Six years after a Cal Poly traffic cop unjustly slapped it on her windshield, Jen Kirkpatrick may finally be shed of her parking ticket. Now she can get her transcripts and apply to graduate school.Yeah, so what, you ask; so she had a parking ticket.
Here’s your “so what”: Jen Kirkpatrick is not alone. The university gives out 30,000 parking tickets a year, according to a “ballpark” estimate by University Police Chief Bill Watton. He says they generate between $250,000 and $280,000 a year.
As an advertising guy might put it, “There are 30,000 stories at the Ivory Tower. This will be merely one of them; there are plenty more.”
Kirkpatrick’s is a tale of misunderstanding, injustice and, mostly, bureaucracy and perseverance.
She received her parking ticket in 2004, when she was an undergraduate heading toward a business degree. She worked part time for the YMCA, and part of her gig was to bring the institution and the university closer.
Toward that end, Kirkpatrick was assigned to speak to students on behalf of the YMCA, and she parked her car close to the classroom to make it easier to unload and transport her equipment. She says she left a permission-to-park tag from an instructor on her dashboard.
Kirkpatrick came back one day and found a $20 ticket. Why? Nobody is quite clear on that; she thinks it has something to do with her using the tag while enrolled at the university as a student.
It doesn’t make any sense to me either.
In any event, she appealed, and lost. She wrote a letter, as did her instructor, protesting the $20 ticket, then moved on.
Watton said there was a second avenue of appeal, and Kirkpatrick did not take it. Apparently, correspondence passed in the mail.
Kirkpatrick went on to graduate and thought the matter was settled because, if it hadn’t been settled, she would not have been allowed to receive her diploma.
Fast forward to 2010. Kirkpatrick, now 29 and member services director for the YMCA, decided to go back to graduate school. To attend, and to apply for financial aid, she needed her undergraduate transcripts.
She couldn’t get them. The university had placed a hold on them because of the earlier ticket, which was not only still extant but now, because of fines, would cost $245 to clear.
Enter Michelle Marenger of Clovis, Kirkpatrick’s mom. Marenger has the tenacity of a terrier.
Fighting the ticket took time, which Kirkpatrick, working full time, did not have. But her mom, who had retired, did. She went after the university and its parking police.
“If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t have been able to get this far,” Kirkpatrick said.
Marenger called, then called some more, working her way through the bureaucracy and spending as much as four hours per session on the phone.
She said she did it because the university was holding her daughter’s transcript hostage. She also was acting on this deeply held philosophical belief: “Don’t let ’em bulldoze you.”
“It’s just not right,” Marenger said. “Why should she have to pay for something she doesn’t owe?”
Watton does not like the fact that Marenger took the lead and not Kirkpatrick.
“It should be the students, not the parents,” he said.
Here I must dissent, Chief. Anyone has who has spent time working through this or any other bureaucracy — and that includes all of us — knows how it can dominate your life. It’s awfully easy to just say “the hell with it,” and give up.
Marenger, being retired, clawed and scratched her way through the system.
She got the job done. Early this week Kirkpatrick said the ticket had been knocked back down to $20 and she was preparing to pay it. She said she feels “awkward” handing over any dinero because it may seem like an admission that the ticket was justified.
But, she said, it’s time to be practical.
So Kirkpatrick’s ordeal may be over. But as I mentioned at the start, she is not likely to be alone in her frustration.
As I was researching this column, I ran into several people who had unkind things to say about Cal Poly’s parking police. Expressing what may be a relatively common attitude.
Marenger said, “They think they can do anything they can with those kids. People need to know they’re bullies.”
Watton strongly dissented.
“We don’t try to be that hard-nosed about things,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to come here and not get a ticket. Just get your permit and park where you’re supposed to park.”