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August 7, 2009

DiNapoli: Improved Financial Controls Over Parking
Needed in City of Albany

The City of Albany needs to improve its controls over its parking fine process to establish clear policies and procedures, and to ensure compliance with such policies, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit found the existence of a number of different processes that allowed certain individuals to park in violation of parking ordinances on city streets. Most of these processes were not officially established by the City of Albany. As a consequence, Albany issued nearly 90,000 tickets for the period January 2001 through December 2008 that resulted in no fines being paid to the city.

“The controls over Albany’s system of parking fines were weak,” DiNapoli said. “There were no clear policies and procedures and no mechanism to monitor the system. The city’s parking fine process evolved over time into an unofficial and uncontrolled way to avoid paying parking tickets.”

Of the 57,420 no-fine tickets issued by the city, 50,805 tickets were issued to 7,655 vehicles displaying “bull’s-eye” stickers, placards or hangtags. Another 6,615 no-fine tickets were issued to 181 vehicles whose license plates were on a VIP list maintained by the Police Department. DiNapoli’s auditors found that:

  • 214 vehicles received 50 or more no-fine tickets. These vehicles accounted for a total of 28,147 tickets;
  • of the 24 city employees with hangtags auditors examined, five, including the parking violations bureau director, and two employees’ spouses, received a total of 275 tickets; and
  • of a total of 24 city officials with placards, nine individuals (including one spouse) received 55 no-fine tickets.

A VIP list was originated to allow undercover/unmarked police vehicles to avoid ticketing, but the list grew to include non-law enforcement vehicles: four members of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID) received 980 no-fine tickets; the BID’s executive director alone received 736 of these tickets.

In addition, the parking violations bureau cancelled 30,857 tickets. Of the cancelled tickets auditors examined, more than half had no reason stated for the cancellation; nearly all cancellations requested by the police department’s traffic safety office had no associated documentation as to why the tickets should be cancelled.

Finally, controls over the city’s IT systems and parking ticket data were so lacking that neither DiNapoli’s auditors nor the city could be sure that city parking ticket data was complete and accurate. Audit logs were not used to monitor access to and changes in parking ticket data. The city also lacked adequate data backup procedures and a disaster recovery plan to protect parking ticket data in the event of data loss.

DiNapoli recommended that the city:

  • develop policies to properly oversee parking ticket operations, and better account for parking ticket revenue;
  • ticket all vehicles parked in violation of parking ordinances;
  • ensure that fine cancellations are properly authorized and documented, and that criteria for cancellation are consistently applied and reviewed;
  • maintain a database – available to city administrators and the public – on the number of tickets cancelled, and related “lost” revenue;
  • back up parking ticket data and keep it at a safe location; and
  • adopt a parking data recovery plan to protect it against damage, loss or destruction.

City officials generally agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendations, and indicated they would take corrective action.

Click here to view the audit.


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