ANCHORAGE - Mayor Dan Sullivan is wondering if the city should be spending its money on sworn police officers monitoring parking meters in downtown Anchorage.
Sullivan wants his city's police officers off that beat. But he can't make that order himself. Only the voters of Anchorage can.
More than a decade ago, the people of Anchorage became so upset with a series of unpopular traffic and parking issues, they changed the city charter so that only sworn police officers can enforce any city traffic law, including parking violations.
For a while, that plan worked. New police recruits going to training academies took over parking meter enforcement.
Now, the Anchorage Daily News reports, city finances are tight, and there are no police academies for 2009 or 2010 and people parking downtown are noticing fewer tickets being written.
So Sullivan, and others in city government, want to go back to the old system of hiring regular employees to write parking tickets when drivers park too long on downtown streets.
"We want to put our police officers back to fighting crime and not writing (parking) tickets," Sullivan said.
But Sullivan is not going to rush the matter and put it before voters prematurely. A proposal for the April city election was on the mayor's desk earlier this month and Sullivan decided to push it back until 2011.
He said he's afraid voters would reject the notion if it's not put to them carefully, having already done so in 1997 when the charter was originally changed and again in 2006.
"The worst thing you can do is rush that, get it on the ballot without a very comprehensive buy-in by all interested parties," Sullivan said.
Sullivan wants to spend the year talking up the issue with community groups and getting them on board with the idea.
"I'm just absolutely convinced, with the hangover from the parking authority, photo radar, all that stuff where it got so intrusive, that if you don't have that very well wired it won't pass, and then you won't get it on the ballot for another six to eight years," he said.
The idea for switching back came from the Anchorage Community Development Authority, a city agency created by the Anchorage Assembly in 2005. A nine-member board oversees the authority, which took over the old Anchorage Parking Authority and operates city-owned downtown lots and garages as well as some real estate developments.
Ron Pollack, the authority's executive director, says the agency is better designed and equipped to oversee parking enforcement than in the old days, when a sort of "parking czar" ran the authority with little oversight and annoyed people all over town.
"Now, the ACVA is not run by an individual," Pollock said. "I answer to a board, and the board is appointed by the mayor. The goal is not just revenues, not just to be punitive, we just need that steady, consistent enforcement."
Downtown merchants want to see some better enforcement of on-street parking rules, but they don't want to make it so risky or pricey to park in the central business district that customers decide instead to patronize outlying malls.
"Downtown parking in any city will always get a bad rap from some," Anchorage downtown partnership executive director Christopher Schutte said. "When there isn't enforcement, there won't be angry letters to the editor. But for a downtown to function properly, parking has to be managed."