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Parking tickets commonplace as city tries to plow streets

Some Eau Claire motorists who were ticketed for violating the city’s odd-even parking rules during Tuesday’s snow removal process could receive an unwelcome surprise in the form of a vehicle missing from the curbside where they parked it.

On Wednesday the city Police Department announced it would begin ordering vehicles violating parking regulations towed related to the storm Monday/Tuesday that dumped 10 inches of snow on the city. Also on Wednesday, city officials announced the issuance of another snow event that began at midnight and goes until 5 p.m. Saturday.

To prompt the relocation of vehicles preventing snow removal, the city also began posting temporary no parking signs at locations where plows can’t get through because of vehicles that made their passage impossible. No-parking violations supersede the city’s odd-even parking rules, and vehicles parking in those locations will be towed, police department public information officer Bridget Coit said.

Such measures are rare for Eau Claire, Coit said, but are necessary to allow streets to be cleared.

“Right now this could be life-threatening because emergency vehicles can’t get through those streets,” she said.

Vehicles that were ticketed Tuesday were eligible for towing even if they were parked on the correct side of the street Wednesday because they violated the city’s 24-hour parking regulation, Coit said.

The towing was necessary to remove some vehicles from locations where they blocked snowplows from clearing snow, she said, noting people’s failure to park on the correct side of the street during snow events “has been a real problem.”

Tickets for violating the odd-even policy, which cost $30, have been especially numerous during the past couple of weeks as the city has received record snowfall and plows have worked to try to keep roads clear of snow, Coit said. So far this month a record 28.4 inches of snow has fallen in Eau Claire even though the month is only half over. This year’s total topped the old February record of 28.2 inches set in 1936.

Owners whose vehicles are towed will be charged on a case by case basis, Coit said, and that amounts to about $180 plus an additional $10 per day for storage. Towed vehicles will be stored at A to Z Towing and Salvage, 1646 Highway F.

The problem of vehicles parked on both sides of streets, or on the wrong side of streets during snow events declared by the city, has hindered snowplows attempting to clear snow from roads, Coit said. During snow events declared by the city, motorists are supposed to park their vehicles on the even-addressed sides of streets between midnight to 5 p.m. on even-numbered dates and on the side of the street with odd-numbered home addresses on odd-numbered days. Odd-even parking is intended to allow plows to access streets to clear snow.

According to Police Department statistics, more than 500 parking tickets have been issued related to the Monday/Tuesday snowfall that dumped 10 inches of snow of the city. That figure could grow in coming days.

Those tickets come on the heels of the issuance of 751 such tickets issued in the wake of snows Feb. 6-8, police figures show.

City resident Will Riggs hopes to avoid one of those tickets and a towing. Late Wednesday morning he dug his shovel into snow drifted behind his car, lifted and tossed the white powder to the side, bent over and repeated that action.

A few minutes later Riggs, huffing and puffing from the effort, stopped for a brief break removing mounds of snow piled high around his vehicle. A snowplow had deposited the snowbanks around Riggs’ vehicle when it cleared snow from Niagara Street in Eau Claire’s Randall Park neighborhood hours before.

“This is going to take a while,” Riggs, 25, said, his brow sweaty from the effort despite the 20 degree temperature. “But I’ve got to get the car moved to the other side of the street before tonight. I don’t want to get a ticket.”

‘Tough plow’

As snowplow drivers attempted to clear city streets Tuesday and Wednesday morning, many encountered vehicles that made removing snow from some side streets impossible, said Steven Thompson, city street maintenance manager.

Neighborhoods where vehicles in improper locations were especially numerous included the Birch Street area, the East Side Hill and Randall Park, Thompson said.

“We had a lot of areas where we had vehicles on both sides of the street, blocking the plows,” he said Wednesday, noting his department is notifying police about those vehicles so they can be ticketed or towed. “With so many vehicles blocking the way, last night was a tough plow, for sure.”

City plows finished clearing streets shortly before noon Wednesday, Thompson said. However, spot plowing will continue for the next few days, he said, to clean up portions of streets where vehicles have been parked and snow has accumulated.

Starting today, city workers will begin hauling snow from downtown and main arterial streets to a site along Galloway Street on the city’s far east side, Thompson said. Given the ample recent snow fall, “it’s going to take quite a while to get that snow hauled,” he said, noting some of his employees have been working on city streets for the past 20 days or so.

Tuesday’s snowstorm kept Eau Claire police busy. According to Coit, officers responded to seven motor vehicle crashes and 27 vehicle assists for getting stuck in the snow.

Snow flurries are predicted for Eau Claire today, but accumulations are supposed to be less than an inch. That is welcome news to Thompson.

“After the last couple weeks, I’m about ready for winter to be finished,” he said.

EC firefighter terminated by city's Police and Fire Commission

A 12-year member of the Eau Claire Fire Department was fired Wednesday by the city’s Police and Fire Commission.

Brian Mero was terminated based on charges made by Fire Chief Chris Bell of misconduct, dishonesty, false reporting and using improper means to report alleged misconduct by his supervisors.

After the commission terminated Mero Wednesday morning, Bell said “it’s never fun” to let somebody go.

“It’s something that you only do if it’s absolutely necessary. It’s the things that are necessary for the good of the organization,” Bell said.

“For firefighters, we have to be honest and truthful in what we do,” he said. “The public expects that and I expect that.”

Mero could not be reached for comment.

According to the 15-page termination order approved Wednesday by the commission:

Mero performed his job duties acceptably and even commendably at times.

But unacceptable conduct that included dishonesty and filing of false reports that gave rise to Bell’s charges disqualify Mero from continued employment with the Fire Department.

At a Feb. 5 closed session hearing to gain testimony from all parties, Mero failed to offer any credible evidence disputing or adequately explaining his conduct.

Mero was returned to the rank of firefighter after his supervisors found his performance as a probationary engineer was deficient.

Even though Mero signed a performance improvement plan to improve his skills and attitude, he remained disgruntled.

“Although admittedly never asking for help and declining it when asked how he was doing by supervisors, he subsequently came to believe that his supervisors never trained him, never helped him, and he alleged without factual support that (two supervisors) were intentionally out to get him,” the order said. “He admits this feeling of his was not based on fact but on feeling or speculation.”

Mero filed charges of misconduct against the two supervisors in a manner contrary to department policy.

The charges containing false statements were filed with the Police and Fire Commission.

After dismissal of the charges and a meeting with supervisors, Mero was reminded of the proper method to raise complaints and the high importance of being truthful in reports.

The commission concluded Mero violated department rules intentionally for personal gain — stemming from his own anger, embarrassment or other feelings that clouded his sound judgment — to retaliate against those supervisors who held him to a performance standard for the safety and good of the Fire Department.

“Any employee should know that untruthfulness, failure to file accurate reports and disregard or disobedience to the lawful acts of supervisors, is cause for serious discipline, including termination,” the order said. “Even more so, firefighters understand that failure to perform their duties in a manner that is honest, accountable, and responsive to command put fellow firefighters, patients and victims, and ultimately the entire community at peril. Firefighters know from the time of hiring the high significance the department and city place on honesty, integrity and public service.”

Gerrymandering solutions possible, Forum speaker says

While Wisconsin waits to reargue a gerrymandering case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the state should look to examples of better redistricting procedures, like those found in Pennsylvania, California and Iowa, a UW-Madison political science professor argued Wednesday night to an audience of roughly 75 people at the UW-Eau Claire Forum.

Barry Burden, also director of the Elections Research Center, said those three states have each come up with different solutions to the problem of gerrymandering.

Pennsylvania turned to its state courts to create districts that honor its swing state status.

California founded a citizen commission comprising equal numbers of Republican, Democratic and nonpartisan voters who work together to create maps that don’t heavily favor one party over the other. Iowa, which Burden said is the best example of a strong redistricting solution, has a state agency that looks at census data and produces districts without considering partisanship and generally tries to keep counties together.

“It’s inexpensive, it’s transparent, it’s done very quickly and there’s no reason Wisconsin can’t do it,” Burden said of Iowa’s method.

Though a few have made it to the Supreme Court, no gerrymandering cases have ever been settled by the Supreme court. One major reason, Burden argued, was that there was never a standard to measure gerrymandered districts against. Last year’s Gill v. Whitford out of Wisconsin was pushed back to the lower courts for that very reason. The case will be reargued after seeing how a similar North Carolina case is decided.

Burden said the extra time is beneficial because it gives the plaintiffs more time to collect evidence to prove gerrymandering in the state unconstitutional. On top of that, Burden said, a man named Nicholas Stephanopoulos came up with a measure called the efficiency gap that could aid the Supreme Court in determining unconstitutionality of district lines.

Wisconsin’s case is different from others. It deals with Assembly districts rather than congressional districts, and 2011 was the first time in roughly 60 years that one party was in charge of drawing the district maps.

Besides offering solutions for the state’s gerrymandering problem, Burden also made a point to dispel myths about the effects of gerrymandering.

“It’s our instinct to see the district wiggling around and assume something malicious is happening,” Burden said. “We get the sense that this is bad actors doing terrible things.”

Gerrymandering, Burden said, can indeed be done for a number of reasons including partisan bias, personal political vendettas, protection of incumbents and more. But just because districts sometimes come out looking odd and misshapen doesn’t necessarily mean they were created out of animosity.

When mapmakers create new districts, they have a list of things to consider: equal population, contiguity, minority population, communities of interest, jurisdictional boundaries, compactness and competitiveness.

“It’s a reasonable set of things to think about, but it’s impossible to do all of them simultaneously,” Burden said.

Thus, it is sometimes hard to avoid ugly-looking maps. Two principles Burden said people should keep in mind are responsiveness — whether or not the number of seats changes when the number of votes changes — and symmetry — whether or not the majority parties would be treated the same way if the roles were reversed.

Another concern Burden addressed was partisan polarization, and while he contended that gerrymandering can have some effect, “polarization is trucking along on its own just fine.”

Time is of the essence in finding a solution for gerrymandering, Burden said, as the 2020 census will demand another round of redistricting in the state. It is a process that is vital to democracy, he said.

Barb Flom, a resident of Knapp in Dunn County, came to The Forum presentation because she is a plaintiff in the Gill v. Whitford case. She was hoping to glean information about the next steps in the case and about gerrymandering in general.

“I think it’s so surprising that they can draw boundaries in the state that fail to capture the actual vote in the state,” Flon said.