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Commissioners approve new county parking plan

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Mark Richardson

After a long and sometimes emotional hearing Tuesday, a divided Travis County Commissioners Court approved a new parking program that did not include a “loyalty” zone reserved mainly for long-term employees. Under the new plan, many employees would lose their reserved spaces, but all would have access to a specific parking zone.

The court voted 3-2 to approve the plan, which will provide parking zones in the various Travis County parking facilities for most employees, with a short waitlist. (See Austin Monitor, Aug. 22.)

Commissioners Margaret Gomez and Ron Davis opposed the adoption of the plan, instead backing a plan that would have “grandfathered” employees with assigned spaces and awarded spaces to other employees based on seniority. A few dozen county employees sat in the Commission Chambers, holding signs backing “Plan B,” which includes the loyalty zone.

Gomez argued that the new plan fails to recognize the needs of many county employees.

“I don’t have a problem with change, but there are some things that we need to look up, and I did do some looking up at the best practices for parking policies. And never does it say that you leave out people who have worked with you for a long time,” she said. “People who have been loyal or people who have special needs. That is not part of the best practice regulations, as far as I could see.”

Gomez said numerous employees have specific needs for an assigned parking space, and others have simply earned having one through their loyalty to the county.

“I just believe that there’s more dedication to the job than looking for a parking space. And that’s why I have asked that we amend the policy in order to serve those folks who have been here a long, long time,” Gomez said. “So that’s the reasoning behind my amendment to this policy, and it’s simply in favor of people and not regulations and academic rules.”

Several county employees expressed their desire to keep their assigned spaces.

“I’ve been here 23 years and I have an assigned parking place,” said Billy Prosel, who works in the District Clerk’s office. “I don’t have to worry about picking up my daughter or going to the doctor … it’s something less I have to worry about. It’s a benefit for my job. I really enjoy it.”

For employee Melinda Gusto, it’s also a safety issue.

“I have an assigned parking spot, I know the people that park beside me,” she said. “I know the person on the right and the person on the left and in front of me, all around. So when someone stops if I go to lunch and someone else sees them, they will say, ‘Well, you can’t park there because that’s an assigned parking spot.’ They already know what my car looks like, I know what their car looks like. When we don’t have assigned parking spaces … I don’t think that’s really going to work.”

Commission Gerald Daugherty said that although they are trying to accommodate as many employees as possible, he doesn’t want them to lose sight of a few things.

“We are the only urban county in Texas that does not charge its employees for parking,” he said. “But for the life of me, I do not understand that if we can put more people in a building than what we have, then I think that that is the fair thing to do.”

County Judge Sam Biscoe said he knows he will be questioned about how he votes, but he believes he is doing the right thing.

“Every Tuesday down here I cast votes that I wish somebody else had cast decades ago, but nobody did,” he said. “The issue surfaces here, I’ll get all of the facts, and I try to exercise my best judgment. When I go to H.E.B., a lot of people like the decisions I made. Some don’t like ’em at all. … I see this as a move in the right direction.”

Commissioners originally voted on Gomez’s amendment to add back Plan B and provide the Loyalty Zone for parking. It failed on a 2-3 vote with Biscoe, Daugherty and Commissioner Bruce Todd voting against.

After the final 3-2 vote along the same lines, Davis told the court it would likely see the issue again.

“I respect my colleagues’ position on this, but I hope they respect mine and Commissioner Gomez,” he said. “This is not over. This is kind of something that we’re going to have to continue to look at and massage and hopefully come up with a satisfactory conclusion.”

The county plans to begin phasing in the parking plan in October.


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