Students who walk to or from Tahlequah schools must often navigate around illegally parked vehicles, and some parents are concerned about the possible ramifications.
Parents of students who attend Cherokee Elementary School recently voiced concerns to the Daily Press about vehicles in nearby neighborhoods that block sidewalks, forcing students to go around by stepping into the street.
Tahlequah Chief of Police Clay Mahaney said it’s not just near Cherokee Elementary where cars are sometimes parked illegally.
“We do get occasional calls,” said Mahaney. “It’s illegal to park vehicles across a sidewalk. It poses a safety hazard for pedestrians, and especially children walking back and forth to school. People should be aware and think about where they park and how it affects children and others.”
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols said he doesn’t regularly receive complaints of vehicles blocking city sidewalks, but he’s personally seen the infractions as he has traveled around to view ongoing sidewalk projects.
Nichols said the construction of new sidewalks is part of a push to make the city more accessible to those who want to walk, jog or run. Residents can help deter injuries or other problems by parking their vehicles properly.
Mahaney said those who spot possible infractions can call the police department, and officers will try to locate the owner.
“With this economy, we try to be as lenient as possible, so if we can find the owner and he or she will move the vehicle, we’ll try to approach it from that route,” said Mahaney.
If the owner can’t be found or doesn’t move the vehicle, citations can be issued by police.
Parking infractions, with the exception of handicapped-parking violations, are punishable by a $5 fine under current city practice, according to city Court Clerk Jeannie Secratt.
City officials aren’t sure how long a $5 fine has been assessed on parking violations, and a copy of city ordinances doesn’t specify such a penalty.
Officials who have worked for the city for years – some for decades – said they don’t know when the practice began or why. They, too, have searched at length for an ordinance that establishes a $5 parking fine, but haven’t found it.
Some suggest the fine dates back to when parking meters were used in downtown Tahlequah, and when a $5 fee was a large price to pay for violating the law. Others believe the fine was established in an ordinance decades ago, but doesn’t show up in a current copy of the codes, for some unknown reason.
Nichols believes city codes actually allow for a larger fine for parking violations through a catch-all ordinance, called a “general penalty.”
If the city has established no specific ordinance outlining a fine for a particular violation, that infraction is punishable by a fine of up to $200. With no ordinance in the city code specifically aimed at setting a fine for parking violations, Nichols believes this “general penalty” is proper for such infractions.
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