the commissioner’s office responds, but doesn’t answer

I wrote a post yesterday voicing my frustration about the doubling of parking fees in Coral Gables, from $18 to $36, and, more pointedly, my growing frustration with the fact that public officials can’t give me answers about how this happened. 

I called out, specifically, the office of District 5 Commissioner Eileen Higgins.

And her office responded to the blog post.

The response is illuminating, and merited a blog post of its own. 

But before I get to that response, here’s a more detailed breakdown of what got me here. 

  1. After earning $29 during a six-hour shift at the Coral Gables restaurant where I work, I came outside and saw that I had a parking ticket for $36. But I remembered that, not too long ago, these tickets were $18. And I happened to be irked enough that, the next morning, I called the mayor’s office. Pretty Karen, I know, but wait.
  2. Someone answers at the mayor’s office. I say, “Hey, I think I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I noticed that the parking tickets in Coral Gables have doubled in price. Do you know where I can get answers about how and why this happened?” The person answering the phone (very friendly) tells me she didn’t know about this. “But that’s not a mayoral issue,” she says. “You’ll have to take that up with Coral Gables.” So that’s what I do.
  3. I send an email to the City of Coral Gables’s Parking Department, to the attention of its Director, Kevin J. Kinney (whom I’ve met, and who is also very kind). This was in February. In the email, suffice to say, I pull on my boots and mount my high horse and let loose with a spiel very similar to what was in the blog: about service workers having their income decimated by these exorbitant parking tickets, the fact that they’re unethical, etc. 
  4. Mr. Kinney doesn’t respond to the email, but someone from his office does, and tells me that Coral Gables has no control over the price of tickets. He says the county commissioners voted unanimously in 2019 to double the price of parking tickets. His email, cucumber-cool in its language but annoyed in its tone, tells me that, if I’m terribly bothered by hourly parking rates that’re roughly half the price of minimum wage (and parking tickets that cost the near-entirety of a minimum wage earner’s shift), well, I oughta take it up with my commissioner.
  5. So I check to see which district I live in, because I have no idea. I live in District 5. My commissioner is Eileen Higgins. So I call her office: “Hey, the parking tickets doubled in Coral Gables. I called the mayor, the mayor said to call the city; I called the city, the city said to call the commissioner; now I’m calling the commissioner. Do you know how this kinda thing happens?” The woman on the phone, also very kind, takes note of the issue, claims to be jotting my personal information, then promises to research the matter and get back to me.
  6. Nobody gets back to me. I call Commissioner Higgins’s office again a few days later to ask for an update on the research. No update. So I sigh in a pointed way and the person on the phone, again very kind, suggests I try emailing the commissioner. So that’s what I do.
  7. I send an email to Commissioner Higgins’s office asking if she’d like to be on my podcast, which has a couple thousand listeners around the world but the bulk of em are concentrated in South Florida, to discuss how a person might get involved in local politics. The commissioner doesn’t respond, but someone from her office does. We have an exchange about the commissioner appearing on the podcast. It’s starting to seem the conversation might happen! Then the exchange dies. So I look elsewhere. 
  8. I notice that Commissioner Higgins is very active on Instagram. So I think, “Maybe she’s reachable on social media!” Even if she’s not managing it personally, she’s probably got an employee who’s all over it.
  9. I send a direct message to her professional Instagram page detailing the issue and asking if she can help me out. The message is ignored. 

At this point I realize there’s not gonna be any cooperation, and so I write the blog post, calling out the offices in question because while I’m concerned and angry about the seemingly inexplicable doubling of parking tickets, I’m even angrier to find that the only thing any local official has done when I’ve tried to get an answer about this local issue is either evade me, deny culpability, or both. 

I sent that blog post to the office of Commissioner Higgins, expressing my regret that I couldn’t get an answer after months of effort, and got a response from her Chief of Staff in the form of two bullet points:

The first one does what I just mentioned, which is to tell me that this office has no say when it comes to the parking rates established by municipalities–but without pointing me toward whichever office might ostensibly have answers.

That’s the first point. 

In the second bullet point she corrects a line in the blog post where I said, erroneously, that District 5 encompasses both the Gables and Little Havana. 

It doesn’t. Of those two regions, DIST5 encompasses just the latter.

And she was very helpful by then pointing me toward resources that could correct such misconceptions in the future.

No comment was made, however, in reference to the blog post’s larger issue, about being a voter who, in reaching out to local officials, cannot get an answer to a question about local governance.

Specifically: How and why did the price of parking tickets double? 

It’s a little embarrassing but I’ll be frank about it because I think I’m in the majority here: I don’t know shit about local politics. I don’t know how anything works. I go to the polls and, more often than not, I call someone who’s in their sixties, someone whose judgment I trust and who knows the temperature of things, and I pull the levers they suggest. 

But I’m trying to fix that. I’m trying to be proactive. I’m trying to do what I’ve never felt I could do with the sprawl of national politics, which is to get involved. Implement change. Look for things that seem unjust or broken and use my voice to correct them. 

I’m trying to be the sort of citizen that politicians like to encourage you to be.

But what do I find when I reach out to local officials? 

I find silence punctured only by curt emails with palpable frustration on the other end. 

Which I can understand!

As a bartender, I’m always irked when somebody takes a flustered tone with me and wants to know why there are water spots on the cutlery (“Because they were washed in water”) or why the beer mugs aren’t cold yet (“Because I just finished washing them in water”). 

But let’s play with this.

Let’s say that being an elected official, like being a bartender, is a service position. 

Just hypothetically, so that I can use my job as an analog. 

Let’s say some guy comes into my bar and he sits on a stool for three months. He keeps waving to get my attention, and I keep ignoring him.

Then one day he shouts and says, “Hey, I’ve been sitting at this bar for three months, trying to get your attention so that I can buy a tire, why are you ignoring me?”

If a guest said that to me, the first thing I’d say is, “I’m sorry I’ve kept you waiting.”

Even if I wasn’t sorry, I would say that I’m sorry. 

I do it all the time as a bartender. It’s insincere, but it makes a person feel wanted. 

I call it The Gigolo’s Kiss.

 And then, with a real edge in my voice, I’d tell him, “But sir: we don’t serve tires here.” He’d probably feel pretty stupid, and I’d get to enjoy his shame. 

And then, for the clincher, I would say to this person, Michelle’ing my way to the high ground, I’d say: “You know where you can buy a tire, though? Firestone. That place on the other side of town that looks nothing like this one. Want me to Google it for you?” 

Now, granted, this person is an idiot: he sat at a bar and asked for a tire.

Be that as it may, I am a service worker, and he has come to my place of business looking for something, so I would try, despite winnowing patience and justified indignation, to be, in some respect, of service.

I’ve had a look at the legislation Commissioner Harris has endorsed, I’ve seen the photo evidence of how much she’s doing for the community–this isn’t about her abilities in the role.

This is about the fact that I can’t get an answer to a question.

Why and how did the price of parking tickets double?

But now, that original question has prompted a second, more urgent, and even more disconcering question:

Why and how does no elected official seem to know?

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