The City’s handling of contested parking violations has grown increasingly bizarre since hiking its fines in March. (1) Evanston residents now have no option to legally contest a ticket without forfeiting their rights to appear at their own hearing. (2) The City’s Hearing Division also now requires residents to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for their case information. (3) And the City says neighborhood safety signs may serve as posted notice of parking restrictions.
As CBS Chicago reported in two stories that aired in June, Evanston has more than doubled its revenue from street-cleaning tickets alone since increasing its parking fees and fines last year. But the City’s rush to roll out its parkevanston.org app and shore up its deficit has resulted in some makeshift unofficial policies that leave gaping procedural holes for Evanston residents.
City law requires residents “opt out” of due process to contest parking tickets
Under Evanston Municipal Code ticketed residents have 10 days to either pay their fine or submit materials for a hearing through the City’s Division of Administrative Adjudication. Materials must be filed, and either through U.S. mail or electronic mail, and in the manner indicated on the ticket.
Of those two options, the “manner indicated on the ticket” for requesting an in-person hearing is to go through parkevanston.org
However, this filing for an in-person hearing automatically disqualifies you from receiving one. According to Evanston’s Chief Judge Susan Brunner, and Renee Schodosky from the Hearings Division, the City considers all submissions through the parkevanston portal as requests for an “online hearing.” Neither the portal nor Evanston law addresses online hearings, but the City says residents who file through the portal relinquish their otherwise afforded rights to notice and hearing under both Evanston City Code and Illinois Law.
Residents must FOIA their notice & case information
Though City Code parties be served their case information, Ms. Schodosky doesn’t see it that way. She says the Division will only provide it to residents notice and hearing information through FOIA requests, because it contains a “large amount of personal information.” When we pointed out the law department redacts personal information from FOIA records, meaning residents wouldn’t be receiving their full case information, Ms. Schodosky said she wasn’t responsible for what the law department did.
The Division’s manager, Hitesh Desai, did not respond to our request for clarification on this policy, why the Division would seemingly unnecessarily risk “large amounts” of residents’ personal information through channels not designed for that purpose, or the impact on residents’ rights to petition or appeal a decision given FOIA can take up to 14 additional days.
Which means you can’t petition
Under City Code, residents have right to petition their hearing officer to set aside judgment by appearing within 21 days before that officer at the location specified in their determination.
However, online filers don’t receive determinations specifying that location, or the name the hearing officer before who they’re to appear.
And that you can’t file for administrative review
Illinois law affords an affected party right to seek judicial review of the City’s administrative decisions with the County’s District Court. For Evanston residents, that’s the 2nd District Court in Skokie. Fees for filing for judicial review are $367.
Given the filing fees cost more than the typical $40 or $75 fine, few residents would opt for administrative review. Those who do have 35 days from the date their decision is served. Decisions are deemed “served” the day the City mails the notice to the address under which the car is registered. Residents’ complaints must attach that decision to their complaint specifying grounds for review, dates of initial decisions. Complainants must also name and serve summons to the administrative agency, the hearing officer, and all other parties of record in the case.
But for online filers, the City starts counting the 35 days from the date the determination is issued, even if residents aren’t served within that time, or at all. And again, the Division won’t provide residents the other information residents need to file for review, including: the name of the adjudicative body or hearing officer, hearing dates, copies of appeals (residents can’t access them through parkevanston after they’re submitted), copies and dates of notices sent (if not received).
Any Sign can be a Parking Sign
When residents’ options are to pay the fine or pay the fine, the City has a lot of leeway on the grounds of tickets and decisions.
A Leads contributor received a street-cleaning ticket at the time the first CBS Chicago story aired, appealing it on grounds that the first street-cleaning sign was 330 feet ahead (length of soccer field), and submitting an in-person appeal at parkevanston.org. The evidence submitted included the full sign which was cut off in the parking officer’s photos.
The appeal was denied in the City’s “online hearing,” stating “sign visible ahead of parked car in officer photo.” Chief Judge Brunner upheld the decision, stating she and the hearing officer reviewed both photos (above) and determined they clearly show a visible street cleaning sign posted in front of the car, “sufficient to provide notice of the parking restriction.”
While waiting to be served any decision in the case, the City added a $50 late fee to the $75 fine.