Let the people park. Then there's the handicapped. You think there's only four handicapped people in the state? I don't think so.''
Lt. Palmer says there are meters on streets surrounding the State House and the public can park in the D.O.T lot across the street or the lot in the back of the Department of Administration building. But even during a week when the legislature is off, we found the parking...tight.
Hummel: ``So your message to the person who says. `Oh this is just political and they're taking care of their own,' what do you say to that?"
Palmer: `` I say I don't believe that's the case. Our mentality is always security and safety will always come before convenience.''
Hummel: ``If you really wanted to secure the perimeter wouldn't you just eliminate all 23 of those spots. Was that every discussed? To say no parking on this side?''
Palmer: ``I don't think that's feasible and I don't think that's prudent. There are parking spots as long as we're comfortable with the people parking there are not subversive people.''
Hummel: ``Have all those people been vetted? All 23?''
Palmer: ``The people that have placards right now, we have looked at. We recognize who they are and are comfortable with them parking there.
Hummel: ``Background checks?''
Palmer: ``We do our own background checks.''
Hummel: ``Would it surprise you if I told you those parking spots went to some preferred people who work inside the building?''
Davis: ``I know they do, I know they do. Just those preferred people, but you try parking there and see what happens, you come out and your car is gone.''
Hummel: ``The Capitol Police say they realize there will be an adjustment period, but by the end of month if there are people parking in these spots who shouldn't be here, they're going to get a ticket.
In Providence, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.