Tahlequah Daily Press

October 14, 2013

Stiffer handicap parking fines may give drivers pause


TAHLEQUAH — A proposed ordinance to let the city of Tahlequah slap steeper fines on able-bodied drivers who park in handicapped slots may, at first, sound like another covert move toward “bigger government.”

But if you give it some thought, it’s not such a bad idea. In fact, it could send a message to those who are too lazy to park farther away and walk – or too inconsiderate of the disabled to merit consideration themselves.

The proposed measure, which will appear on a future city council meeting agenda, would raise the maximum fine to $500 for improperly parking in a handicapped-parking zone. It will also allow Police Chief Nate King to form a citizen enforcement group to act as a volunteer watchdog. The volunteers would  undergo training and meet other criteria, and they’d be allowed to gather photographic evidence of the “crime.”

Perhaps predictably, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Carroll and Ward 3 Councilor Maurice Turney suggested $500 may be a bit too high. But as Mayor Jason Nichols pointed out, the $500 would be the top fine allowable, and could be tailored according to circumstances.

That’s a good idea, because chronic offenders need to be reined in. And we know of past situations when arrogant elected officials have repeatedly parked in handicapped slots, thumbing their noses at the disabled and their advocates, as well as constituents in general. Folks who should be setting an example for the rest of us should also pay the price for their recalcitrance.

Turner said he sees violations all the time, but few citations are issued.

He’s right about that, and we hope King and his officers will work to reverse the trend. And the volunteer group, as City Attorney Park Medearis mentioned, could help take some of the enforcement burden off of the police.

A few local residents are objecting to stiffer fines, but if we had to guess, we’d say most of the opponents are themselves regular offenders. Either that, or they have a startling lack of compassion for those whose physical limitations make it difficult to enjoy the same quality of life as everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with trying to level the playing field for these people – and in case anyone forgot, the Americans with Disabilities Act is the law of the land.

In fact, a little common-sense personal policing could make life better for the handicapped, and instill a sense of well-being among others who work to further a worthy cause.

Many people with handicap decals – arthritics, multiple sclerosis sufferers and others – are physically limited at some times and not others. But just because they have stickers doesn’t mean they always have to use them. On better days, these folks could park in regular slots and leave the reserved places for others in worse condition.

The same pattern could be adopted for handicap showers and toilet stalls in restrooms.

Most able-bodied people make a beeline for the wider toilet stalls – and in gyms, the wider showers – simply because it’s more convenient and comfortable. Fines may not be levied, but if other stalls are available at the moment, these people should act like responsible adults and leave the handicap access ones open for those who can’t use anything else.

Like it or not, many people are going to flout the rules. This ordinance is just one more way of keeping honest people honest.