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Travis employees sound off over plans to change parking rules

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Travis County Commissioners recently found out that the quickest way to rile Texans is to mess with their ability to buy or sell a gun. Court members may have found out Tuesday that the second quickest way to upset them is to mess with their parking spaces.


Commissioners got an earful from a number of constituents over their imposing a requirement to perform background checks on all transactions on county property at the Saxet Gun Show. This time around, it was a number of county employees sounding off over the possibility of losing their assigned parking spaces.


Travis County is considering changing its employee parking system from individually assigned reserved spaces with a waitlist to a system of zoned parking for all county-owned parking facilities in the Central Business District.


County officials say the proposed plan would eliminate the current system, considered to be both inefficient and inequitable, and add an incentive program for county employees to give up their parking space and use a car pool or public transportation.


County staff gave out information on the proposed changes to employees last week and they heard a wide variety of responses.


“We got a little bit of everything,” said Mark Gilbert with the Planning and Budget Department. “We certainly heard from employees with individually assigned parking spaces who very much enjoy having an individual space, knowing where that space is and having that as a benefit of long-term employment with the county. We also heard from employees who currently do not have parking and say it is a very large burden for them.”


The plan, proposed by Pct. 2 Commissioner Bruce Todd, would affect employees that work in the Central Business District. This includes county employees who work at 700 Lavaca, Granger, Rusk, USB, the Courts complex, Central Booking, the Executive Office Building, Palm Square and the Medical Examiner’s facility who park in the 700 Lavaca, Granger and San Antonio garages, surface lots, or in spaces in private garages that the County leases for employees.


Sixteen county employees addressed the Commissioners about the parking. Many of those who spoke were from public safety agencies such as the Travis County Attorney’s or District Attorney’s office.


Donna Crosby, a prosecutor with the County Attorney’s office, said for people with a job like hers, a designated parking spot was not just a job benefit but a matter of personal safety.


“My job, by its very nature, makes people unhappy,” she said. “Over the years I’ve been a prosecutor, there have been prosecutors murdered, usually going to their cars. And we’ve had threats made against us at the courthouse. If I leave the building for lunch or some other reason, I am going to be put in the position of finding where my car is in that lot. … I just think it’s not a good thing to do as far as rewarding longevity and also for prosecutor’s safety.”


One prosecutor in the County Attorney’s office made an emotional plea to Commissioners to keep her assigned parking space.


“I became a prosecutor and a lawyer after being a crime victim.” said Barbara Misle, chief of the office’s Mental Health Division. “I was raped while I was in college by a man known as the ‘choker rapist’ who raped 13 other women. He saw me at a gas station and decided to follow me home, and wait all night to break in. So I come from that perspective. I travel to places all over the county and I don’t want to have to look for a different parking spot every time I return.”


Carol Guthrie, business manager for Local 1624 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees told Commissioners said she disagreed with Commissioner Todd’s assertion that Travis was the only county that provides individual parking and that they were “out of step.”


“I believe that you are ahead of the rest by providing this benefit to your employees,” she said. “And unfortunately, employees do see this as a benefit. Some of these employees have waited a long time to get their parking spot and to get off the waitlist. And now we’re going to say ‘Too bad. We’ve got a new system in place.’ That’s not fair.”


The proposed plan would offer the opportunity for county employees to give up their county parking privileges in exchange for $100 per month. They would be encouraged to use public transportation or some other means of coming to work that would eliminate the need for a parking spot.


County Judge Sam Biscoe, having listened to more than an hour of comments, said the item would be back on the Commissioners’ agenda in two weeks.

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