Montclair NJ the next Scranton?

Posted: December 6, 2012 in Government, Local, New Jersey, Parking, State
Tags: , , , , , ,

At least when it comes to their parking authorities. I already detailed the fiasco of the city of Scranton and how their mismanaged and allegedly corrupt parking authority dragged the entire city into near bankruptcy, but unfortunately Scranton is not the only city to suffer from a bad parking authority. Yesterday, the city council of Montclair, NJ voted to disband their parking authority and turn over control of the city’s parking to the city council (who will in all likelihood contract out the control to a parking management company) after a scathing report commissioned by the city council. On top of that, in mid-October the State of New Jersey announced they were doing an investigation into the MPA and its finances going back to 2007. So just what was going on to prompt all of this?

Well, there’s a laundry list of reasons. Despite accusations of the council’s report being a “hatchet job”, the numbers don’t lie. The parking authority had virtually no budgetary controls or oversight; they held cash for the authority in an unsecured office, which led to more than $1300 of it going missing; until just a few months ago, the MPA commissioners were completely unaware that not one but two different parking decks were THREE YEARS behind on their utilities bills, which now amount to $100,000 each; they have no purchase order or expense system, no financial controls, and no materials requisition system; a full 10% of the city’s meters were consistently broken; and multiple outside audits found that the MPA was violating state law by not having a purchaser/voucher system in place due to “management being unaware of the requirement”, an excuse which I believe only works after the FIRST audit pointing that out, not the second.

You can call that a hatchet job if you like, but in my experience pointing to your head and saying “It’s all in here” is not the most effective or reliable way to run a business, let alone a multi-million dollar parking authority. And despite claiming that the reports are untrue, the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Treasurer of the parking commission all resigned in short order just ahead of the state finance board approving the dissolution of the MPA; hard not to think that the rats are fleeing the sinking ship. Unlike Scranton, it doesn’t appear that it was corruption and cronyism that brought down the MPA so much as just laziness and a laissez faire management approach by the commissioners. Considering that part of what triggered the state’s investigation into the MPA was their travel expenses, you get the distinct impression that at least some of the commissioners were just enjoying the free ride on the city’s tab for as long as it lasted.

As the state’s investigation continues and the city goes through the process of dismantling and cataloguing the MPA, I’m sure more details will emerge  so that we get a more complete picture of what went wrong and who is ultimately accountable, but even without that future insight it’s clear that the city council is making the right move. $200,000 in unpaid bills is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s a far cry from the millions that the the Scranton Parking Authority was saddled with. By taking these steps now, the city of Montclair is saving themselves from being added to the list of communities dragged down by their parking services. Hopefully, other cities will learn from these examples and not wait until something goes wrong or a debt collector shows up at a city doorstep thanks to their parking authority; you can’t operate without oversight, even if it is something as mundane as parking! Just like a private enterprise can’t operate without oversight and budget control, public sector “businesses” like parking authorities can’t either. And yet as I’ve shown, time after time they are allowed to run wild with an entire city on the hook for any mistakes they make.

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Comments
  1. […] Montclair the next Scranton? (itsjustparking.wordpress.com) […]

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  4. Kelly says:

    So, the residents (specifically renters!) are being unfairly punished for the city’s mismanagement by having their pocketbooks squeezed so tightly for parking fees because pre-war buildings were built without parking lots? That’s fair! Montclair is a joke and its run by old cronies who think their sh*t don’t stink. I’m out as soon as my lease is up. I’ll take my yuppie dollars elsewhere.

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