West U Resident Demands Jury Trial for Parking Violation
A West U resident has requested that a jury of her peers decide the outcome of a municipal citation for parking on a sidewalk.
Suzanne Penley, who lives in the 4200 block of Rice Boulevard, was ticketed by the city on June 20 after receiving several warnings about parking on the sidewalk.
Parking on a sidewalk is prohibited in the State of Texas.
Penley lives in a 1930s West U home with a single car garage. She owns two SUV’s that she routinely parks in her driveway. Penley says that her garage is too small to park one of her vehicles in it and she prefers not to park on the street because she’s afraid that her vehicle will get damaged or burglarized.
“I’m not disputing the fact that I parked on the sidewalk,” she said. “I just want to park my car in my driveway. I want what every other resident has, the option to park in their driveway.”
The city launched a Parking Etiquette Program last October, which was the result of three town hall meetings and deliberation by city council.
The purpose of the program is to encourage a friendlier approach to enforcement and better parking practices.
Code Enforcement Officer Daniel Paripovich has written 324 parking related first-time warnings. Of those, 257 were issued for parking on a sidewalk. He has written 25 parking tickets and one ticket for parking on a sidewalk.
Penley received her first warning by Paripovich on April 1. A second warning was issued on a second vehicle in her driveway on June 3 and a third warning was issued on June 12.
Penley sent three e-mails to the city during that time through the city’s Parking Etiquette web page, but says she never received any response back. The city’s Code Enforcement division said that they were unaware of any e-mails she sent.
On June 17, Penley received a phone call from Paripovich and City Planner Debbie Scarcella who spent nearly half an hour answering questions and suggesting ways to widen Penley’s driveway.
Scarcella encouraged Penley to look into widening her driveway and suggested she meet with Chief Building Official John Brown on the best way to do it, according to the recorded conversation on file with the city.
Penley said that she was going to look into having pavers laid in the grass next to her driveway so she could park in her driveway, which is permitted by the city.
In the recording, Penley asks Paripovich if he can stop issuing notices while she takes care of the problem. He tells her that he cannot.
“You cannot park on the sidewalk ever,” he said. “Period.”
Paripovich followed up with Penley on June 18 saying that he would give her until Monday, June 24 to resolve her parking situation. While parking on the grass is against city ordinance, he said he would allow her to park there until the following Monday.
On June 20, Paripovich drove past Penley’s home and her vehicle was parked on the sidewalk. He issued a citation for parking on the sidewalk.
Penley says she came home for half an hour and was going to leave shortly when she came out and found the ticket.
The following day, Penley met with Brown and received a permit for installing pavers along her driveway, which are currently in place.
Penley was scheduled to appear in West U Municipal Court on July 16. When she went to court, Penley says the prosecutor didn’t even look at the documents she brought with her and said she had two choices, to pay the $75 fine or have a trial by judge or jury. She chose a jury trial.
“I was shocked when they wouldn’t dismiss it,” she said. “It’s not about the money. It’s the principal.”
City Secretary Thelma Lenz says the city may only have two or three jury trials a year; only when a defendant requests one. The jury pool is selected from the city’s voter registration and summons are sent to residents, she said.
Penley says she supports the city’s parking etiquette program and understands that she was in violation.
“I understand, but work with me,” she said. “I don’t want to be used as a poster child to prove to the rest of the city that this is how it’s going to be done.”
Penley is scheduled to appear in court for pre-jury motions on Aug. 27.