BETHESDA, Md. - Montgomery County officials are apologizing to a Bethesda man for an erroneous parking ticket and promise to make changes to prevent it from happening again.
Grant Callery received the ticket on March 26 outside his home in Bethesda for failing to display a parking permit. More than a decade ago, residents asked Montgomery County to create the permit zone to stop drivers from parking and walking to the Bethesda Metro station.
"I went out that afternoon and came back to find the ticket on my car," he says.
"I was surprised because I had a permit displayed on our tinted window in the back."
Callery went down to the local parking office and says he was told to make a copy of his permit and mail it with a letter of explanation.
"My emotional reaction was 'Here we go again,' because the family directly across the street has had three tickets from the same officer," he says.
However, unlike his neighbor, who received a court date, Callery received a letter on April 15 assessing late fees. His $50 ticket now would cost $75.
"I was doubly irritated, and then I called the number on the letter and it got worse," he says.
His call was routed to a Duncan Solutions center in Milwaukee. Montgomery County outsourced ticket management and billing services to the company more than five years ago.
A Duncan representative told Callery there was nothing she could do and he would have to pay. Instead, he wrote to WTOP, and we got him an answer.
"It was not handled well and we've apologized to him in writing," says Rick Siebert, who runs the Montgomery County Division of Parking Management.
"I believe we've had some good lessons learned from this case."
Siebert wrote Callery a lengthy letter to tell him the ticket has been dismissed and to show him where he could place the permit to avoid any future problems.
"I was very pleased that Mr. Siebert reached out to me personally to explain what happened. That's government working," says Callery.
"I am glad I live in Montgomery County. I think the Montgomery process works much better than D.C."
Callery is referring to previous WTOP TicketBuster stories in which drivers ran into bureaucracy and red tape when fighting erroneous tickets in the District.
Siebert points out several points where the process failed for Callery and tells WTOP they're being addressed.
"He contacted the customer service center and did not receive a very satisfactory answer. The customer service center should've escalated his case to a supervisor and failed to do so," says Siebert.
"We've gone through our written instructions to our customer service representatives and we've gone through our escalation policies. I believe we have improved the situation based on what we've found out."
He based that recommendation after listening to a recording of the call between Callery and Duncan Solutions.
Siebert also says the parking enforcement officer involved should have been more careful about inspecting the car for a parking permit. He promised to retrain officers to try to prevent similar errors.
"Tinted windows are a real challenge to officers who must review hundreds of vehicles a day to ensure permits are displayed and to protect the rights of residents," wrote Siebert in his letter to Callery.
"In his Fiscal Year 2014 recommended budget, the County Executive funded a new program to eliminate paper permits and replace them with virtual permits to improve the accuracy and efficiency of our enforcement program. We believe this initiative will be approved by the County Council later this summer."
Siebert tells WTOP his office keeps records of mistakes and terminates officers who fail to operate the way they should.
"I am confident that the steps being taken will help out me and my neighbors and I am hopeful that this won't happen again," says Callery.
Siebert also wants drivers to know that customer service is a priority in Montgomery County. He says anyone who runs into problems fighting a ticket can contact the Division of Parking Management for assistance.
If you think you're the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email your case - along with documentation - to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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