Wheat Ridge Mayor Jerry DiTullio recently vetoed an ordinance that would have significantly lowered the fines levied against persons who illegally park in handicapped-designated spaces.
DiTullio's sharply-worded veto letter came the day after the two-term mayor shared a testy exchange over the issue with a city council member, which occurred at the end of a June 10 council meeting.
The veto came on the heels of the council passing an amendment to an ordinance that would have lowered the fines tied to handicapped parking offenses to a flat penalty of $150.
That's considerably less than the current fine schedule, which starts at $350, and can go as high as $1,000.
The council's vote brought the body full-circle to a consensus that it had reached during a recent study session. But that was before members instead approved a measure to set the fine at a flat rate of $300 for each offense, during a preliminary vote at a previous council meeting.
But, during the June 10 meeting, a majority of the council voted to amend the ordinance to set the fine at $150.
During the meeting, Wheat Ridge Police Chief Daniel Brennan acknowledged that even a $150 fine is at the "upper end" of penalties imposed by surrounding jurisdictions. And, city court administrator Kersten Armstrong cautioned that if fines are set too high, more people would contest their tickets in person, which would take up more court resources.
Councilwoman Tracy Langworthy expressed concern that the handicapped parking penalty is not proportional to those other vehicle-involved violations, such as speeding in a school zone, which carries with it a $240 fine.
"I have a hard time saying … charge more to the person who parks illegally, than the person who can hurt someone," Langworthy said.
Councilors Joseph DeMott and Mike Stites voted against setting the fines at $150.
Stites said that the fine needs to be higher, and that he thinks it's "pretty schmucky" for an able-bodied person to park in a handicap spot.
The council session ended with a frustrated DiTullio engaging in a testy exchange with Langworthy, during which he vowed to veto the ordinance.
In his formal veto letter, DiTullio said that the amended ordinance "is not in the best interest of our community."
"This ordinance, as passed, sends the wrong message about our commitment to people with disabilities in our community," DiTullio wrote.
The mayor also accused "certain members" of the council of being more concerned with "winning the vote" and "'sticking it'" to other council members, rather than making good public policy.
"Compromise is not in their vernacular," the mayor wrote. DiTullio did not specify in the letter which council members to whom he was alluding.
DiTullio also wrote in the letter that he would be supportive of a compromise that would lower the fine to $240, "which would mirror the speeding in a school zone fine."
The council adopted a tiered fines schedule last year, which puts in place penalties that range from $350 to a maximum penalty of $1,000 for illegal handicapped parking.
The council looked into changing the fines schedule this year because the tiered system has proven difficult to implement.