How did your last interaction with city government go? Visit us at www.thecityhowl.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 215-854-5855.
THE PROBLEM. Rich Colaianni got a parking ticket and paid it. Then he found out he didn't deserve it, and set out to get his money back.
Colaianni, a recent cancer survivor, was in town for a doctor's appointment in November 2009. He parked his car on South 11th Street near Jefferson Hospital.
A few months later, he got a notice from the city saying he hadn't paid a parking ticket from that day. Though Colaianni said he hadn't seen a ticket on his windshield, a parking enforcement officer had written him up for having an expired muni-meter ticket.
Colaianni paid the $56.98. But after talking with a friend who's a Philadelphia police officer, he learned he shouldn't have gotten the ticket at all since the city gives handicapped drivers an extra hour of free parking beyond the time they pay for.
Colaianni is handicapped, and has a placard in his car saying so.
Colaianni had gotten back to his car less than an hour after the meter ran out. He figured he'd try to get a refund.
You'd think that would be easy.
Colaianni first wrote to the city about this matter in January.
He got letters back from the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication (BAA) - which handles ticket appeals like this - asking for a copy of his handicapped placard and other information to prove he was entitled to the time extension.
Colaianni sent everything in.
And then he waited.
And waited. And waited.
Whenever Colaianni called to check on the status of his appeal, he said city operators told him they were still looking into his claims - though they never explained why it took 10 months to determine whether he was entitled to a refund.
"Every time, they tell me call back in two months," he said.
Though he contends the money isn't important to him, the whole process has gotten him really "aggravated," and he's standing on principle.
We called up the Parking Authority to ask why Colaianni had gotten a ticket in the first place.
Spokeswoman Linda Miller said that parking enforcement officers sometimes miss handicapped placards when they write tickets - they aren't always displayed prominently enough.
Though she isn't sure, she suspects that's what happened in Colaianni's case because there's nothing in the Parking Authority's records to indicate that the officer saw his placard.
She did confirm, however, that Colaianni shouldn't have been ticketed in the first place.
As for the resounding silence from the city regarding Colaianni's appeal, Jeremiah Connors, the BAA director, admitted, "We kind of screwed it up.
"He basically got everything to us that we requested in January, and we proceeded to drop the ball," he said.
Though Connors isn't sure why that happened, he speculates it had something to do with the fact that Colaianni is trying to get a refund from the city rather than contesting an unpaid ticket, like most of the BAA's cases.
By paying the ticket, Colaianni technically admitted fault, and so Connors thinks he might have gotten lost in the city's computer system. His case didn't show up on reports of open appeals because the money the city was owed was zero.
Connors, who took over as head of the BAA only a few weeks ago, said he needs to look through the city's records to see if other appeals are stuck in the same limbo.
As for Colaianni, his appeal was reviewed, and on Saturday he received a letter from the city apologizing and promising to cut him a check for $56.98.
PROMISES KEPT. We've got some good news to report on the vacant-lot front.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about Betty Purvis (www.philly.com/philly/blogs/our-money/Lots_and_lots_of_dirty_lots.html), who has a vacant lot next door that's been causing her problems up in Brewerytown.
The city had cleaned up the lot, which was overgrown, and had begun the legal process of removing an old truck that had become a magnet for short-dumping.
Purvis called about two weeks ago to say that someone from the city had come by and towed the truck. Congrats, Ms. Purvis.
SPEAKING OF VACANT LOTS . . . We've also gotten questions about what resources the city offers to residents who want to take matters into their own hands and clean the vacant lots in their neighborhood without waiting for the city to do it.
Anyone interested in doing that - or in running any other kind of neighborhood cleanup - should contact the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, which will provide residents with supplies like rakes and brooms.
It will also schedule a trash pickup after the cleanup.
Residents can call 215-686-0000 (yes, four zeroes!) or visit phila.gov/qualityoflife for more information. Click on the Community Partnership Program link at the bottom of the page to schedule a cleanup.