ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a city expense that you’ve probably never heard about. It goes toward validating parking for people doing business with the city. Until this year, however, no one was making sure people weren’t taking advantage of the situation.
Events like Summerfest and the Twinkle Light Parade depend on public participation to be a success—and when people want to apply to show off a float in the parade or be a food vendor at a festival, they stop by City Hall and head to Albuquerque’s Cultural Services Department.
To encourage that community involvement, the department has a stamp to validate parking for visitors in the city-owned Civic Plaza parking garage. However, at least one person working in that office was also getting her own ticket stamped two to three times a week for parking privileges on the taxpayer’s dime, according to Cultural Services.
“My reaction was, we are not doing that,” said Cultural Services Director Dr. Shelle Sanchez.
Cultural Services Director Shelle Sanchez explains that’s against the rules.
“Staff that take a job here, they know that they have to pay for parking,” Sanchez said.
That means $8 a day or $84 for a monthly parking pass.
“So, that’s a part of their decision in terms of whether or not they’re going to work at City Hall,” she said.
In this case though, Sanchez said she doesn’t think the worker was trying to cheat the system and save money. She chalks it up to a misunderstanding, saying a temp—technically not a city employee—who’s been working in Cultural Services since before Sanchez, may not have known better.
“Since I wasn’t here when she was brought on, I don’t, I mean, I can’t speak to what she was told or wasn’t told,” Sanchez said.
Lately, the department’s bill to pay for validated parking tickets at the Civic Plaza parking structure has also gone up. In fiscal year 2018, Cultural Services says it spent about $12,974. That is up about $3,000 from the year before and about $2,500 from the year before that.
But why? Is public participation way up? Are more city workers from other locations swinging by on official business and using the parking stamp? Or are workers at Cultural Services misusing it to skip out on paying for parking themselves?
Turns out, the city has no idea. Cultural Services says it wasn’t keeping any records on whose parking it was paying for or how often.
“A paper trail if you will,” said Ken Bramlett, Albuquerque’s inspector general.
His office relies on tips from citizens in order to investigate suspected fraud, waste, and mismanagement within city government.
While Bramlett can’t speak specifically to Cultural Services’ situation, he says, in general, a missing paper trail is never good.
“The propensity for mismanagement, misuse of that money or theft rises substantially,” Bramlett explained. And, in his line of work, every dollar counts.
“We want them to be good stewards of the city’s money,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter how small it is.”
Sanchez agrees, saying that’s why in January this year she had her department start logging whose parking it’s paying for.
“For us, this started because we’re really looking hard at every single line of our budget,” Sanchez said.
The sign-in sheet implemented this year is how Sanchez said she learned that someone in her office wasn’t following the rules. But what was happening before the record-keeping is anybody’s guess.
When asked if there was any way of knowing if employees were taking advantage and getting free parking, Sanchez replied, “I didn’t have concerns when I instituted the log for us to do it. It’s really to gather information and that was really to make a decision about what, how much money we want to have in the budget for parking.”
Totals from the City show the Cultural Services Department will spend more than $13,000 to validate parking in the most recent fiscal year, which ends this month.